Opinion: Fair votes are in our blood

Dear Nick,

As a Founder Member of the Liberal Democrats who was a member of one of the predecessor parties from 1982 onwards it seems to me that the historic time that we have all been waiting for since that date has arrived.

In your Personal Guarantee you said you would use the votes you would be given in order to deliver among other things, Fair Votes. I was therefore honoured to be able to come back to the UK mainland to help in a very small way this election.

I know Fair Votes are in your blood, like nearly all of us.

But I’m nervous. The Murdoch press appears to be doing all it can to say you should support the Tories without extracting a binding promise of electoral reform because the economy and the national interest demands you do so now.

In fact, the national interest demands we have a Parliament (and therefore a Government) that is representative of the British people.

And that means a system of preferential voting. No ifs or buts.

If not now, when?

People have been heard to say that STV is a step too far, and it would break the link between a constituency Member and his or her constituents. I say it would enhance it, as in a situation where a Member sets their face against a petitioning constituent, in a multi-Member seat, the constituent could approach one of the other Members with their casework problem.

Be that all as it may, I, and many of your supporters would settle for a lesser system such as AV, so long as there IS an immediate promise of a move to fairer votes.

Only in a time of all-out war or similar emergency (when I suspect ALL parties would work tirelessly together) could giving up our long held, core values becuase of the exigencies of the situation be justified.

That is not the case here.

With all good humour, but in deadly earnest, I now call upon you to deliver on your Personal Guarantee, and work with whichever party or combination of parties will agree to deliver it. And to eschew the siren’s call of power without responsbility.

With my warmest regards, and very best wishes for success in the negotiations,


Nigel Roberts
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesman for Ipswich, 1996-97
Member of the States of Alderney, 2002-3

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • From a N.Ireland perspective, it may not be widely known that over the main papers in this
    part of the United Kingdom the inhabitants voted that they wanted Nick Clegg as Prime
    Minister. Whilst this cannot happen it is significant the support that there is here where the
    Liberal Democrats have no offices or contest any of the UK seats.
    His position in the party is well respected and hopefully he will stand up for his beliefs
    in dealing with the Conservatives pushing feverishly for power .

  • Bob Mountfort 9th May '10 - 6:35pm

    For me it is a rainbow coalition with a new labour leader, Johnson?, a guarantee of AV+1. Get it on the statute books and run a new election. What Murdoch thinks and what he persuades the forelock pulling classes to think is of no concern. Get it on the books and then fairness will rule and future governments will resolve the remaining problems.

    For sure negotiate with the Tories but without election reform, no deal, pull out and cross over.

  • Lib Dem negotiators have gone silent on PR, looks like they have sold out the supporters.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 9th May '10 - 6:43pm

    “very significant that Danny Alexander talks of reducing the budget defict as the central plank of their discussions, and not electoral reform”

    David Steel said much the same on the BBC.

  • Nathan Hook 9th May '10 - 6:52pm

    “Only in a time of all-out war or similar emergency (when I suspect ALL parties would work tirelessly together) could giving up our long held, core values becuase of the exigencies of the situation be justified.”

    But we are in a time of emergency. . .

  • Am I the only Lib Den sitting here tonight after working for the Lib Dems /Liberals for over 30 years and being a Coiuncillor for 23 years appalled at the idea we are about to support the Tories!!! without any guarantee of electoral reform.If we do we are finished.It will be 1931 and the national Gov all over again and I predict the party will split within a year.Everthing we believe in comes from electoral reform (including taking tough economic decisions) without this we might as well give up .Labour will smash us to bits in a couple of years.

  • As a labour supporter, i’ve never felt that the Lib Dems are that far away from us, which is why many ,many Labour people are ok with voting lib dem in marginal seats to keep the Tories out. I’m fairly confident that common sense will prevail , but if it doesn’t, and you get no gaurentee from Cameron regarding electoral reform, you guys are in serious trouble come next election.You wont be getting my vote or i suspect any other labour voters to help you out Locally, you can have them Tories right back….Your man needs to think of the long game

  • To paraphrase an earlier comment :

    “Am I the only Lib Dem member [founder member, member of Liberals since 1979, 26 years a councillor, parliamentary candidate, agent this time, blah blah blah] actually prepared to trust our leadership and offer a bit of loyalty in their very difficult position.

    Nick. Do your best. Whatever you choose you have my loyal support.

  • “Whatever you choose you have my loyal support.”

    WHATEVER you choose? Really?!! Goodness, who’d have thought Stalinist democratic centralism was alive and well in a liberal democratic party?

  • I’ve read a lot of posts on here and whilst there are clearly a number of left leaning ‘social democrats’ within the party that may be upset at any deal with Labour there are also a lot of ‘Liberals’ like me who could tolerate a deal with the Tories.

    BUT what none of us can tolerate is a deal which does not include a referendum on electoral reform.

  • If I remember in a poll on here on who would you want as the next PM, Brown or Cameron it was 60/40 Brown.

    So which ever road Clegg goes down he will split the party in half, so he may just sit on the fence and allow Cameron to go on his own.

    The problem is do any of you think if Labour won the next election with just a 2.9% lead they would vote for PR ?

  • I am not a longstanding member of the Lib Dems (only a couple of years) but I joined with a belief that PR was at the core of the Party’s philosophy. I never anticipated that, so soon after my becoming a member, there would come this discussion about possibly sacrificing that core tenet. Where will my allegiance to the Party stand without it? I just hope I don’t have to find out for real.

  • “Lib Dem negotiators have gone silent on PR, looks like they have sold out the supporters.”

    It may be that they realise that Joe Public wants to see a Government formed and thinks the national interest and what that Government will do with the economy more important than Lib Dem plans for PR.

  • To all those who think that Labour are “nice but a bit misguided”, the following post from “Budgie” over at the Peeb might cause you to reflect:

    Labour had the last 13 years to get it’s act right on proportional voting and did nothing.

    They had the last 13 years to get the immigration problem sorted and they only made matters a lot worse, throwing open our borders to just about anyone and everyone.

    And Civil Liberties.. don’t make me laugh. The labour governments of the past 13 years have done more to remove civil liberties than all the governements of the last 100 years put together.

    The civil liberty issue, above all others, is the one ideological reason why no self-respecting LibDem should even think about perpetuating a Labour government at this time.

    The simple truth is that we are an independent party and have our own ideas about how to govern the country. But the problem is that the electoral facts mean that we can’t and we have to negotiate and compromise. Both Labour and the Conservatives have considerable faults but if we truly believe in co-operative politics we have to be prepared to deal with both of them.

  • “Sounds like GB has made a last-ditch offer to Clegg – AV now, referendum on PR later…”

    If true, that is the one realistic way forward. There would have to be an new election next year and under AV, the Lib Dems should do better, tactical voting would make a lot more sense if both parties were commited to a referendum on an agreed system of PR to take place in the next parliament and to be used at the next election. (2015 ?)

  • “Sounds like GB has made a last-ditch offer to Clegg – AV now, referendum on PR later…”

    This year, next year, sometime, never.

  • I think things have moved on quite a long way in these negotiations. Given that both sides had a long time to come up with their comments on exit, it’s potentially significant that both spokesmen chose to use the least attractive wording (William Hague mentioning “political reform” first off; Danny Alexander not mentioning it at all) for their own members, as any true compromise deal will involve a certain degree of disruptive change for both parties’ policy platforms and therefore their members.

    But those of us who are absolutely committed to electoral reform need to consider a few points.

    1. For most of the public, there is a single master narrative and that is that the system is broken and corrupt. We shouldn’t over-complicate the nature of hostility the political system inspires: duck houses, jobs for life and lack of fairness are actually the same thing for many people. So digging in on this is not partisan or obsessive. Comprehensive reform is the big story.

    2. Whether we are on the right or the left of the party, preference or animosity towards Labour or Conservative should be secondary to this fundamental point of principle.

    3. Certainty is more important than immediacy. We have waited long enough for this. A cast iron guarantee of a referendum by the end of this term is better than a souped up inquiry reporting in double quick time.

  • Certainty is more important than immediacy. We have waited long enough for this. A cast iron guarantee of a referendum by the end of this term is better than a souped up inquiry reporting in double quick time.

    And if we were talking about a party other than the Tories, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, a ‘cast iron guarantee’ from the Tories is about as valuable as a used piece of toilet paper. I seem to recall that they had a ‘cast iron guarantee’ that there would be a referendum on Lisbon under a Tory government (or on revoking it if it got passed), which quickly evapourated after Lisbon was passed.

    Give us a cast iron guarantee, leave things a few years for people to forget, then call an election. Ignore all questions about what happened to the guarantee, and let the Murdoch press do the rest.

  • Jez – remind me now, which party had a manifesto commitment to a referndum on electoral reform in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and only starts to think it might be a good idea just as they are booted out of office?

  • “Give us a cast iron guarantee, leave things a few years for people to forget, then call an election. Ignore all questions about what happened to the guarantee, and let the Murdoch press do the rest.”

    Quite right – I am not being clear here. It would need to be in the first Queen’s Speech and for relevant enabling legislation to be passed as soon as possible. But still – provided you can believe in it – certainty over immediacy in terms of timing of any plebiscite.

  • Andrea Gill 9th May '10 - 9:37pm

    James Blessing – I haven’t heard the expression “poison dwarf” since I left Switzerland 11 years ago!

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 9th May '10 - 9:46pm

    A new PR i.e.STV as the preferred option for Fairer Votes will always bring about a period of a week or so when our new elected Leaders of the main political parties post General Elections hold a series of meetings to negotiate an agreed shared coalition or strategic policy lines for minority administration.

    This is what happens in NZ and Germandy and France and across the EU nowadays.

    In the present situation the only possible workable deal has to be with the Tories whatever, as the main alternative is to pair up with a `lame duck’ PM who is distrusted by both his own Party and larger part of the Country now and does not hold either a mandate or rainbow numbers of Seats, to put together a shared Government with Nick Clegg.

    The third option is another General Election and no one wants that in any event.

    What is required is a new style in workable coalition government to the UK ,putting together a new shared administration that must contain a choice from our most talented and gifted top table Vince Cable,Chris Huhne,Simon Hughes and David Laws and Paddy Ashdown in key senior posts best suited to them in Cabinet.

    This new shared `coalition’ Cabinet should be subject to `collective responsibility’ but each Secretary of State should have requisite powers.

    The 23 % /7 million L/D Voters should be proportionately represented in Government as they all voted for the L/D Manifesto.

    There has to be a `Fair Votes’ Referendum on a form of PR AD, AD Plus or STV and this should be stated as being ongoing and part of the Deal from the start.

    As a founder member Liberal Democrat I would ask on a Referendum date,to be known soon,to be held within 1/ 2 years into the new Parliament containing 3 choices of PR for all voters to choose from.

    There is a vitally important national duty incumbent on our Leaders to instil personal and public trust in constructing a fair deal as soon as possible and is one that can be supported by the majority of rank and file members and supporters.

    I hope the Deal can stick and be durable for 2 years at least,so that all national policy can now be progressed on the Economy,National Deficit and to stabilise global Markets and Greek Question.

    A change of Leadership at No 10 is inevitable.

  • Chris Mills 9th May '10 - 9:47pm

    Personally I don’t trust GB or DC.

    Let DC go it alone. We look like the good guys then. Not blocking him because we need stability, but we can use a vote of No Confidence when the time is right.

  • Well Labour have proposed genuine electoral reform, unlike the Tories, this may be the Lib Dems only chance, I expect them to take it, or never be forgiven.

  • Please be aware that the Alternative Vote is not PR and will not give any advantage to the Liberal Democrats. Sometimes it is even less proportional than the current system.

    For example, the Jenkins Commission found that had AV been used in 1992 the Lib Dems would have got only 31 seats for 19% of the vote.

    Is this fair votes? Is this a system worth abandoning PR for?

    (Reference: http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm40/4090/chap-5.htm#c5-a)

  • It’s great that almost 7 million people voted Lib Dem, but what were they voting for?
    Some people voted Lib Dem because they wanted to keep the Tories out.
    Others voted Lib Dem as the only way to avoid being stuck with a Labour MP.
    Some liked their local candidate, whilst others just like the colour orange.
    But whatever they THOUGHT they were voting for, our manifesto was crystal clear – fairer taxes, fairer education funding, a rebalanced economy and a radical reform of the political system, including PR.
    It would be wrong to abandon these policies in exchange for seats in someone else’s cabinet, but it would be a dereliction of duty not to take the chance to deliver on our manifesto commitments.
    The reality is that we can’t deliver any of these pledges without cooperating with another party.
    How many of our manifesto commitments did we fulifil in the last parliament? Free personal care for the elderly? Local income tax? Abolition of tuition fees?
    Worse still, how many of Labour’s bad policies did we manage to block? Virtually none.
    Power without principle is no good. But principle without power is not much better.
    Both Labour and the Tories have policies which we can support AND those we despise.
    Whenever the next election comes, I need to be able to tell the electorate that a vote for a Lib Dem means doing everything possible to deliver what we promise and block what we despise (just like we do in council coalitions across the country).
    So if you’re thinking of tearing up your membership card in protest at a doing a deal with the party you hate, please get on with it so that the rest of us can get on with actually delivering the manifesto that 7m people voted for.

  • Andrew Suffield 10th May '10 - 7:17am

    Political activists, including BNP activists, may want precise Proportional Representation with STVM (“STV”) in Multi-member constituencies or in other ways.

    A creative variation on your usual line of gibberish. See the last hundred or so times you posted it for a rebuttal.

  • As the number of those that can remember GREAT Britain, VE Day etc decline then the influence of the Tory old guard will decline. It was noticeable how the Tory Grandees were released from their London clubs for a few days in the campaign when the going started to get hot for Cameron. Tebbitt, St John Stevas, Clarke, Rifkind etc all made brief appearances to rally the troops but also to remind Cameron who still runs the Tory party.

    In ten years time, as a generation passes, ‘old Toryism’ will be assigned to history and we will have modern politics with PR and the rest. The question is how we get there. It wont happen straightaway, but it will happen. Nick Clegg needs to play a ‘long’ game and he might find it easier to change things from inside a coalition rather than outside.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th May '10 - 9:15am

    Please be aware that the Alternative Vote is not PR and will not give any advantage to the Liberal Democrats. Sometimes it is even less proportional than the current system.

    I agree that it’s not fair and it’s not proportional, but it would almost certainly result in more seats for the Lib Dems, and for that reason it might be tempting.

  • Colin Green 10th May '10 - 9:34am

    “Sounds like GB has made a last-ditch offer to Clegg – AV now, referendum on PR later…”

    I’m not opposed to this. AV+ has its merits, not the least of which is that you don’t need to choose when tactical voting. Put Lib Dems as your first choice and make your second choice the tactical vote – the one most likely to defeat “the bad guys”. The plus part makes the system a little more proportional. A referendum on STV would be an important part of the deal but I believe AV+ to be better than FPTP.

    A recent YouGov opinion poll put the potential Lib Dem vote at 49%. Our actual result of 23% showed that there was considerable tactical voting plus some changed minds. AV+ would almost certainly give us a bigger share of first placed votes than 23%, plus a number of second place votes. In the last election, this would have given us a few more seats and also turned some 3rd places into 2nds.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 10th May '10 - 11:30am

    Incidentally, isn’t it funny to see the FTSE 100 up 5% and the pound up 2% against the dollar as a result of the announcement of the EU stability package? So much for the solemn warnings that the markets would collapse if Cameron wasn’t in Number 10 by Sunday evening!

    That anyone in their right mind would suggest the markets should decide who runs the country, after everything we’ve seen over the past couple of years, is one of the more astonishing features of the election. And the result has shown how clueless about the markets these people really are.

    As an outsider’s view, the possible announcement of an arrangement between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems would be a dangerous liaison.
    Not so much a coalition, more a take over by the Conservatives and a lost opportunity.
    The party has apparently surrendered its principles of Proportional Representation for what ?
    a serious risk of defections of members, who believed in a more fairer voting system and had aspirations for a
    change of voting to Proportional Representation.
    In one part of the UK PR has been working successfully for several years.
    Second option should be pursued, now that the negotiating team has already met with Labour to see
    what can be worked out before signing up to the offer from the conservatives.
    Lib Dems may have more to gain, or at least the possibility of PR might be ensured . Tread carefully…

  • I agree that it’s not fair and it’s not proportional, but it would almost certainly result in more seats for the Lib Dems, and for that reason it might be tempting.

    Anthony, where are your principles? We stood on a platform of fair votes, not another stitch-up which happens to be more favourable to us than the stitch-up we’ve already got. In my view, it’s got to be AV+ or STV.

  • Simon Lilley 11th May '10 - 5:13pm

    My association with our great party goes back to 1979 when I worked on election day for the Liberals in Epsom. I was 14. I understood the basics of PR then and it is still for me a cornerstone of a fairer and more democratic country.
    I think that offering us a referendum on AV was a good move by the Conservatives and we should accept their deal. It is then up to us in a referendum campaign to make the case for a change in voting systems. If we trust the people all will be well. If they subsequently vote No well so be it. they have had their say and we should accept it, though there is no reason to drop the policy in future elections.

    A deal with Labour will be seen as back door and grubby and notice how many Labour MPs are now taking to the Twitter or the airwaves to disassociate themselves from a deal. Walking away from Labour will save the Lib Dems from electoral meltdown, what happens to the Labour Party is a matter for them, though whether they can be saved from themselves is a moot point.

  • Betrayed Liberal 13th May '10 - 3:27am


    I agree that STV would have been the gold standard but with AV+ being a possible compromise route to facilitate some form of PR.

    As it stands it is clearly a stitch-up which has set the Liberal cause back irrevocably.

    For those of you still with the ideal of reforming the iniqituous arcane voting system to a fairer, proportional one, then i urged you to attend the http://www.takebackparliament.com/ protest at 2pm this Saturday 15th May 2010 in parliament square.

    These are the progressive people in the country, not this shambles.

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