Opinion: Opportunities for electoral reform in a hung parliament

As Simon Kelner says in today’s i newspaper, electoral reform has “played absolutely zero part in this election campaign”, though it “goes to the very essence of our democracy”.

In what has been described as a lottery election, we need to be prepared for any of the diverse opportunities for electoral reform that may open up.  One thing that does seem almost certain is that the result itself will provide strong evidence of the need for change, with hugely varying seat/vote ratios.  Current polls suggest the following: Conservatives and Labour each with only a third of the votes but over 40% of seats; Liberal Democrats with 4% of seats from 8% of the votes while the SNP have the reverse; and UKIP and the Greens with a combined vote of 15-20%, yet less than 1% of seats between them.

What type of negotiations might there be?  A key distinction is between any possible long term agreement – that is, for the duration of the parliament – such as a formal coalition, and a short term agreement that allows a minority government to take office, winning the vote on a Queen’s Speech and any ensuing vote of confidence.

For any formal agreement, STV for local government in England and Wales should be a Liberal Democrat red line.  With the Conservatives, we could agree on further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales, but their other constitutional manifesto aims, “English Votes for English Laws” and “reduce and equalise constituencies”, are much more problematic because we have very different ideas on both issues.  A formal agreement on constitutional reform with Labour should be easier: their constitutional manifesto aims are all ones we can agree with: more devolved powers, a constitutional convention, replacing the House of Lords with an elected senate, and votes for 16 and 17-year olds.

If there are only negotiations for the short term, to allow a minority government to take office, it is the Labour manifesto pledge, to set up a “people-led Constitutional Convention to determine the future of the UK’s governance” that seems most promising, precisely because it offers a process outside ordinary parliamentary business.  It could proceed independently, and hopefully when it came back to parliament its conclusions would be supported by the same majority that set it up.

Also, in calling for a Constitutional Convention we should have the support of most if not all of the minor parties, including both those who have fared well and those who have been treated appallingly by FPTP. That should help ensure that the Convention has a properly wide scope, including not only fair votes, and reform of the House of Lords and of party funding, but also formulating a federal relationship that works and is fair to all the UK’s component parts.

On the federal question, there is a window of opportunity to work with the nationalists: because the referendum is so recent, the SNP are committed to working for more powers in the coming Parliament rather than for independence, while for Plaid Cymru independence is still a distant dream.  Of course there is a nationalist core that will differ in viewing federal status as a step towards independence. It is up to unionists to make that step unlikely by devising a system that will last.

* Denis Mollison is Chair of Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, and has been a member of the party since joining the SDP in 1981. Here, he writes in a personal capacity.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

65 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 4:35pm

    The article fails to stand up for England. Lib Dems teaming up with Labour to give more power for Scotland and Wales and nothing for England would be the quickest route to a Conservative majority in the UK.

    I’m still open minded on STV, but also still sceptical.

  • John Roffey 1st May '15 - 4:52pm

    Eddie Sammon 1st May ’15 – 4:35pm

    Do you have a problem with devo-max for the English Regions – along with Scotland, Wales & NI? This would share out devolved power evenly throughout the UK.

    Although there is a hard core of the SNP who do want independence – this is clearly not the case for a sizeable part of those planning to vote SNP. However, these do recognise that they are likely to be better off with a large Westminster contingent acting, effectively, as their ‘union’.

    If this is true, and the Referendum suggested it is – this is a problem that is not going away any time soon [or ever]. If devolution is seen as a positive – a Federal UK [including English regions] seems the most sensible way forward.

  • Eddie Sammon, most of Southern England is very affluent and powerful already.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 5:09pm

    John Roffey, good questions, but I really don’t have time to get into a debate and I want people to focus on the article.

    Best wishes

  • > That should help ensure that the Convention has a properly wide scope, including not only fair
    > votes, and reform of the House of Lords and of party funding, but also formulating a federal
    > relationship that works and is fair to all the UK’s component parts.

    If this eventuates, perhaps the real difficulty will be in reconciling the scale of constitutional reform needed with the uncertain window of opportunity to deliver the recommendations. If you look at the likely objectives of the different parties, it will probably be necessary to deliver the reforms as a single, tightly-bound package, but of course that also increases the risk of delay, watering down, and a significant shift in the balance of power.

    Any thoughts on how long a constitutional reform bloc could sustain a constructive working relationship in the new parliament?

  • Devolution for England is a bit of a cul-de-sac from where I’m standing; it wouldn’t address the north-south divide or the overbearance of London and the South-East, and England itself is such a large part of the UK that it’d be difficult for it to receive equal treatment to the other three nations. The best best is to divide England into regions of roughly the size of the other three nations (say, along the lines of the EU voting regions) and devolve power to them rather than some romantic Victorian notion of “England” which, to be brutally honest, doesn’t really exist any more and shouldn’t be reflected in any new constitutional settlement.

  • *best best, sorry

  • **best, bet, even. Argh.

  • John Roffey 1st May '15 - 5:34pm

    Eddie Sammon 1st May ’15 – 5:09pm
    “John Roffey, good questions, but I really don’t have time to get into a debate and I want people to focus on the article.”

    Am I to assume that such questions are to be discussed only after 7 May – that short-termism rules until then? If we continue like this, GE after GE, the Earth will have lost 90% of its species and/or the climate will be beyond repair.

  • England needs its own convention to decide how to handle devolved power: whether as a single entity or by regions, or in another way entirely. It should not be decided by Westminster or by another entity including representatives of areas outside England, as it is an internal matter.

  • Not Who I Say I Am 1st May '15 - 5:48pm

    William Hobhouse 1st May ’15 – 4:30pm
    “Yes, delivering the fourth front page commitment from our 2010 manifesto (with changes that reflect that we are one parliament further on) is more important than all the rather soft red lines that have been touted so far.”

    Spot on William!

  • Arthur Snell 1st May '15 - 5:58pm

    Labour has a terrible record on delivering promised constitutional reform. Remember the Jenkins AV+ proposals? As much as the upcoming election will expose the inadequacy of FPTP, Labour will still be net gainers and I can’t see their incentive to change things. They had 97-2010 to fix the HoL and couldn’t be bothered.

  • @Arthur spot on!

  • Electoral reform is inevitable, because this election is the result of a long term decline in the fortunes of The labour and Conservative parties. There’s only so many times anyone can re-juggle the boundaries to turn 35%-37% of a low turnout in a politically and socially divided nation into a something laughably labelled a majority. The trend for all the established parties is downward,. Eventually the electoral system will have to reflect this. Ironically, the SNP gained power under a form of PR. Personally, I think the Lib Dems should insist on electoral reform as a pre-condition of any coalition agreement.

  • Tony Greaves 1st May '15 - 6:41pm

    Denis Mollison – do not assume that a minority government is a short-term option. Under the FTPA it could last several years and perhaps the full term. Indeed, once a government has been formed it will be difficult to call an early election short of a serious crisis and wants an election in the middle of a serious crisis?

    Tony

  • Tony Greaves 1st May '15 - 6:42pm

    The point is that over five years of a minority government in a no-overall-control parliament, it will be political skills during that time that will count for a lot more than any initial agreement.

    Tony

  • Passing through 1st May '15 - 8:10pm

    @Arthur Snell “Labour has a terrible record on delivering promised constitutional reform. Remember the Jenkins AV+ proposals? As much as the upcoming election will expose the inadequacy of FPTP, Labour will still be net gainers and I can’t see their incentive to change things. They had 97-2010 to fix the HoL and couldn’t be bothered.”

    Just:-

    PR in European elections
    AMS for the Welsh, Scottish and London Assemblies
    SV for directly-elected mayors
    STV for Scottish local elections
    Removal of most the hereditary Lords

    Remind me who has had the special responsibility for implementing electoral reform since 2010.

    And how much of it have they actually delivered?

    I vaguely recall a promise along the lines of “the biggest shake up of our democracy since the Great Reform Act of 1832”

  • @Passing but they sure as hell weren’t going to implement PR for Westminster

  • John Minard 1st May '15 - 8:39pm

    I think there will be a lot more voters interested in electoral reform after 7th May. The hardest thing to overcome will be that argument about not losing the link between MP and constituency. I would argue that most people live sub-regional lives that cross several constituency lines and so larger multi-member constituencies are far from losing a link compared to gaining representation and who know’s cooperation between MP’s from various parties on local issues. STV for local elections and a royal commission on reform for parliament should definitely be a red line – and we shouldn’t be shy about saying it’s time for grown up sensible politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 9:03pm

    This is the only site I have found that explains STV simply:

    http://www.moray.gov.uk/moray_standard/page_68268.html

    If people refer people to the Electoral Reform Society website in order to explain STV then the campaign will probably fail. As someone wrote on an article recently: even the Guardian doesn’t understand STV.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 9:10pm

    PS: it is the “how to fill in your ballot paper” part that is important. After years of periodically reading about STV I didn’t know if it was only a second preference voting system or a ranking system. But Moray Council explain it simply: you can make as few or as many preferences as you like.

  • Tony Greaves 1st May '15 - 10:35pm

    One of the mysteries of this election is how far the system still benefits Labour. This was never down to the boundaries anyway, contrary to ignorant press commentators (except in Wales which is over-represented). The main reason was differential turnout between Conservative and Labour seats (ie more actual votes used to elect Tory MPs). A second reason has been the low Labour votes in Con-Lib marginal, and the “wasted” Tory votes in those which Liberals won.

    Two changes may affect the balance this time. (1) Vast number of “wasted” Labour vote in Scotland in seats the SNP win. (2) Tories win more of the Con-Lib marginal.

    But how far this will redress or overturn the balance I don’t know. It may be offset by Labour winning more Lab-Con marginal.

    Tony

  • Electoral reform is one of a few strong reasons to support Lib Dems (the others relate to Liberal attitude to the role of the State and an internationalist outlook supporting the EU). However it is where we have most obviously failed to deliver. It is where a coalition of Labour and Conservatives have most obviously succeeded in thwarting our aims.

    During the next parliament there will probably be a lot of talk about electoral reform, but I predict, no progress. Was the AV referendum a mistake? Yes and no: AV would have been a small yet significant change, but in retrospect we can see that it would only have had a chance of success from a Lib Lab coalition, because support for AV before 2010 came from Labour, nevertheless Lib Dems are the only Party that have given people an opportunity for change. The only advantage in the rejection of AV is that it can be discounted when electoral reform is reconsidered.

    On Lords reform, our approach was to propose the most conservative lowest common denominator: again it was not really a Liberal proposal. I am disappointed that the Party has not revisited the issue to put forward a more democratic and Liberal structure (such as rolling biannual elections with renewable 4 or 6 year terms for representatives).

    Nonetheless we would be kidding ourselves to expect change from Labour or Conservatives, though I cannot see why Lords reform could not be another ‘red line’.

    The only practical proposal that I could see would be to legislate that local democracies could vote to choose PR for their own elections (either by council vote or a local referendum).

    In my opinion ‘Democrat’ is in the Party’s name: we should either use it or lose it!

  • As someone who believes in electorial reform I voted against AVand am glad we don’t have AV now.

    AV now would give the conservatives a majority which would have been even more undemocratic and smaller parties like the lib dems as they are now would not do do well under AV. AV would make the country even more of a two party system than it is now.

  • John Roffey

    “Do you have a problem with devo-max for the English Regions – along with Scotland, Wales & NI? This would share out devolved power evenly throughout the UK.”

    I think we need to clarify what DevoMax is and a few more details but speed is important to get it done. Too many talking shops would result in a slide in to nothing.

    People spend too much time weighing up their personal gain / loss under the system that is being considered, failing to undrsyand that the system is dynamic and people will change their behaviour in responce to other c hnages. (the same problem many people make when looking at economic matters).

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 11:53am

    Martin 2nd May ’15 – 7:43am

    “In my opinion ‘Democrat’ is in the Party’s name: we should either use it or lose it!”

    I have been trying to make this argument for some time – but there seems to be a general belief on LDV that this does not fit comfortably with ‘liberal’. A limited form of Direct Democracy does seem to be required to keep some check on the administration – the Zac Goldsmith MP recall bill would have helped.

    Jeremy Paxman was making the point on a GE comedy program that the voters get just one chance every 5 years to influence what will happen for the next 5 years – and then the politicians do what they want to do – so everyone should make sure that they vote when they do have this chance. Personally I would think that this is the reason so many do not vote and take little interest in politics.

    The Swiss – rated the happiest nation on the planet – do have their own form of DD. Believing you do have some control on your nation’s – and therefore on your and your families destinies – must provide some reassurance.

    http://www.newsweek.com/whats-worlds-happiest-country-does-it-matter-324448

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 12:08pm

    Psi 2nd May ’15 – 11:02am

    “I think we need to clarify what DevoMax is and a few more details but speed is important to get it done. Too many talking shops would result in a slide in to nothing.”

    Opportunism does not make for good legislation. The fact that a small portion of UK voters will be having such an impact on the government of the UK, probably for most of the next 5 years, will make everyone realise that this is a problem that is not going to go away any time soon – and likely not at all.

    Clarification of what devo-max is will be determined by whatever is given to Scotland – for whatever is given will not be able to be taken away. If federalism is adopted – it will be necessary to give exactly the same powers to Wales, NI, and the English Regions – because there will be no just reason for this not to be the case [and therefore the source of future disputes].

  • Tony Greaves 2nd May '15 - 12:15pm

    The Lords reform bill was actually very much in line with LD policy.

    Tony

  • Involvement in the government of the country should be neither a privilege nor a right but a civic duty.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd May '15 - 12:40pm

    We shall regret bitterly that we did not have electoral reform on the front page of our manifesto.

    An example of fighting the last election and not the present one.

    Ts + DUP + UKIP + LDs look to have a good chance being = to Lab + SNP + SDLP + Grn = 320

    Deal or No Deal? Frankly the five priorities on the front page could all follow if we played the electoral reform card right. But not the other way round.

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 1:01pm

    David-1 2nd May ’15 – 12:39pm
    “Involvement in the government of the country should be neither a privilege nor a right but a civic duty.”

    Are you proposing referenda on all major issues – democracy – the will of the people.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd May '15 - 1:11pm

    Phyllis, most of Southern England is categorically not “very affluent and powerful”. Besides, I’m not someone who agrees with every proposal to tax the South just because they are generally better off.

    I was doing some research on the Barnett Formula last night. England gets by far the least. Now I am not saying every country should get the same amount, but it is something that needs to be monitored. Northern Ireland actually gets the most, which I am surprised about, because hardly anyone talks about it.

  • George Potter 2nd May '15 - 2:42pm

    While the euro regions are possibly appropriate for some parts of England they certainly aren’t appropriate for other parts (the south east region in particular has no historical, geographical, cultural or economic logic to it). We need devolution for the regions of England but the regions must be drawn democratically as a bottom up, not a top down, approach.

  • Do we REALLY want Electoral reform. Idealism is one thing but practicalities is another. It would probably ensure our own self destructiuon whilst giving UKIP and the Greens stacks of MPs.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd May '15 - 3:46pm

    Regional parliaments are a recipe for the South East to demand tax cuts and the result will be increased inequality. Better to introduce gradual reform with an English parliament first.

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 4:43pm

    Eddie Sammon 2nd May ’15 – 3:46pm

    “Regional parliaments are a recipe for the South East to demand tax cuts and the result will be increased inequality. Better to introduce gradual reform with an English parliament first.”

    So you would not sub-divide England because of tax advantages – not sub-divide England first and then find an equitable tax solution. Surely this would be one of the most glaring examples of the dangers of short-termism.

    I wonder if Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria were formed on the basis of tax advantage.

  • Roger Heape 2nd May '15 - 4:54pm

    Lets try and go for clear and simple solutions.

    The staring point would be a Federal UK.
    This means home rule with Parliaments for England,,Scotland ,Wales and Northern Ireland.
    All domestic issues handled by the above.
    Foreign affairs,defense,currency, and UK wide infrastructure to be handled by a small elected UK parliament.
    The House of Lords has no function and wouldl be abolished.

    That is stage 1.Stage 2 .The English Parliament would then consider how much power to devolve to cities and I councils.

  • John Roffey 2nd May '15 - 5:01pm

    Roger Heape 2nd May ’15 – 4:54pm

    “That is stage 1.Stage 2 .The English Parliament would then consider how much power to devolve to cities and I councils.”

    Are the English in, lets say, East Anglia a sub-species to the Scots, Welsh & Northern Irish and therefore cannot be trusted with the same powers?

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd May '15 - 5:44pm

    John Roffey, no, I also wouldn’t divide England completely due to the single market, but I don’t want to provide too many arguments at once.

    Roger Heape is right. English parliament first and then devolution from the English parliament. Simple.

  • theakes

    “Do we REALLY want Electoral reform. Idealism is one thing but practicalities is another. It would probably ensure our own self destructiuon whilst giving UKIP and the Greens stacks of MPs.”

    That is not a God argument against it.

  • Whoops posted to soon. And good not God.

    Also you are only thinking in terms of a static position. The world is a dynamic place under PR the minor parties would get a lot more scrutiny and that

  • Their views would get a more open airing, which would allow the ideas to be exposed. The way the media had presented immigration has suppressed the issue for a long time so when it arrived back on the scene in recent years those of us with a pro-imigration outlook are struggling more than would have been the case if it had been more openly discussed.

  • Sara Scarlett 2nd May '15 - 7:23pm

    I read somewhere that had the referendum on PR gone the way the LibDems wanted it to go, UKIP would get twice as many seats as the Libs. The first and only time I can think of that the LibDems own breath-taking incompetence has worked in their favour.

  • Nick Collins 2nd May '15 - 7:34pm

    How many times does it have to be explained that there has not been a referendum on PR?

  • Not Who I Say I Am 2nd May '15 - 7:44pm

    Sara Scarlett 2nd May ’15 – 7:23pm

    “The first and only time I can think of that the LibDems own breath-taking incompetence has worked in their favour.”

    You are of course correct Sara. Thank goodness we had our top man on the job. Anyone else would really have messed things up for us.

  • Sara Scarlett 2nd May '15 - 8:05pm

    “How many times does it have to be explained that there has not been a referendum on PR?”

    Well, okay, AV is not PR. Good job the referendum on AV was lost, then! If there’s another coalition maybe the LibDems should ask for what they actually want?

  • Jane Ann Liston 2nd May '15 - 8:26pm

    We had a referendum on electoral reform.

    It was roundly defeated (even Northern Ireland voted against, and London was more in favour than Scotland). FPTP was clearly preferred, by nearly 2 to 1.

    Had the vote for change been won, I am certain that after this election (fought under AV) there would have been a move towards PR proper.

    As it is, it was generally accepted that the defeat meant that electoral reform was off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

    So it is rather ironic that there is now apparently a clamour from the electorate for electoral reform so soon after the defeat. I thought these referenda were only supposed to be once in a lifetime/generation – oh, I see …

  • Not Who I Say I Am 2nd May '15 - 8:48pm

    Sara Scarlett 2nd May ’15 – 8:05pm

    … or is it the poster formerly known as TCO 🙂

  • Nick Collins 2nd May '15 - 8:56pm

    “We had a referendum on electoral reform.”

    Hmm. I would not describe AV as a “reform”

    “Had the vote for change been won, I am certain that after this election (fought under AV) there would have been a move towards PR proper.”

    Hmm. I’m not so sure. I think that there was a real risk that AV, if implemented, would soon have been discredited and would severely have damaged any campaign for further reform.

    “As it is, it was generally accepted that the defeat meant that electoral reform was off the agenda for the foreseeable future.”

    Probably

    I don’t often agree with Sara Scarlett, but “incompetent” is the only word which applies to the LibDem negotiators in 2010 who accepted the promise of a referendum on AV as their “prize” for going into coalition.

  • Sara Scarlett 2nd May '15 - 8:59pm

    “… or is it the poster formerly known as TCO :-)” < Not me. I don't post anonymously. (Lapse in judgement, though it may very well be…)

  • Nick Collins 2nd May '15 - 9:15pm

    So, unlike “Not Who I Say I Am”, she is who she says she is.

  • Not Who I Say I Am 2nd May '15 - 9:20pm

    Apologies Sara – although you are obviously friends.

    TCO similarly accused me of being that very decent Preamble Liberal Stephen Hesketh of all people.

    This is clearly an outrageous suggestion – although I will admit to frequently spending the night with Mrs Hesketh 😉

  • Sara Scarlett 2nd May '15 - 9:29pm

    “Apologies Sara – although you are obviously friends.” ??? Well, I have no idea who ‘TCO’ is so maybe we are friends and I just don’t know it. Apology accepted.

  • ” there was a real risk that AV, if implemented, would soon have been discredited”
    I have often seen claims that AV could be worse than FPTP, but never seen them realistically substantiated. Given just how bad FPTP is in practice and the real examples where a winner has had little more than a quarter of the vote, it beggars belief that AV can be worse.

    Not that I advocate AV, but it at least means that a candidate who is disliked or distrusted by more than half of the electorate does not get to be their representative. The trouble is that when someone such as Nick Collins makes these claims about AV, I no longer trust what he has to say about other systems.

  • Have you cracked the acronym yet Stephen?

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd May '15 - 10:22pm

    Sara Scarlett 2nd May ’15 – 9:29pm
    “Apologies Sara – although you are obviously friends.” ??? Well, I have no idea who ‘TCO’ is so maybe we are friends and I just don’t know it. Apology accepted.”

    Sara, just so you are aware, TCO said he was a friend of yours on a recent thread but with so many people on here ‘not being who they say they are’, who knows! You must admit the pseudonym is interesting.

    Wishing you zero success on Thursday!

    Regards, Stephen

  • We pretty urgently need electoral reform in local government in time for next May

  • Sara Scarlett 3rd May '15 - 5:17am

    “Sara, just so you are aware, TCO said he was a friend of yours on a recent thread but with so many people on here ‘not being who they say they are’, who knows! You must admit the pseudonym is interesting.”

    Thank you for enlightening me. I had no idea. I don’t sock puppet and don’t appreciate being accused of it considering that unless someone has access to a seperate internet connection it’s not easy to do. I am flattered that you are all so entranced by me that you discuss me on threads that I don’t take part in.

  • John Roffey 3rd May '15 - 10:35am

    Eddie Sammon 2nd May ’15 – 5:44pm
    “John Roffey, no, I also wouldn’t divide England completely due to the single market, but I don’t want to provide too many arguments at once.”

    I thought it was the UK that was registered to operate in the single market.

    Since ‘UK’ denotes a United Kingdom [since 1707] – perhaps this is the best term to use and not be so attached to ‘England’ – if the wish is to keep Scotland in the Union.

    “England used to be known as Engla land, meaning the land of the Angles, people from continental GERMANY, who began to invade Britain in the late 5th century, along with the Saxons and Jute.”

  • John Roffey 3rd May '15 - 10:50am

    Jane Ann Liston 2nd May ’15 – 8:26pm
    “We had a referendum on electoral reform.

    It was roundly defeated (even Northern Ireland voted against, and London was more in favour than Scotland). FPTP was clearly preferred, by nearly 2 to 1.

    Had the vote for change been won, I am certain that after this election (fought under AV) there would have been a move towards PR proper.

    As it is, it was generally accepted that the defeat meant that electoral reform was off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

    So it is rather ironic that there is now apparently a clamour from the electorate for electoral reform so soon after the defeat. I thought these referenda were only supposed to be once in a lifetime/generation – oh, I see …”

    I have had a similar difficulty with other policies of the Party. It seems that once a policy has been approved – at some time in the past – this becomes Party policies for ever – irrespective of circumstances.

    This does seriously hinder any progress [and this will be more obvious when it is the 4th largest party] as it obliges the Party always to be behind the game – rather than ahead of the game. Lumbered with policies that are no longer relevant [or not to the voters].

    Surely there is sense in abandoning all previously agreed policies after each GE – and starting afresh. This does not preclude any former policy – but it would oblige each to be justified at regular intervals.

  • I will avoid the discussion about who Mrs Hesketh has as a dancing partner.

    But I would remind Jane Ann Liston that we had a referendum on a dog’s dinner of AV.

    Many longtime supporters of Electoral Reform were appalled by the “miseraleitle compromise” that was AV.

    Indeed, the words “miserable little compromise” were I think NC’s before he became DPM.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th May '15 - 11:21am

    Nick Collins

    I don’t often agree with Sara Scarlett, but “incompetent” is the only word which applies to the LibDem negotiators in 2010 who accepted the promise of a referendum on AV as their “prize” for going into coalition.

    At the time it seemed an easy win – opinion polls showed popular support for AV, and it really ought to have been able to push it by using a few examples of how it overcomes anomalies and stops the way people are forced to vote Conservative-Labour in order to avoid “splitting the vote” and letting Labour-Conservative win.

    In reality, the “No” campaign was a campaign against proportional representation. It argued that distortion in favour of the largest party is a good thing. So here we had Labour Party people (in theory the Labour Party supported AV, but none of them came out and gave it vocal support, while many big Labour names came out firmly for “No”) in effect saying that yes, the Tories should be propped up by giving them extra seats so they can form the government when they have the most votes. The illogicality of that argument being used and people voting for it as a punishment for the LibDems “propping up the Tories” was obvious. Was it really so difficult to say to all those people voting “No” on the grounds “After seeing what we have now, I don’t like coalitions” something like “Well, ok, by voting ‘No’ you are saying what you want right now is a pure Conservative government. Go and vote ‘No’ if you like, but when you do so, don’t forget to wear your ‘I love Maggie’ badge”.

    But the “Yes” campaign was staggeringly incompetent. Anyone involved in it should have been sacked from any responsible position promoting our party. I blame them rather than the initial decision to have the referendum. I believe that had AV got through it would have opened the doors to further reform. Indeed, given the mess that FPTP looks like it will give us this time, we should not be silent on this issue in the way we have been. We have been proved right, yet we act as if that referendum never happened by never mentioning it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th May '15 - 11:30am

    John Tilley

    Many longtime supporters of Electoral Reform were appalled by the “miserable little compromise” that was AV.

    Sure, but how many people drew the conclusion that the rejection of AV meant people wanted more electoral reform? None. No-one. Not a single person. At least, I never heard anyone say that. The universal conclusion was that it meant the people of Britain were opposed to any electoral reform.

    That is why, miserable little compromise though it may have been, it was SO important that it did get through. Is it really so difficult to argue that a small move in one’s preferred direction should be made if that is all that is available? Quite obviously, the fact that was all that was on offer showed the weakness of the LibDems in the coalition. We should have been more honest and said so. We should have said “That’s what you get with a distortional representation system that gives the Tories 500% more seats for 50% more votes – a compromise which is far from our ideal”.

    But our Leader played the trick he has always played in the coalition, making out that the latest miserable little compromise was super-duper wonderful and really just what we wanted in the first place. It didn’t work and it never has. It ended up with people voting FOR the distortion to punish us for the consequences of that distortion. As I put it at the time, voting “No” to AV in protest at the LibDems “propping up the Tories” was rather like kicking the cat as a protest against cruelty to animals.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Michael BG
    Peter Martin, Indeed, it was a Lib Dem policy to increase the Income Tax personal allowance above inflation each year to remove those on the lowest pay from ...
  • Sadhbh
    I believe energy price rices of only 4% are planned in France where the energy companies are nationalised. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from this?...
  • William Wallace
    Responses to populism are difficult to judge - because the essence of populism is to reject reasoned argument, and to blame elites (often portrayed as plotting ...
  • expats
    Truss and Sunak are like hucksters at a carnival; each trying to outdo the other with more and more unbelievable claims..."His two-headed boy is a fake; come an...
  • Jeff
    Phew! What a scorcher! That’s a phrase we have rarely heard in the UK since 1976. This summer is on track to be around 2˚C less of a scorcher than ...