Lord Paul Tyler writes…Tackling the Tory Democratic Deficit

The advent of a Conservative government might once have meant no reform at all to our political system.  However, David Cameron is almost accidentally opening the door to a review of party funding regime, the electoral system and the procedures of the House of Commons.  During the Queen’s Speech debates, the Lib Dem team in the Lords has been tackling all three issues.

The Government wants to dry up some of the money available to Labour by placing restrictions on trade union funding.  The principle that trade union members should consent to their subscriptions funding a political party is quite right.  Yet it will be totally unbalanced to introduce that reform without something on the other side of the ledger, namely a cap on the large individual donations which fund the party arms race in spending.

As Chris Rennard pointed out in debate on 1st June:

 One of the most disappointing failures to fulfil something set out in the Coalition Agreement was the commitment to take ‘big money’ out of politics.  In the year before the 2005 General Election, the reported donations to the main parties amounted to £44m. By 2010, the figure was £72 million, and this year it was over £100m.

Many Lib Dem activists will have seen the effect of that spending in marginal constituencies, where the tide of Conservative cash drenched, and swept away, all in its path.  When the Trade Union Bill comes before the Lords, we will do all we can to introduce amendments for a balanced package of party funding reform reflecting the cross-party draft Bill (pdf) I produced in 2013.

Next on the list is boundaries, where existing legislation provides for a review to start soon and report in 2018, with a reduction in the number of MPs to 600.  It looks like the Government will ignore recommendations from the erstwhile Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee to modify the rules.  The Conservatives will have much to say about “equal votes of equal value” but of course they glide happily over the huge inconsistency between votes cast and seats won.  Chris Rennard gave all the figures in the recent Lords constitutional affairs debate, showing that it took just 25,972 votes to elect a SNP MP but 3,881,129 votes to elect a UKIP MP.  I would add that the Lib Dems having won 13 times as many votes as the DUP now have the same number of seats.

These disparities can only be amplified by the Government’s plan for “English Votes for English Laws”.  We will continue to argue that this should only be introduced on a proportional basis, not least because doing it any other way hands even further totally disproportionate power to the Executive.  In England, the Conservative Party:  318 English seats out of 533 (just shy of 60%) are Conservative, despite their getting only 41% of the English vote.  It is disparities like these that persuaded Labour to agree proportional representation for the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and London.  England should be no different.

On that same note, our team intends to press the Government on the need to address “rotten boroughs” at local government level.  My contribution to the Queen’s Speech debate is here.

This will be especially important where powers are to be concentrated in new elected mayors.  As John Shipley put it during recent second reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill:

We run the risk of creating a one-party state in which one party controls the metro mayor, the metro mayor’s appointment of the deputy, the combined authority—at least in terms of having a majority of seats—and the scrutiny of the mayor and of the combined authority. This concentration of power in the hands of a very limited number of people, when this Bill is all about devolving power, seems to me to need some urgent revision.

Finally, we are continuing to pursue the right of 16 and 17 year olds to vote.  It is longstanding party policy that this should apply to all elections, and so it should.  However, for this year, we are focusing our argument on the coming European Union referendum.  It is just ludicrous and wrong that a 16 year old who voted in September 2014, on the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom, might be denied a say in May 2016 (if that is when the referendum is held) about the future of the UK in Scotland.  I have introduced a new private member’s bill to underline this point, and The Independent reports  our firm intention to pursue it in amendments to the EU Referendum Bill.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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  • Noorderling 14th Jun '15 - 9:19am

    This comparision between the DUP and Lib Dem vote happily glosses over the fact that the DUP stood in 18 constituencies at most.

  • ” It is just ludicrous and wrong that a 16 year old who voted in September 2014, on the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom, might be denied a say in May 2016 (if that is when the referendum is held) about the future of the UK in Scotland. ”

    Since when did a decision to give the vote to 16 year old children in a referendum that excluded 90%+ of the electorate, set any precedent. They are children , the law enforces the fact that they are children by forcing them to remain in schooling, or training of one type or another until they are 18, you don’t tell adults how to run their lives.

    I accept that LIbDems support lowering the age to 16, however why they do is a moot point, because their is no consistency in the empowerment of 16 year olds. Should a 16 year old be subject to front line service in the military, should a 16 year old be eligible for the full rate minimum wage, and benefits at the adult rate. Should a 16 year old have equal entitlement to social housing, should a 16 year old be able to drive with a full licence, to drink legally in pubs.

    The list is endless, if you want to empower at 16, or perhaps you simply want to make them adults for cynical party advantage, because as 16 year old they are more likely to be left wing/Labour/LibDem/Green in their thinking, and in this case they are more likely to be pro EU.

  • “..,16 year old they are more likely to be left wing/Labour/LibDem/Green in their thinking…”

    If only this were true.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Jun '15 - 3:34pm

    THe DUP had an electoral pact with another unionist party in Northern Ireland, enabling them to defeat our friend Naomi Long of the non-sectarian Alliance Party of Northern Northern Ireland and to one Sinn Feiner.

  • Mike Falchikov 14th Jun '15 - 7:33pm

    Raddiy is asking the right questions. I’ve no objection to votes at 16, but it does mean that we have to be prepared to rethink a lot of the prescriptions placed on 16-18 year olds, This would also impinge on the (18+)adults who come into
    contact with them professionally i.e. would police checks still be appropriate and could they still be disciplined for
    “inappropriate behaviour”. If getting the vote is a symbol of adulthood (I think it is) would it still be reasonable to
    place certain restrictions on 16-17 year olds? Difficult, I’d have thought.

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jun '15 - 10:50am

    I think all the other issues mentioned by Raddiy and Jedi are pretty well irrelevant to the question of voting age. I remember when I used to think it ridiculous that different rights and responsibilities came at different ages, and that we should all just be considered children until whatever age was fixed upon and then, bam, we’d be considered adults.

    Foolishness. (Well, I was very young at the time.) The law can’t deal with the reality of human life, which is that we mature slowly, fitfully, inconsistently and at different rates even from our contemporaries. The confusion of different ages for different changes in legal status is the quite reasonable best that the law can do to reflect the fact that denying a child all the attributes of adulthood until one arbitrary age and then dumping the whole lot on them at once would be unreasonable, impractical, and unjustifiable.

    I think those arguing against reducing voting age know this, really. Does jedi think that the voting age should be lowered to 10, or the age of criminal responsibility raised to 18? Or that it is all right that children (if that is, simplistically, what you consider 16/17-year-olds to be) join the armed forces just so long as they aren’t “fighting in the front line” until the day of their 18th birthday?

    I’m agnostic on voting age. I think all the arguments against allowing 16-year-olds to vote would have almost as great validity against allowing 18-year-olds, or indeed 20-year-olds, to do so. I think that the arguments in favour could apply almost as strongly if applied to 14-year-olds. Whatever age we choose will be somewhat arbitrary – let’s not confuse the issue by attaching it to whatever non-voting-related age barrier suits our case; and let’s not go further down the insane route of standardisation that my young, naive self believed was more rational and therefore better.

  • There is a strong argument to say that anyone subject to taxation should be able to vote. However, with VAT, that becomes nugatory.

  • @ Malcolm Todd

    I am at a loss why you think the issues I mentiom are irrelevant to the debate. If 16 year old children are not allowed the free will and responsibility to choose to fight in a war, or get bladdered, how on earth can they be considered mature enough to vote a government in or out.

    You can’t pick and choose what you consider to be the barrier to adulthood, we are either driven in our decisioon making by the genetic imperative that governs issues of maturity across species, namely the ability to procreate, in which case adulthood should be considered achieved at the average age of puberty.

    If we are to ignore our genes, and arrive at an age based on human sensibilities and moralty, then it has to be based on something tangible and coherent. 16 year olds are not the finished article, we only have to look at their behaviour, they are generally immature across all aspects of their lives, not all of them, but most of them , and in keeping with their laissez faire lifestyle most of them wouldn’t vote anyway given a choice. You could of course decide on their behalf to educate them on the franchise they have been given, and force them to have classes in politics between 16-18 whilst they are at school or in training, but that of course would expose the contradiction.

    18 year olds are not much better, but at least society has empowered them across the piste with adulthood., the right to choose, and to learn to live with the consequences of their actions in their everyday lives.

  • Julian Heather 15th Jun '15 - 1:12pm

    “Many Lib Dem activists will have seen the effect of that spending in marginal constituencies, where the tide of Conservative cash drenched, and swept away, all in its path”

    Indeed, Paul. We saw in Kingston the extremely effective use by the Tories of national mailings (both leaflets, and letters sent through the post) and national phone banking to help unseat Ed Davey. How on earth did this appalling change to legislation on expenditure get through, a change which has resulted in a coach and horses being driven through the constituency expenditure limits. By the end of the campaign, the Tories were delivering leaflets exempt from local limits on party expenditure, which only lacked the name of the Tory candidate, but were as near as damn it constituency leaflets.

  • Regarding voting reform, i believe we must take the long or three-year view, and join other parties in a “Mayday Alliance”. The Mayday Alliance would field just one candidate against each Tory candidate at the next General Election, and he or she would be chosen by the party which came second to a winning Conservative this year, or which actually won the seat. That would bypass horse-trading; and I believe it would form a reasonably proportionate representative House of Commons after the election.

    The Alliance would have just two plain promises in its Manifesto: 1. to enact a better voting system ,presumably PR; and 2. as soon as that was secured, to dissolve the (Mayday) Parliament and call a General Election, in which the various parties would revert to their customary competing characters. With PR tactical voting would simply not exist (well, it would be tactical nonsense to vote for any but your preferred party), and it would cease to be humbug, to call the UK a democracy. The Alliance should start working towards this electoral pact soon — we may not have four years.

    There is talk of Labour ‘never winning again’. I am not a Labour supporter, obviously; but if they can never ‘win’ are we always to be part of the two thirds who vote against the Tories, bullied by the one third with money, and kitchen-sink Economics? If so, we’re well and truly sunk: send out the Mayday call, now.

  • Roger,
    I agree. I’m not so sure about Labour never winning again though. The thing is there would be real problems if the Conservatives lost popular vote but retained the seats. But I think there needs to be a strategy for getting more people to vote in the first place because really turnouts are pitiful. This is why I’m in favour of electoral reform and votes for sixteen year olds.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jun '15 - 1:24am

    “18 year olds are not much better, but at least society has empowered them across the piste with adulthood., the right to choose, and to learn to live with the consequences of their actions in their everyday lives.”
    But that’s not really true. They’re still not entitled to the adult minimum wage (until they’re 22), they receive lower rates of benefit (until they’re 25, I think), and they can’t drive certain classes of vehicle until they’re 21. Of course, they’ve already been able to drive most vehicles since they turned 17, and I think you can still drive a moped at 16. You can work, of course, from the age of 14, and you can in fact still leave school at 16, though you have to be in some sort of education or training.

    In other words, it’s complicated. As I said in the first place.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jun '15 - 1:27am

    See above answer to Raddiy. I think the reason for fixing on 18 in particular is really just that that’s where we’ve ended up. Frankly, if this were 1963 you’d probably be arguing that it was ridiculous to allow anyone under 21 to vote; I’ll give you both the benefit of the doubt and assume that taking you back another 50 years wouldn’t see you patiently explaining how silly it was to suggest that women should be able to vote too… 😉

  • Chris Rennard 16th Jun '15 - 2:41pm

    There was a further short debate on electoral law issues on Monday in which Paul and I both spoke. I focussed on abuse of electoral laws in relation to postal voting and as demonstrated in the 2014 Tower Hamlets elections. This was my speech: Electoral laws debate. I would welcome people providing me with evidence of such abuse before there is a major overhaul of election laws.

  • Chris Rennard 16th Jun '15 - 2:42pm

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