Lord Roger Roberts writes… Liberal Democrats fight to make sure local government reflects will of people

This year we celebrate the Magna Carta and the struggle for rights and liberties. The democratic rights of the people – our enfranchisement from the Great Reform Act of 1834 to the struggles of today and our belief that the voice of every person in the United Kingdom if registered to vote can carry some influence. This includes all men and women without regard to wealth, status or property rights. All 18 and over are included. In Scotland 16 year olds were able to vote in the recent Referendum and now throughout the United Kingdom there is a campaign to bring the voting age down to 16.

All have votes but do all votes have an equal value? In some constituencies the M.P. is elected with less than 30% of the vote. In my own constituency of Aberconwy 58% voted against the successful M.P. and in nearby Ynys Mon 68% voted against the MP. In Wales only 4 of our 40 M.P.s had more than 50% of the vote. Throughout the United Kingdom the Conservatives were returned to government with only 37% support but an overall majority of 12.

Is our present electoral system fit for purpose? When there were only two parties nominated in each constituency it might be justified but today the situation is very different. If democracy is to survive it must adjust in different decades. 37% to 63% cannot be justified.

Legislation will be introduced without the government having a mandate. The minority will dictate to the majority.  Railway schemes will be abandoned! Human Rights Act will be rescinded!   Immigrant nurses will be deported if after 5 years they can’t earn £35,000! The 37% will rule!!

As honorary president of Bite the Ballot I rejoiced that nearly half a million young people had registered to vote for the first time. I can now visit schools and colleges and thank those who registered. But I can only assure them that one third only will have a vote that counts – I’ll regret that two thirds 67% will have no influence for change – but I’ll be sorry but “better luck next time”. Can we not understand why our young people don’t queue to vote on Polling Day?

This 37% have enabled, perfectly correctly, under our “first past the post “one individual to become Prime Minister. Power rests with the minority and one of the privileges of “10 Downing Street” is selecting members of the House of Lords. If the House of Commons does not accurately reflect the wishes of the people then neither does this House. My letter of appointment came from 10 Downing Street and I hope that the opportunity to serve and to try to influence has to some extent been justified but I cannot claim democratic election. An elected chamber would give us some credibility.

Today the Lib Dems will be fighting for a more representative democracy. We are hoping to defeat the Government through an amendment to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill on votes at 16 and we will be pushing for changes to the Bill that will introduce proportional representation in local government elections. The Lib Dems in the Lords are going to do all we can to ensure that future parliaments, councils and local authorities reflect the will of the wider population.

 

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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3 Comments

  • Tsar Nicholas 15th Jul '15 - 5:05pm

    Roger, how can you square the fine things you support here with your enthusiasm for the European Union, which has just by brute force imposed a financial deal on Greece which even the International Monetary Fund says is unacceptable?

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jul '15 - 11:26pm

    The IMF said it would not work.

  • Yes to votes at 16 – BUT – an even bigger need to give local government the finance to do the job, especially in social care. Successive governments and especially the last one have destroyed the ability of local government to do anything but cut cut cut and to introduce cheap contracts for adult social care. There is a massive contradiction between the laudable aim to increase the minimum wage with the inability of local government to fund it.

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