Nick Clegg: “We can improve our democracy for good”

On Saturday, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg delivered a speech at an AV rally in Norwich in which he set out the deficiencies of our democracy, and the reasons why AV – combined with other political reforms in the pipeline – will start to fix those problems.

You can read Nick’s speech in full below:

For years now, huge numbers of people have chosen not to vote because they think it doesn’t matter.

At the election before last it got so bad that more people didn’t vote than voted for the winning party.

And when you think how unfair our current electoral system is, who can really blame them?

For years, politicians and parties have courted the votes of a few thousand people in marginal seats and ignored the rest.

Last year, only 1.6% of all voters, those living in a handful of closely contested marginal seats, had a role in deciding the final outcome.

For years, MPs with jobs for life in safe seats, won on the back of minority support in their constituencies and have taken everyone else for granted.

For years, single parties formed governments when barely a quarter of the people voted for them.

No wonder people have given up caring.

No wonder confidence in politics is so low.

No wonder people are so ready to believe the worst about their politicians.

There is no single way to solve our problems. They can’t all be fixed over night. But there are changes we can make.

We can give people the right to sack corrupt MPs.

We can stop MPs speculating on the property market with your money.

We can bring democracy to the House of Lords.

And we can change the way we vote so that more voices are heard and MPs are forced to work harder to win and keep your support.

We have a chance to do that by saying Yes to Fairer Votes in less than two weeks time.

What’s wrong with First Past the Post?

First Past the Post was perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties.

But that hasn’t been the case for a long time.

As more and more people embraced a wider choice of parties, the first past the post system sustained totally unrepresentative outcomes in Parliament.

Last year two-thirds of MPs were elected with fewer than half the voters in their constituencies choosing them.

That means most of us are represented by an MP that most of us did not vote for.

Where is the democracy in that?

Where is the legitimacy in that?

What was fit for the 1950s is not fit for the 21st century.

First Past the Post is at the heart of many of the problems in our democracy.

It means millions of voices going unheard.

It means politicians are more concerned with getting their own supporters out than to appealing to anyone else.

It means politicians and parties competing for a small number of votes in a few marginal seats and ignoring the rest of the country.

It breeds the sort of complacency that led to the abuses we saw in the expenses scandals.

Under First Past the Post, there are huge numbers of MPs with jobs for life in places where one party wins election after election and no one else stands a chance.

And because MPs with jobs for life can take their constituents for granted some of them abused their expenses.

Power without accountability always leads to trouble. If MPs feel that their jobs are secure come what may and no one is looking over their shoulder, is it any wonder some of them dipped their hands in the till?

So no, First Past the Post is not working.

It’s time to get something better.

Why AV is better

Under the Alternative Vote, politicians will need to aim to get half of their constituents to choose them.

That means they will have to work harder to appeal to more people than before.

It means they will have to reach out to people who were ignored under First Past the Post.

It means they will no longer be able to rely on just their core supporters and ignore everyone else.

They will be more legitimate and will carry a stronger mandate from a broader range of people.

That can only be good for our democracy.

Under the Alternative Vote, there will be fewer MPs with jobs for life in safe seats.

That means less chance of the sort of scandals that have disgraced politics.

It means people whose voices have been ignored will be listened to again.

It means that parties will have to compete for votes in every corner of the country and not just those few marginal seats.

That can only be good for our democracy.
The Alternative Vote puts you back in charge.

You get a bigger say in who your MP is. A bigger foothold in our democracy. A bigger stake in our country.

And that can only be good for our democracy.

The Alternative Vote is a simple change that will make a big difference.

It means MPs working harder, more voices being heard and power put back where it belongs – with you.

Taking on critics

In recent weeks, the No campaign has used increasingly desperate tactics to try and scare people into keeping things the way they are.

They say it is too complicated. In fact it’s really simple. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

The world will not stop spinning on its axis when people put 1-2-3 on a ballot paper instead of a cross.

And if you only want to vote for one person then you still can.

They use a form of AV in Australia and we use it to elect the Mayor of London.

It is used by millions across Britain in businesses, charities and trade unions.

It is even used to elect the leaders of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives seem to think what is good enough for them is not good enough for you.

I have even heard some of my Conservative cabinet colleagues making the bizarre claim that AV will help the BNP.

This is the opposite of the truth.

AV will make it harder for extremist parties because only those who can appeal to a majority of voters in a constituency can win.

Nick Griffin knows this. That’s why the BNP is campaigning for a No vote.

The truth is conservatives of all parties have always fought reform.

They tried to stop women being given the vote.

They tried to block the lowering of the voting age.

And now they are scaremongering to stop a simple step forward in our democracy.

The dinosaurs of the old politics have clubbed together to protect their own interests.

They want people locked out and politicians kept in. Well democracy is not theirs to control, it’s yours.

Labour

As a believer in plural politics, I am proud that the Yes campaign has been a truly cross-party campaign.

Not just Liberal Democrats, but the leadership of the Labour Party, the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid.

I am a believer in the new politics – that people from across the political divide can work together for the national good.

It is no shock to anyone for me to say relations between myself and the Labour Party are often strained.

But I am glad that Ed Miliband and the reformers in the Labour Party are campaigning for a Yes vote.

There is a proud history of progressive politics in the Labour Party just as there is in the Liberal Democrats.

A Yes vote would be a victory for progressive politics.

I know I am not exactly every Labour supporter’s favourite politician right now, to put it mildly, but if they will hear me out I would like to say this:

This change will outlast David Cameron, Ed Miliband and myself. You have a chance to make a real, progressive change to our democracy – don’t miss this chance to take it.

There are those in the Labour Party who oppose AV. They are trying to block progress.

The John Prescotts, David Blunketts, John Reids and Michael Martins are in the bizarre situation of fighting a campaign that gets the vast majority of its funding from big Tory donors they have always criticised.

Labour No campaigners are the means to conservative ends.

Look at the company they are keeping. The only political parties supporting the status quo are the Conservative Party, the Communist Party and the BNP.

The contrast with the cross party Yes campaign speaks volumes.

I would rather side with progressives in all parties than the old establishment and the lunatic fringe.

Summary

First Past the Post doesn’t work any more.

It leaves too many voices unheard.

It leaves too many people powerless.

It is at the heart of why so many people don’t vote.

The Alternative vote is better and fairer.

It puts you back in charge and makes MPs work harder for your vote.

We have the chance to clean up politics and make our democracy better next month – we should take it.

You can do that by voting Yes to Fairer Votes.

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14 Comments

  • Old Codger Chris 26th Apr '11 - 1:00pm

    “At the election before last it got so bad that more people didn’t vote than voted for the winning party. And when you think how unfair our current electoral system is, who can really blame them?”
    I can – and do – blame them. I wonder how many will bother to vote in the referendum?

    “For years, MPs with jobs for life in safe seats, won on the back of minority support in their constituencies have taken everyone else for granted. For years, single parties formed governments when barely a quarter of the people voted for them”.
    …..and AV will change this?

    “First Past the Post was perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties”.
    No it wasn’t – look at 1951. And it’s unlikely that AV would have made a difference.

    “Under the Alternative Vote, politicians will need to aim to get half of their constituents to choose them”.
    Note the word “aim”.

    “That means less chance of the sort of scandals that have disgraced politics”.
    No it doesn’t.

    “They use a form of AV in Australia and we use it to elect the Mayor of London”.
    I’d be wary of quoting experience in Australia. In mayoral elections second preferences are counted but there’s no nonsense about pretending that 3rd and 4th etc prefs are of equal value. In any case, mayoral elections and party leadership contests etc are for a single post, not an assembly.

    “They (conservatives) tried to stop women being given the vote”.
    It was Asquith’s government which force-fed the suffragettes in prison.

    Other than the above, the Deputy PM makes some good points.

  • “For years, politicians and parties have courted the votes of a few thousand people in marginal seats and ignored the rest.”
    Quite a strange statement really, so politicians haven’t bothered sending out leaflets or canvassing in places where they have no chance of winning and no chance of losing? Perhaps a more truthful statement would have been “… poured resources into marginal seats, with reduced effort in the rest” but that probably doesn’t sound as sexy.

    “Last year, only 1.6% of all voters, those living in a handful of closely contested marginal seats, had a role in deciding the final outcome”

    http://fullfact.org/blog/AV_referendum_FPTP_votes_count_safe_seats_yes_to_fairer_votes_tim_farron-2622

    “It is important to note that under an AV system, votes in marginal seats would still have more weight in determining the outcome of national elections. Only a true system of proportional representation would end this bias.”

    So how is AV going to change this? Will it be 2%, 3%?

    “For years, MPs with jobs for life in safe seats, won on the back of minority support..”

    Can still happen with AV

    “and have taken everyone else for granted”

    Evidence base?

    “No wonder people have given up caring. No wonder confidence in politics is so low. No wonder people are so ready to believe the worst about their politicians.”

    Although, have politicians of all parties considered the fact that these things may actually exist because politicians (of ALL the major parties) seem intent on talking rubbish, telling porky pies, trying to insinuate things when putting forward a case, using weasel words to imply something that isn’t true? (I didn’t say I’d end Boom and Bust, I said I’d end the Tory Boom and Bust”

    “We can give people the right to sack corrupt MPs”
    Nothing to do with the AV vote

    “We can stop MPs speculating on the property market with your money”
    Nothing to do with the AV vote

    “We can bring democracy to the House of Lords”
    Nothing to do with the AV vote

    “And we can change the way we vote so that more voices are heard and MPs are forced to work harder to win and keep your support”

    To do with AV – but no proof it will make MPs work harder as a huge chunk of MPs will still be in safe seats.

    “It means millions of voices going unheard”
    Assuming he means that the millions who didn’t get the MP they voted for, then millions will still be unheard, except it may be a different set of millions from the present lot.

    “It breeds the sort of complacency that led to the abuses we saw in the expenses scandals.”

    Scandalous statement, that scandal happened because MPs thought the public would never get to see their claims.

    “Under First Past the Post, there are huge numbers of MPs with jobs for life in places where one party wins election after election and no one else stands a chance. And because MPs with jobs for life can take their constituents for granted some of them abused their expenses”

    Scandalous statement, that scandal happened because MPs thought the public would never get to see their claims.

    “AV will make it harder for extremist parties” & “They tried to stop women being given the vote”

    Votes for women used to be considered an extreme view, so would they have ever got the vote under AV if it would have made it harder?

    I would continue but suffice to say that this is another example of how abysmal the whole debate and campaigning on both sides has been. Thank heaven for the internet and independent researchers.

  • Re Asquith’s government – Nick said on Saturday “conservatives in all parties” had opposed expanding the franchise.

  • Jedibeeftrix –

    Open primaries promise much but deliver little, and increase the cost of politics. Not for me.

    Open recall – certainly not. A charter for cranks and well funded pressure groups.

    Local referenda – take it or leave it. Runs the risk of becoming a charter for cranks and well funded pressure groups but does allow for some expression of will.

    A far better reform would be to time limit MPs to 15 years in the Commons.

  • “Last year, only 1.6% of all voters, those living in a handful of closely contested marginal seats, had a role in deciding the final outcome.”

    While the NO campaign currently hold the most dishonest title, Nick Clegg makes a late play.

    The figure is utter nonsense.

  • Old Codger Chris said in response to Clegg’s speech.

    “First Past the Post was perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties”.
    No it wasn’t – look at 1951. And it’s unlikely that AV would have made a difference.”

    It would indeed to have been more accurate to say the FPTP generally worked when the choice was only between two parties. However, that doesn’t completely invalidate the claim.

    It is of course true to say that AV would probably not have made a difference in 1951. After all, in many constituencies there were only two candidates.

    The 2000 US Presidential election provides a more recent example of FPTP producing a perverse result. Al Gore got more votes but Bush won in the electoral college – with more than a little help from his brother.

  • Davd Clayton 26th Apr '11 - 2:26pm

    AV is a trivial change and will have nothing like the impact that reducing the number of MPs will – and where is the discussion of that? Nowhere.

  • Those who want to hear Nick’s words as spoken can do so on YouTube – http://ow.ly/4FQ99

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '11 - 3:56pm


    First Past the Post was perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties.

    No it was not. Apart from the aforementioned issue of it occasionally giving more seats to the party which had fewer votes, it has the HUGE problem of regional distortion, which hardly anyone mentions though I was very pleased to see Vernon Bogdanor bring it up recently as the principal problem with FPTP. Even if FPTP gets the party balance about right, it does so by grossly exaggerating the extent to which the north and inner city and industrial areas are Labour, and the south and suburban and rural areas are Conservative. The fact that in many recent elections millions of Labour voters in southern England had hardly any Labour MPs to represent them is surely a big issue, and not something so insignificant that FPTP can be called “perfect” for when there are just two parties. The result was that poor people in the south became almost invisible, voiceless, as if the south consisted only of well-off Tories.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '11 - 3:59pm


    Under the Alternative Vote, politicians will need to aim to get half of their constituents to choose them.
    That means they will have to work harder to appeal to more people than before.

    Unless a big range of new parties appears, it’s still going to be just a choice between the candidates of the main parties. People’s transfer preferences will largely be on a party basis, not on the basis of their view of individual candidates – because unlike STV there isn’t a choice of candidates from the same party.

  • Old Codger Chris 26th Apr '11 - 11:06pm

    @Simon
    “Re Asquith’s government – Nick said on Saturday “conservatives in all parties” had opposed expanding the franchise”.
    Quite right Simon, my apologies to Nick Clegg on that one.

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Apr '11 - 11:52pm

    “the HUGE problem of regional distortion, which hardly anyone mentions”

    Well done for mentioning this one, Matthew. It is, as you say, completely ignored and is one of the biggest problems with the current system – not FPTP, of course, but the single-member constituency. (This is why it’s so hard to get excited about the AV referendum: it won’t cure the biggest problem.) And while you’re right to mention the problem of non-representation of southern Labour voters, a bigger problem is the non-representation of the rather commoner invisible animal, the working-class Tory. It’s chiefly the near-complete lack of support for Labour in rural areas, against the substantial minority Tory vote in the inner cities, that results in Labour’s grotesque electoral advantage at the moment – which, despite the claims of their supporters here, will still remain even after the boundary changes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '11 - 4:30pm

    Malcolm Todd

    Well done for mentioning this one, Matthew. It is, as you say, completely ignored and is one of the biggest problems with the current system – not FPTP, of course, but the single-member constituency.

    Yes, so why is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats so unaware if this issue that he described FPTP as “perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties”? I simply cannot have confidence in someone who gets things just so wrong on a key element of our policy platform.

    And while you’re right to mention the problem of non-representation of southern Labour voters, a bigger problem is the non-representation of the rather commoner invisible animal, the working-class Tory.

    Oh, I don’t think they’re necessarily commoner, though I agree they are also a factor. The problem of rural poverty, of low waged people in the high housing-cost south is HUGE yet it goes almost without mention in media commentary because that sort of person has no voice thanks to FPTP. As I grew up in poverty in a supposedly true blue part of southern England means I get more angry about this than about anything else in politics. I am sickened whenever I read lazy commentary that suggests everyone in the south is a Tory, or someone who is best appealed to by soft Tory policies. Actually, they have historically been good prospects for the Liberal Democrats – if you look, you find many LibDem seats in the south started off by the party working in what were the Labour pockets. Remember also that the regional distortion caused by FPTP gave Labour a very northern image, which put off what would otherwise have been Labour voters in the south, pushing them into the arms of the Liberals. To a certain extent, the Liberal Democrats have also been able to pick up some of the old working-class Tory votes in those places where the Tory party has disappeared, but it’s not a natural fit as the essence of working class Toryism is not being a small-l liberal.

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