Opinion: Goodbye Salisbury Convention, hello UK constitutional convention

This Government is illegitimate.  We should resist it by all legal means possible.

Apparently, according to Sir Malcolm Bruce, all politicians lie at some point.  I don’t accept this is a good thing, but we should not have been surprised when the Prime Minister came out with this little gem on the day of the Queen’s Speech:

“We have a mandate from the British people.”

No Dave, you do not.

The idea of an electoral mandate is a simple one which I teach my A level Politics students.  You win a majority in the House of Commons, you claim the people have backed you, you get on with the job.

This is not democracy though.  Democracy, which I have also teach my students, means “people power.”  The idea fails for David Cameron on two levels:

Firstly, a majority – (50%+1 votes– still teaching here, folks) of the people did not vote for the Conservative Party.   Legitimacy by consent has not been achieved.  There is no popular mandate from the people Dave, far from it.  You’re about 13% short by my count (and 12.5% from UKIP doesn’t get you there, before you start).

Secondly, there is the question of turnout.  I’m not arguing that all the people who didn’t vote automatically should be counted in the anti-Government column.  Instead I’m arguing that a Government elected on 37% of the vote, on a 66.1% turnout, has a lot less of a mandate that a Government elected on 37% on the 96% turnout, and a lot less legitimacy.

So the system is broken.  Instead David Cameron has achieved legitimacy by tradition (still teaching).  The Government is regarded as legitimate because things have always been done this way.

The ideology of Liberalism, and indeed the history of the Liberal Democrats, and previously the SDP and the Liberal Party, have a long past of challenging tradition where it was wrong.  Indeed, you could argue that was a major reason for the SDP coming into being.  And so we should challenge tradition now.

If we regard the Government as illegitimate, we should challenge the Government, by every legal means possible.  That is why it is absolutely correct we should break the Salisbury Convention in the House of Lords.  The Conservatives have shown a pragmatic ruthlessness when it comes to fighting their corner.  We should so the same.

When the Conservatives cry “This is undemocratic” we should respond “Exactly.”  The House of Lords is undemocratic, being unelected, so we say reform it.  The House of Commons is undemocratic, being unrepresentative, so we say change the voting system. We should use every legal means possible in our armoury to fight this unrepresentative Government, not just because we disagree with Conservative policy, but because we disagree with the very system itself.

We should fight positively, for a fair electoral system, starting in local Government in England and Wales, which Scotland and Northern Ireland already enjoy.  We should set up a cross party constitutional party convention, working with others to achieve our aims.  The success of the Scottish Parliament came after 1997 because the Scottish Constitutional Convention had a plan involving everyone – a range of political parties, churches, charities, unions and the public.  Everyone but the Tories that was, who then had to concede defeat in the face of a united opposition.
We should do the same, for England, for Wales, for the UK (even for Cornwall, if that’s what the Cornish want).  It won’t be easy – there will be differences – with Labour, with the SNP, with Plaid, with the Greens.  With the Unions, the churches, with academics and with the public.  Yet if we believe in Liberalism, if we believe in pluralism, if we believe in cross party coalitions, then this is not just what is required.  Instead, it is essential to our very ideology as a party, and for the future of our country.

We don’t live in a democracy, but a neo-democracy, a false promise – a sham which looks like the real thing, but is in fact a cheap rip-off.   The people of the United Kingdom are being politically short changed.  We need to change the Government and Parliament so that they become, in Lincoln’s words, really “of the people, for the people, with the people.”

It’s time to reclaim our politics, for liberalism and for democracy.

* Simon Foster is a lecturer in Politics and Economics, and has published 23 books on Politics, PSHE and Citizenship.

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62 Comments

  • When was the last time a party was legimate by this definition? Genuine question.

    Were you making criticisms like this when Blair was elected? Did he get 50% of the vote? Didn’t the majority of the public not vote for Labour? Or is it only illegimate when it’s the Conservatives who are the largest party without 50% of the overall vote?

    I can’t help getting the feeling, and I know I will be shot down for this, that everybody seemed quite happy with the system unitl it resulted in a government they didn’t want.

  • I should say that I am from foreign shores so I am not feigning ignorance on the matter, genuinely interested.

  • George Potter 28th May '15 - 9:55am

    The last legitimate government was the coalition since it represented over 50% of voters. Before that you probably have to go back to the 50s to find a legitimate government.

  • George Potter 28th May '15 - 10:02am

    Also, this article is spot on.

    Constitutional conventions are just conventions – they can and should be broken in the fight to build a more liberal country. And a constitutional convention would be a great way of taking the political reform debate to the country as a whole instead of confining it to niche political circles.

  • Of course he has a mandate, he got most votes. Under UK statute and coventional law the government is legitimate.
    It is quite probable that under a straight proportional system the Lib Dems would cease completely, especially if there is a 5% floor to obtain representation. Perhaps we should stop moaning and get on with the important business, a new leader for the party, a review of polices, a new image, a re-branding, a steam-lined organisation with less power in the hands of one person, a party that listens to its members, one that does not operate on a path of suicide operating in its own dreamland, with less emphasis on constitutional reform and an appeal to the Midlands, Wales, the North and Scotland. There is an enormous job on to recover in any shape or form, how are we going to get back in Liverpool and Manchester for example, worrying about “Dave’s” legitimacy is an irrelevance.

  • I despair to hear more hot air from our party when it had the chance in 2010 to do something about the unfairness of our electoral system. Shame on all our MPs, I say. Now here we are, back to square one, complaining as a small party about the unfairness of FPTP.

    We don’t need just a constitutional convention (which can only be delivered with the consent of Labour and Conservatives), we also need radical and determined action from those within parliament who could hold the balance of power and therefore use that power to reform. That, in my mind, can only mean one thing: it requires an alliance of all parties who believe in electoral reform. Not an alliance in the SDP/Lib sense, but an alliance on this one and only issue, an alliance which says simply this: all parties that believe in PR shall agree together on which voting system they shall insist upon, and all such parties will declare that neither Labour nor Conservatives shall be supported in any way to form a government in a hung parliament without that electoral system being adopted immediately for the following General Election, unconditionally, no referendums, no fuss. It’s a very simply ultimatum.

    If anybody else has another plan I’ll be pleased to hear it. But it’s plans we need, not just “fighting positively for…” which is an expression which doesn’t really convey the meaning of a plan of action and an intended consequence.

  • Might I remind you of 2010.

    On a 65.3% turnout, the Conservatives got 36.1% and the LibDems got 23% of the vote, which means the coalition was imposing its will on the people with the support of only 38% of the electorate.

    Unless I am missing something, remind me when the LibDems even gave that a passing thought , when they time and time again circumvented the will of the electorate between 2010 and 2015.

    I’m afraid the moral high ground you are trying to clamber on with regard to this matter, is already polluted to a great depth with LibDem hypocrisy. It will take years of sanitising before it is once again fit again to offer a place of high morality

  • @Adrian, I can’t speak for the original poster, but for myself, yes I did make criticisms such as these. It has been Liberal Party policy for more than a century to replace the House of Lords with something democratic, and electoral reform has been on the Liberal agenda for as long, so to suggest that we have only been unhappy with the system recently is a little unfair

  • Simon Horner 28th May '15 - 10:28am

    I think the last time a single party got more than 50% of the vote was in 1900 when the Tories won. The Liberal and Labour landslides of 1906 and 1945 respectively were achieved with under 50%. There have been three elections when a coalition presented in advance to the electorate got more than half the votes (1918, 1931 and 1935). Since the war, the only government to represent parties whose combined vote was more than 50% was the last one. We now know of course that many, if not most, of the 23% who voted for us were unhappy that we went into government with the Tories but in purely statistical terms, that is only administration since the war “backed” by a majority of the votes cast.

    Our party has challenged the unfairness of the voting system for a very long time irrespective of the winner. Joe Grimond did it in 1964 when Harold Wilson was elected, and we complained again when Tony Blair got a comfortable overall majority in 2001 with just 35.2% of the votes. Sadly, there is an understandable reticence in drawing the obvious conclusion, because of what it says about our country.

    FPTP is grotesquely unfair and therefore isn’t democratic. But in an atmosphere where “British democracy” is overwhelmingly assumed (the BBC leads the way on this), anyone who suggests otherwise – not matter how cogent their argument – is seen as being extremist.

    I take comfort in the fact that the earth was round (spherical !) back in the Middle Ages – even if almost everyone thought it was flat!

  • @James Hardy
    Fair enough. If you can point me to some reading material on what alternatives the Liberal Democrats propose I would appreciate it.

  • Martin Thomas 28th May '15 - 11:01am

    If you look at the House of Lords Library Note published yesterday “The Salisbury -Addison Convention”, you will see that the Lib Dem peers contested the validity of the Convention during the Blair government. A committee was formed to consider the issue and their report was accepted. It preserves the right of the House to say No. this was the position expressed by Jim Wallace in yesterday ‘s debate.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 11:21am

    Simon Foster

    Firstly, a majority – (50%+1 votes– still teaching here, folks) of the people did not vote for the Conservative Party. Legitimacy by consent has not been achieved. There is no popular mandate from the people Dave, far from it. You’re about 13% short by my count (and 12.5% from UKIP doesn’t get you there, before you start).

    Sorry, that argument fails after the 2011 referendum.

    Although it was not on proportional representation, the “No” campaign treated it as if it was. Their main line was that the distortion of our current system was a good thing, that it was better to prop up the largest party by a system which gives it many more seats than its share of votes than to have a system which is likely to lead to coalition government.

    By two-to-one the people of Britain backed the “No” side. It’s a line one finds repeated all over the place “I don’t like coalitions, I prefer single-party governments”. People said this after disappointment with the outgoing coalition. OK, they never really grasped the fact that one aspect of that coalition was that FPTP had worked its magic, it had given just the distortion its advocates say is so good about it, meaning that though we had a coalition the strengthening of the biggest party and weakening of the third party meant we had almost single-party government as the third party had only a fringe influence. Just perhaps they didn’t grasp this because we never told them that?

    Anyway, all those people who said “nah nah nah nah nah” to the Liberal Democrats, and “hope you get wiped out”, and “I’m voting No in the referendum because I don’t like coalitions” and “dirty rotten Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories” now have what they wanted: a single-party government which doesn’t have the backing of a majority of votes but doesn’t have the awkwardness of a small party having to agree to compromises it doesn’t really like.

    Well, all those Labour supporters and Labour big-wigs who campaigned for this, just why is propping up the Tories in this way just so fine, while the Liberal Democrats having to agree to the inevitable and agree to what that propping up gave us previously was so bad? I think we need to rub their noses in it again and again and again, it’s time for a bit of “nah nah nah nah nah” thrown back at them: we have this Cameron government with no moderating influence because it is what YOU wanted, Labour big-wigs, it is what YOU urged people to vote for when you urged them to vote “No” to electoral reform.

  • Simon Foster 28th May '15 - 11:28am

    Thank you all for the feedback so far, especially George for the positive feedback.

    Adrian – I was a very vocal critic of the Blair Government.

    Michael – I am in complete agreement with you.

    Raddiy – Some people might argue against constitutional reform by citing the example of tuition fees. What is interesting is if the article above was written by an independent, all of the arguments would still stand.

    To be clear, the argument against the Lib Dem stance on tuition fees (which I was also against – one of the reasons I left the party for a time) is separate to that of constitutional reform. To try and muddy the waters by conflating the two I believe is disengenious to the argument about our constitution.

    I agree with you on 2010 to a point. The coalition was more legitimate than the current Conservative Government elected on a minority vote, but still failed to achieve full legitimacy because of a) low voter turnout and b) to be fair the secretive and compromising nature of coalitions, which can call legitimacy into question of such a Government (still teaching, hence me playing devils advocate, as a bunch of AS students will be reading this article and the comments 🙂 ).

    The way to sort this out is to make sure that there is no such thing as a safe seat, and that people are represented locally by a wide variety of parties. That suggests a mult-member constituency system that is propotional, or STV, which the Liberal Democrats have long argued in favour of.

    Other parties have different view, which is why a constitutional convention, to agree a wide ranging consensus across a range of parties is so important.

  • David Evershed 28th May '15 - 11:53am

    The fault in Simon Foster’s argument is that we had a referendum on the Fisrt Past the Post voting system and that’s the one the people voted for.

    Consequently, the outcome of the FPTP system has to be accepted as democratic and the winning side has a mandate.

  • “Mandate from the people”, IMHO that is just an outright lie.

    I didn’t hear anyone say it in 2010, I might have missed it, but I saw no Lib Dem or Tory claim a “mandate”.

  • David Cooper 28th May '15 - 12:14pm

    Dear Simon,
    This numerology gets us nowhere. Democracy maintained by cultural factors, not the arithmetic and vote share.

    According to the figures you use to declare this country undemocratic (turnout and vote share), the most democratic country in the world is North Korea, where the dear leader Kim Jong-un was elected with 100% of votes cast on a turnout of 99.97%. That says everything we need to know about your logic.

  • George Potter 28th May ’15 – 10:02am
    “….conventions are just conventions – they can and should be broken …”

    Indeed so. It was pathetic to hear the Speaker in the Commons yesterday chiding the SNP for clapping because it was “against convention”.

    In the Speaker’s ears the convention at PMQs of Tory MPs hurling farmyard noises and public school abuse (especially at women MPs) is apparently acceptable.
    MPs politely applauding one of their own is apparently a terrible crime breaking a very, very old convention of The House.
    What nonsense!

    Our 8 MPs should break every “convention of The House” that they can think of over the next 5 years.

    It will be one of the few ways they are going to break through into the headines.

    It would be great if the new leader were to adopt a “No more Mr Nice Guy” approach to the outdated and ridiculous rules and conventions which were designed to make the place operate more like a Victorian Gentlemens’ Club rather than a democratic legislature for the 21st Century.

  • Richard Shaw 28th May '15 - 12:47pm

    @David Evershed

    “The fault in Simon Foster’s argument is that we had a referendum on the Fisrt [sic] Past the Post voting system and that’s the one the people voted for.

    Consequently, the outcome of the FPTP system has to be accepted as democratic and the winning side has a mandate.”

    We don’t *have* to accept anything of the sort. At most one could say the people democratically chose an undemocratic system which produces undemocratic outcomes. We don’t have to accept that – we can argue that it was the wrong decision, that there is a better, more democratic alternative, and we can and will keep on complaining and campaigning until we achieve our goal, rather than resigning ourselves to saying it’s “off the agenda for a generation” and staying quiet – that kind of attitude gets no one anywhere.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 12:53pm

    Simon Foster

    The coalition was more legitimate than the current Conservative Government elected on a minority vote, but still failed to achieve full legitimacy because of

    c) Thanks to the electoral system, the Conservatives with 50% more votes than the Liberal Democrats got 500% more seats.

    This really was key, because I think the balance of seats between the two parties meant the central thrust of the government had to be a Conservative one, whereas had the balance of seats reflected the balance of votes it would have been more what it was painted as: a joint endeavour between the two parties in which the Conservatives were in the lead but not by a huge amount. This is something that should have been pointed out from the start: that the distortion of the electoral system meant that what we had was not a proper representation of the sort of multi-party system and coalition government that we’ve always supported. Instead, we (or at least those putting together our national image) acted as if it was, while we suffered the consequences of it just not be so.

  • George Potter 28th May '15 - 12:54pm

    All the AV referendum tells us is that people voted to choose FPTP over AV.

    That’s not the same as people voting to endorse FPTP over all other possible systems – not by a long shot.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 12:59pm

    Richard Shaw

    rather than resigning ourselves to saying it’s “off the agenda for a generation” and staying quiet – that kind of attitude gets no one anywhere.

    Indeed, that’s why I’ve been regularly pointing out that the results of the referendum meant that the people of this country endorsed the distortions that gave us this government regularly ever since it happened. However, I seem to be the only one that has ever done this. After that referendum the people at the top of our party seemed to have taken the position that it must never be mentioned again.

    We’ve had SO MUCH opportunity to point out since then the mistake the people of this country made when they supported FPTP by two-to-one. So many times we could have said “Look, it’s what you were fooled into supporting by the Labour-Conservative alliance against electoral reform, maybe you should think again and not be taken in by them in future”. But we didn’t. Why not?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 1:13pm

    George Potter

    All the AV referendum tells us is that people voted to choose FPTP over AV.

    Yes, sure. But it was universally taken as a rejection of any form of electoral reform. If a big chunk of those who voted “No” did so because they wanted some sort of proportional representation system and didn’t think AV was worth bothering with, why didn’t they rise up and angrily denounce the media commentators who universally wrote up the referendum result as closing the door for a lifetime on electoral reform? Why did they not shout and scream “No, no, no, you have got it wrong, that is the OPPOSITE of what we voted ‘No’ for?”.

    Why did we as a party not take up that line and use it, instead of remaining silent and pretending the referendum had never happened?

    The reality is that while, yes, in theory it was a referendum on AV against FPTP, the ‘No’ campaign ran their campaign as if it was a referendum on FPTP against proportional representation. Their central message was that FPTP was good because of the way it props up the biggest party and squashes down third parties, thus in most cases giving us single-party government. So I don’t think it is wrong to interpret it that way, but I also think we must put out the message to all those who voted “No” just what they have done, and to get them to see that and thus to see how they were fooled by the Labour-Conservative alliance against electoral reform.

    There were SO MANY people who took the line “I don’t like what I’ve seen in this coalition, with the Liberal Democrats propping up the Tories, so I’m going to vote No so that doesn’t happen again”, who just didn’t see the utter illogicality of the position: they wanted to punish the Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories by voting for an electoral system whose main effect was to prop up the Tories. Well, as I’ve said, all those people have what they wanted, they have what they voted to support, a majority Tory government because the Tories got the most votes even though it was way below a full majority.

    And look, all those Labour big-wigs who opposed AV, look what you have got: Labour wiped out in Scotland and wiped out in southern England. That is what you, Labour big-wigs, in arguing for FPTP said should happen. Congratulations, you called on people to vote for FPTP to destroy the Liberal Democrats, and you’ve managed to destroy your own party as well by the consequences.

  • George Potter 28th May '15 - 1:22pm

    In case you missed it, the NO campaign set up a sub campaign called “No to AV, Yes to PR” arguing that if you wanted PR you should vote against AV so that there would be a referendum on switching to PR further down the line.

    Whether many people bought this or not is irrelevant – the fact that the official NO campaign made this argument is all the evidence required to point out that the claim that the referendum was a vote for NO to any electoral reform for a generation is baseless. The NO campaign didn’t campaign on those terms and we should take them at their word.

  • paul barker 28th May '15 - 1:45pm

    I dont want to repeat arguments Ive made in other threads but neither Commons or Lords are wholly Democratic or Undemocratic. The Lords are selcted by The PM, in consultation with other Party Leaders & with a vague convention that numbers should reflect votes at previous Elections, in effect its a form of indirect Election. If we add the 2 Houses together, The Libdems get about 8%, in line with our vote in May. We have a right & duty to use those 8% to defend Liberal values.

  • Simon Horner 28th May '15 - 2:22pm

    Dear David,
    I assume your comment mentioning North Korea was addressed to me and not to the author of this article (also called Simon). May I refer you to an opinion piece I had published on LibDem Voice on 19 May where someone made rather a similar comment using Iran as their example. In that article, I stressed that the UK is a deeply pluralist country with open debate, the right to express views without fear of persecution, secret ballots and the right to stand in elections – none of which exist in North Korea.
    My point is that the aforementioned elements of pluralism – which are so well-entrenched in this country – are necessary but not sufficient in determining whether a system is democratic. If you have a ballot that allows you to express a view, but not to have it reflected in the outcome (because the vast majority of ballots have no electoral value) then it doesn’t qualify as “democratic”. I think that is an intellectually coherent position.
    You are right in saying that the numerology, on its own gets us nowhere but it is essential in getting us from our current pluralist situation to one that is actually democratic.

  • David Cooper 28th May '15 - 2:48pm

    @Simon Horner
    Actually I was addressing the author of the article, but it was also myself that made the comment about Iran. Briefly: your position is intellectually coherent, but abuses the English language.
    The question is not whether we are democratic, which is a sterile argument about words which diverts us from the real question, but about how our real but flawed democracy can work better. I am sure we all agree it needs improvement, but how?

  • Simon Foster 28th May '15 - 2:55pm

    George – well pointed out on the no to AV campaign.

    David Cooper – Your argument would miss out any high grade on the AS Government and Politics exam question on democracy and elections, by excluding the numerology, although some marks would have been awarded for explaining cultural factors in more detail. In cultural factors you’re actually making a numerical argument – pointing out a discrepancy between North Korea’s claimed votes, versus actual population, and the difference between the two.

    Of course, I was arguing about free and fair elections in the UK, so your conflation with North Korea falls flat on its face. Elections being relatively free in the United Kingdom (although Donnacadh McCarthy would challenge that in the Media Chapter of “The Prostitute State”) – I’m challenging whether elections are fair in this country.

    They are not. That the biggest wins with a plurality of votes in any area is the politics of the school playground bully in a group of people.

    David Evershed- Some people might have accepted the referendum means no to any form of electoral reform. As I remember it, the question was would you change the United Kingdom system to AV (“a grubby little compromise” – Nick Clegg), not whether first past the post is the best thing since sliced bread. I don’t accept your argument – it simply wasn’t what was on the ballot paper. I will still keep campaigning for what I believe in – a more representative parliament.

    “Consequently the result of FPTP has to be accepted as democratic….”

    No, it doesn’t. 37% of votes does not equal a democratic majority just because you tell me it is suddenly equal to 50%+1. The math doesn’t change just because there is a tradition that it should.

    I accept that AV won’t be happening any time soon (thank goodness?) With regards PR or a hybrid system, neither of those options have been asked.

    I have a word for people who tell me I “have” to support something. I’ll be polite and reveal its not a “democrat.” I’ll respect other people’s points of views but “have” to reject PR just because people have rejected AV? I’d better never eat oranges just because people have voted in favour of apples over bananas. Bananas summing up how I feel restricting the options in such an argument – must be the liberal in me 😉

    Richard – thank you for agreeing with me here and supporting my argument 🙂

    Matthew – You raise a very good point about the number of Lib Dem seats versus Conservative seats in the coalition (again, more material for my students 🙂 ).

    Paul – A very interesting point about the Lords representation, another one which I will be using with my students! 🙂

    Simon Horner – you hit the nail on the head. Democracy isn’t just about numerology, there’s a whole range of other factors that go with it, from tolerance to minority rights (a mix of more numeracy and cultural values here – should 10% of the population have 10% of the decisions go their way?)

    Neo-democracy definitely sums up our current system, IMHO. It needs to change.

    People are of course entitled to disagree with me That’s not what I have a problem with. I have a problem with people saying First Past the Post and our current system is democratic, when it clearly isn’t.

    The problems with our system are so developed and widespread academia has a name for it. It’s known as the “democratic deficit.” My students get to write whole 25 minute essays on the subject, so acute it has become in our modern politics.

  • Martin Thomas (28th May ’15 – 11:01am) is of course right, but in addition it is questionable as to whether any party outside of Government or the Official Opposition are subject to the Salisbury-Addison convention, being that it is an agreement between Conservatives and Labour.

    This said, whether the Lib Dems adhere to the convention or not is immaterial. Despite there being no Lords majority for the Government it would still take Labour to break the convention in order for the Conservatives to see their legislation blocked.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 3:43pm

    George Potter

    In case you missed it, the NO campaign set up a sub campaign called “No to AV, Yes to PR” arguing that if you wanted PR you should vote against AV so that there would be a referendum on switching to PR further down the line.

    Yes, I missed it. I have never heard of it. I suspect it was very easily missable. What I saw of the “No” campaign was a lot of material that actually argued the case against PR, which of course AV is not.

    I remember looking around after the referendum to see if any commentator anywhere had made the point that the “No” vote could be interpreted as a desire to reject AV in order to get PR. I did not see this point made anywhere in the national media, or even anywhere in informal discussion. I very much remember the result being interpreted as a rejection of ANY electoral reform. If I had voted “No” on the grounds you suggest, I certainly would have been furious about that, and doing all I could to correct it. Since I saw no such fury anywhere, I concluded the number of people who voted “No” for this reason was insignificant.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 3:53pm

    Simon Foster

    Some people might have accepted the referendum means no to any form of electoral reform.

    I am not saying I accepted that. From the fact that I seem to have been the only person to have carried on talking about the referendum after it happened, I hope it is clear that is not my position.

    My position is that people were tricked into voting that way and into that interpretation being given by the Old Pals’ act between the Tories and Labour, and that they need to have that demonstrated to them by pointing out the logical consequences of the argument that the “No” side used. That is, those who voted “No” now have what they wanted. What we have now is the inevitable consequence of what all those people who said “Nah nah nah nah nah, dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, rolled over and propped up the Tories, I want to see you destroyed and a return to single party government” were voting for. They have it: the Tories in full and unrestricted power, propped up by the distortional representation system that the “No” side thought so wonderful doing what they said was so wonderful about it.

    Congratulations, Labour supporters who voted “No”. It is YOU who gave us this Cameron government. It is YOU who voted to prop up the Tories by supporting an electoral system which gives them so many more seats than their share of the vote. A vote for “Yes” in the referendum would have given us AV, true, not PR, but even that would have saved Labour from its complete wipe-out in Scotland and the south, and saved us from majority Tory government, and could then have been used as a stepping stone to STV. Those who voted “No” to AV stopped all that, and unless they love the Tories, I want to see them coming and begging forgiveness for what they did.

  • David Cooper 28th May '15 - 3:56pm

    @Simon Foster
    The reason arguments based on numerology is so misleading is that although the UK voting system assigns very unequal weight to different votes (for example losing vote in a safe seat is always wasted), this assignment is undirected and arbitrary. In practice, a relatively small proportion of voters in marginal seats decide the outcome. However unless you can show that this small number of voters corresponds to a particular faction, we can treat them as our democratic proxies and still regard the outcome as democratic. In fact, the numerology can be very bad in absolute terms but provided voters in marginal seats are statistically representative of the population as a whole, democracy still functions.
    This is very different to a system where all votes are cast by some particular interest group, e.g. the North Korean Communist Party, or all candidates are selected by the clergy. So please don’t obsess over numerical metrics. They have some value, but don’t tell us much. What matters is a democratic CULTURE.

  • I am reminded of the claims made for the excellence of the system of rotten boroughs prior to the Reform Bill. According to the Duke of Wellington, it was the most perfect system that the wit of man could devise. (Not surprisingly, it gave a decided advantage to the Conservative Party.)

  • If people have the opportunity to elect their representatives than that is democracy. It does not matter if only one person wished to stand the electorate have spoken. By not standing they have said that the person standing is acceptable. In the same way those not voting are saying they are happy for others to decide who represents them. To call this not democracy is to call for less individual freedom, forcing there always having to be contested elections and forcing people to vote.

    While I accept that our system could be “fairer” it is still a democracy and should not be denounced as not being a democracy. If enough people in a constituency then they can and do change the outcome. In the recent past some independents have been elected to Parliament which proves my point. If the question is can it be a more representative democracy then the answer is yes.

    I am sick and tried of people saying that there are no safe seats with STV in multimember constituencies. It is no more true than saying that FPTP means there are no safe seats. AV in single member seats might be the best system to reduce the number of safe seats because to get elected a person will need more than 50% of the transferred votes. If there was one constituency for the UK since 1918 then Labour and the Conservatives would always get some MPs elected and I can’t see any circumstances where some one them wouldn’t be safe for life. Even if 6 people were elected per constituency there would be some elected at every election they stand.

  • Some conflicting memories in this thread of the AV Referendum.

    I seem to recall that the main plank of The Conservative campaign was a series of very personal attacks on Nick Clegg. Scoring points about him being untrustworthy.

    Chris Huhne was upsetting some people around the Cabinet table waving some of the worst examples of Tory leaflets.

    Am I the only person to remember this? Am I wrong?

    Was there in fact a reasoned and well-informed debate on different electoral systems which resulted in the voters deciding on a very high turnout what they considered to be the superior systemic of voting and representation in a modern democracy?

    Or was it just the usual carve up between two-faced Tories, Murdoch’s media and those people like Blunket and Reid, the sort of right-wing Labourites who think the evolution of the mammal was taking modernity a it too far?

  • In retrospect, it seems as if the Yes to AV campaign were playing to lose.

  • John Tilley. No I remember that too. Also the timing of the AV Referendum was such that many people were still disgusted by the tuition fee betrayal and so Nick, sadly, was the kiss of death.

    I also remember debates on Radio 5 Live and other outlets where it was made out time and again that AV was very complicated. The YES Campaign was simply outwitted and outgunned.

  • I also remember hearing that David Cameron promised Nick Clegg that he would stay out of the campaign but then reneged on that. That was the first thorn in the rose garden of the Coalition.

  • Ok this is my last post on this subject as I have already posted twice but I’d just like to point out something that no-one else has picked up on – which is that the Lib Dems now have very powerful allies for PR in the shape of (gasp!) UKIP. By powerful I mean that they are highly articulate, very vocal and most importantly, they seem to be everywhere in the media. They also have the backing of an ever-growing number of voters. So I say Lib Dems, Greens and all the other small parties should make common cause with UKIP.

  • Phyllis
    Your concluding comment is entirely logical, much as I despise the UKIP brand of Conservatism.
    I never understood how Clegg went on and on in the General Election about how terrible UKIP are when he had spent five years happily sitting around the table with the big boys in The Quad.

    Clegg got on so well with Cameron’s Conservatives — it sometimes appeared as if the only area where he really disagreed with Conservative Party policy was the EU. He boastedin 2010 that he was going to bring about the biggest constitutional transformation seen in the UK since The Great Reform Act. It must be one of the worst ever examples of over-promising and under-achieving.

    The Tories did the dirty on Clegg over the AV Referendum. He did not have the gumption to do anything about it.
    The Tories did the dirty on Clegg over House of Lords reform. He did not have the gumption to do anything about it.
    When it came to the general election this month how often was constitutional reform mentioned on the front page of our manifesto? Is it any wonder our voters deserted us in their millions?

  • Malcolm Todd 28th May '15 - 8:14pm

    John Tilley – you are absolutely right in your recollection of the referendum campaign. I’m baffled as to why Matthew wants to interpret it as a resounding vote against any electoral reform when it was a very muddled campaign with a lot of muddled messages. Personal favourite was the No campaign claiming that babies and British soldiers would die because electoral reform would cost so much.
    I also remember the “No to AV Yes to PR” campaign that George Potter mentions. I’m surprised Matthew doesn’t remember it, as it was mentioned quite often on this site, including this article dedicated to it. But to his credit, he was probably too busy out campaigning for a Yes vote at the time!

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 9:25pm

    Malcolm Todd

    I’m baffled as to why Matthew wants to interpret it as a resounding vote against any electoral reform when it was a very muddled campaign with a lot of muddled messages.

    You are missing my point. I am not saying that I want to interpret it that way, I am saying that IS how it was interpreted. Every commentary I read in the national media interpreted it that way, and as I’ve already said, if there was a large bunch of people who didn’t want it to be interpreted that way, how come they didn’t come out angrily as say that?

    I fully appreciate that it was a very muddled campaign with a lot of muddled messages. Indeed, that was part of my point – it is a classic example of how people can be tricked into voting for something when had they thought about it properly they might not have wanted to support what it has been interpreted as them supporting. The very reason I want to point out what people actually voted for is to get people to realise how they were duped and so reject that duping and those who duped them into it – the Conservative-Labour alliance.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '15 - 9:34pm

    Malcolm Todd

    I’m surprised Matthew doesn’t remember it, as it was mentioned quite often on this site,

    Yes, and what proportion of the UK’s population reads this site? Did it ever get mentioned anywhere else?

    It was very clear to me from the start that a victory for “No” would be interpreted as a vote against all electoral reform, and that it was therefore essential for “Yes” to win. But the “Yes” campaign was just run so badly, and I myself denounced it and predicted it would fail when the opinion polls were saying it would win, after the presentation it gave to the London Regional Liberal Democrats conference in 2011.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th May '15 - 9:56pm

    These illegitimacy claims are ridiculous, especially coming from Lib Dems who went into coalition with the tories despite a left wing manifesto. The Salisbury Convention, if that is what it is now called, should only be broke if Dave does something not in their manifesto, such as cut Labour’s funding or any other dirty tricks.

    However I am afraid austerity has more legitimacy that non austerity. Conservatives, UKIP, DUP, Lib Dems and Labour all stood on a pro austerity platform and the Conservatives “won”.

  • George Potter 28th May '15 - 10:23pm
  • As corroborating evidence, one might suggest that as the Liberal Democrats presented themselves as “the Party of Coalition” then a vote against the Lib Dems might be taken as an anti-coalition vote: not merely against the coalition of the day, but against coalition government in general. We saw politicians tripping over themselves to avoid implying that they would be willing to work with any other party; Nick Clegg not least. (Under the circumstances, that was the equivalent of wielding a gun with a backward-pointing barrel.) The people have, for the moment, apparently decided that they’d rather endorse the politics of resentment and fear than allow parties to come together and cooperate after an election. And although Labour and the Tories alike have participated in this demonisation of the coalition principle, I fear a large part of the blame for disgracing the concept belongs to the Liberal Democrats. We had a chance to show that coalition does not mean abandoning principle, and we failed.

  • Andrew Whyte 29th May '15 - 12:02am

    I’m not sure that AV referendum told us anything.

    Opponents of reform cleverly cast their campaign as an opportunity to kick that lying swine Nick Clegg in the teeth because he didn’t keep his pledge over tuition fees.

    And thats about as nuanced as it got, which given that it was driven by those shadowy figures in the Taxpayers Alliance (who would abhor any move to REAL democracy) was not exactly surprising.

    If we had had the AV referendum bill towards the end of the parliament, I suspect the result would have been a lot closer and potentially a YES result

  • @ Paul Barker

    ” with a vague convention that numbers should reflect votes at previous Elections, ”

    Very vague indeed, since with 900,000 votes in 2010 UKIP did not get one person enobled by the Conservative/LibDem government, where were the LibDem voices calling for greater democracy.

    I have no doubt that with 4 million votes and 13% of the vote in 2015, we will be lucky to get any nominated this side of 2020, so perhaps on a matter of principle, and in a show of solidarity in defence of other discriminated against smaller parties, can we expect the LIbDems to turn down any enoblements this side of 2020.

  • Denis Loretto 29th May '15 - 10:37am

    Just to make a more specific point about the concept of mandate – does general election victory imply that every policy in the manifesto of the winning party has an absolute mandate from the electorate? Indeed this could be extended to the policies and actions which will undoubtedly be introduced as time goes along and yet did not appear in any manifesto.

    Whatever we think about the need for electoral reform, I think we have to accept that under the current rules this government has a mandate. However to me this means they have gained broad permission to govern – if only because they were regarded as the least worst option. All of their individual policies, especially those merely sketched in to their programme, need spelt out in detail and rigorously examined both inside and outside parliament and voted on by parliament before there can be any question of claiming democratic support for those policies. What are the full demands Cameron will make for EU reform, where is the axe to fall in seeking £12bn of welfare savings – indeed has the electorate really demanded £12bn of welfare savings no matter what the consequences of absolute adherence to this policy ? No – they have decided that the Conservative Party is the more likely to get things right than the other lot.

    It is not good enough for Cameron to go to the EU or anywhere else and claim an an absolute mandate for everything he wishes to put forward.

  • Gwynfor Tyley 29th May '15 - 10:55am

    Great article and great suggestion from Michael Kilpatrick. We do not need to accept the conventions and we should fight what we believe is right. Once upon a time, convention and tradition didn’t give women, or those under 21, the vote. Nowadays we still have a large part of the population disenfranchised because of our system – is it any different?

    I have little interest in the arguments over the AV referendum because apart from anything else we have seen a substantial shift in politics with the rise of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP. You now have one quarter of those voting being represented by just 10 MPs.

    Above all, this campaign has to be about engaging the population in our political system – that will not happen with FPTP. PR is a way for all voters to know that their vote will count so they should take an interest.

  • Gwynfor Tyley 29th May '15 - 11:00am

    An addendum:

    Strange as it might sound, we should take courage from the rise of UKIP. They have demonstrated that you do not need MPs to drive change. You need to have passion and focus and be a threat. Imagine what you could also achieve if you had a coherent, rational argument on your side!

  • peter tyzack 29th May '15 - 11:08am

    to quote the Tory argument ‘what can be more fair than the one that gets the most votes wins’? well we are not in an egg-and-spoon race.! Some of those, above, opposing this excellent post, should reflect that they are now cast as supporting the status-quo, ie the technique used by our opponents in the AV referendum and this last election, frighten the electorate into voting to stay as we are.
    The adage that applies here is if you want to change the way things are you have to change the way you do things, but to call the present arrangements a ‘democracy’ or to suggest that Dave has a ‘mandate’ – give the man a dictionary!

  • @ Gwynfor Tyley

    ” Strange as it might sound, we should take courage from the rise of UKIP. They have demonstrated that you do not need MPs to drive change. You need to have passion and focus and be a threat. Imagine what you could also achieve if you had a coherent, rational argument on your side! ”

    Indeed!
    If NIck Clegg had used a coherent evidence based rational argument, rather than scaremongering the discredited claim of 3 million lost jobs if we left the EU, who knows how things may have turned out. And of course could we, or should we ever forget the coherent and rational argument of the LibDems on the matter of tuition fees.

    We in UKIP have driven the debate without MP’s because we are vocalising a mood in the country, not trying to impose an ideaology on them. Perhaps the problem is the British public are incapable of coherent and rational thought, and they need the self appointed, opinionated, coherent and rational thinkers of the political bubble to think for them.

    Oops!! I forgot they gave the politicians the right to think for them donkey’ years agao, possibly explains why we are in the mess we are. Perhaps what we need is a touch more incoherent, irrational passion in our politics.!!

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '15 - 12:13pm

    Raddiy

    Perhaps what we need is a touch more incoherent, irrational passion in our politics.!!

    Politics in this country is nothing but that. We need less of it. We need coherent and rational politics which no-one is offering right now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '15 - 12:24pm

    David-1

    As corroborating evidence, one might suggest that as the Liberal Democrats presented themselves as “the Party of Coalition” then a vote against the Lib Dems might be taken as an anti-coalition vote: not merely against the coalition of the day, but against coalition government in general

    Oh sure, but that’s why I keep pointing out what a stunningly irrational line this is.

    People start off saying they don’t like the Liberal Democrats and coalition government in general because of the way the Liberal Democrats “just rolled over and propped up the Tories”, and as a consequence of that say they want a distortional representation system, which, er, props up the Tories by giving them many more seats than their share of the votes.

    Surely, if one is being rational, anyone who says “Coalitions are bad because no-one actually voted for them, it’s better to have government by the party with the most votes even if that was nowhere near a majority” must then move on to saying that what we should have had after the 2010 general election is a pure Conservative government, and then say that the Liberal Democrats were doing the right thing when they just propped up and supported Conservative policies and the wrong thing when they tried to challenge and modify them.

    Why does no-one but me ever make this point? Why are so many people i.e. most of the Labour Party allowed to get away with the line “nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten Liberal Democrats for propping up the Conservatives” while simultaneously propping up the Conservatives by arguing for an electoral system which does that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '15 - 12:26pm

    Raddiy

    If NIck Clegg had used a coherent evidence based rational argument, rather than scaremongering the discredited claim of 3 million lost jobs if we left the EU, who knows how things may have turned out.

    Isn’t the fact that many big companies have made just tis same point a bit of evidence? But anyway, I guess you’re the one who said they’d like to see more incoherence and irrationality in politics, so I guess you are leading by example.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '15 - 12:28pm

    peter tyzack

    to quote the Tory argument ‘what can be more fair than the one that gets the most votes wins’?

    Well, indeed, so when the LibDems “propped up the Tories” weren’t they just acknowledging that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '15 - 12:31pm

    peter tyzack

    Some of those, above, opposing this excellent post,

    Who exactly do you mean?

    I have been a passionate supporter of proportional representation all my life, and am now as much as I ever was. So if you mean me, you have completely missed my point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May ’15 – 12:13pm …………….. We need coherent and rational politics which no-one is offering right now……………

    Perhaps but with the current media there is absolutely no chance of that happening…The GE was won by ‘scaremongering’ and ‘personal abuse’…sadly, I believe that the future holds nothing but that…Lynton Crosby read the electorate far better than LibDem/Labour ‘gurus’…He realised that they can be led to believe that the way someone eats a sandwich is of far greater importance than asking for details of a £12billion hole in electoral promises…

  • Richard Underhill 29th May '15 - 6:11pm

    We should also remember that some peers have been elected, by other peers.
    David Steel brought forward a bill which would have ended the by-elections to the Lords.
    He eventually got some of what he wanted, such as voluntary retirements, but should go back for more.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    ” Isn’t the fact that many big companies have made just tis same point a bit of evidence? But anyway, I guess you’re the one who said they’d like to see more incoherence and irrationality in politics, so I guess you are leading by example. ”

    I think you are clever enough to work out that my comment regarding incoherence and irrationality was a tongue in cheek response to Gywfor, but if you didn’t work it out, then never mind. Hey Ho….

    Many big companies have made the same point, would this be companies like NIssan, who threatened to pull out of the UK if we didn’t join the Euro, or perhaps the CBI the mouthpiece of those same big companies who also predicted economioc carnage if we didn’t join the Euro.

    Perhaps you are not familiar with the discrediting of the 3 million kjob losses claim, practically the moment it was published, simply because it was never claimed that 3 million jobs would be lost, but that 3.2 million jobs in the UK were ASSOCIATED with the EU. Yet NIck Clegg and the Lib Dems have peddled this myth at every opportunity, despite knowing it is rubbish. The more generous amongst us might excuse it as incoherent or irrational blathering, the more cynical might see is as being economical with the truth and scaremongering. Here is a link about the mythical job losses that you might find useful.

    http://www.adamsmith.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/GB-Report-The-Scaremongers-%E2%80%93-Final.pdf

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '15 - 8:50am

    expats

    Matthew Huntbach 29th May ’15 – 12:13pm …………….. We need coherent and rational politics which no-one is offering right now……………

    Perhaps but with the current media there is absolutely no chance of that happening…The GE was won by ‘scaremongering’ and ‘personal abuse’…sadly, I believe that the future holds nothing but that…

    I disagree. We can change that. It’s long-term work, but we can do it. We knew how to do it in the past – undermine the national media by running our own local media, it was called Focus, and as originally devised the whole point was that it should NOT like party political literature. I.e. not covered with party logos and pictures of The Leader.

  • Michael Parsons 30th May '15 - 2:37pm

    The current government has the support of less than 25% of the electorate. The truth may be that that Parliament is after all unreformable. Change is a response to massive outside pressure ( 1832, 1864,1906,1945). Perhaps the task we face is to curb the power and arrogance of the Commons in this century as we curbed the Lords in the last one. Which means discrediting the sugestion that sovereignty resides in ‘the Crown in Parliamnt’ forome political party plc. to capture, and reasserting that sovereignty resides directly and inalienably inthe people.

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