Opinion: Paddy Ashdown’s appeal to Green and Labour


Lord Ashdown’s call for ‘progressive forces’ to  collaborate before the next election  does not go far enough, especially now there is talk about Labour never winning again. He rightly talks about  Lib Dem collaboration with Labour and the Greens. But there can be no ‘progress’ without prior electoral reform: the alternative is the old see-saw, but worse – Labour’s Scottish  amputation has moved the pivot. ‘Progress’ demands the rout of the Tories and their money, and that can be achieved if all other parties gang up on them. That sounds unsporting, but the Tories know well that this is no game.

All those parties which together represent that huge majority which voted 2:1 against the Conservatives must grit their teeth and do the needful thing, for their several and their collective futures: they must form a Mayday Alliance: an Alliance short-lived, but irresistible as a rescue force.

At the next General Election every Conservative  candidate must have only one plausible opponent, one put up by the Mayday Alliance. To bypass horse-trading, the Alliance candidate must be chosen by whichever party in 2015 came closest to defeating the Conservative candidate, or did actually win the seat. Collectively, consequently, the alternative government offered by the Mayday Alliance would pretty fairly represent the composition and character of the two-thirds of our electorate now being bullied by the one-third.

The Manifesto of the Mayday Alliance would be brief, solid, and clear – just two straightforward promises: to change the voting system, so that to call Britain a democracy will cease to be humbug; and then to call a General Election, dissolving the Mayday Alliance so that the parties can revert to their competing identities (though preserving, one hopes, the good will its formation will have engendered).

The Alliance must be formed soon.  That does not mean an end to party politics meanwhile; policies must be formulated, proposals challenged, just as always.   But alongside business as usual each party must have its own team, collaborating with the others’ teams, to get the Alliance standing by ready for action, and ready for surprise.  We may not have four years.

* Roger Lake is a retired academic who voted Liberal in 1959, and every General Election since, with a fair mileage leafletting this Spring.

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  • David Faggiani 29th Jun '15 - 5:36pm

    I this this is very exciting. This, of course, would mean possibly not opposing UKIP in a few seats, if we wanted to take it that far.

  • paul barker 29th Jun '15 - 5:42pm

    I know its the Silly Season but no. This is a complete non-starter. Support for Electoral reform does seem to be increasing in Labour, lets work on that.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '15 - 5:45pm

    I wouldn’t vote for a party that created an electoral alliance with the Greens or UKIP.

  • David Faggiani 29th Jun '15 - 5:55pm

    So, you’d see it as, at most, a Lab-Lib Alliance then Eddie Sammon? Or would you not consider that either?

    To the author: so, would this just be in seats with an incumbent Tory? Would it not exist in seats like Bristol West, for instance, where the Tories were 4th (and we were 3rd)? Because I can see this, more limited Alliance actually having a chance of being agreed.

  • Sorry, but this just doesn’t fly.

    Life isn’t that simple.

    First, just adding together all the non-Tory votes and assuming they could all be persuaded to vote for a single candidate is way too simplistic. We, as Lib Dem activists may feel that a majority Tory government is so obviously terrible, but the British electorate (or certainly the English electorate) has opted for one in 10 of the 19 post-war elections.

    Second, we (politically interested people) may see this two-point process driven manifesto as an obvious step, but it would be a dream to campaign against. The Tory campaign would go like this:

    1 – Our opponents don’t care about the things that you care about, they just what to rig the rules in their favour.
    2 – You’ve already been asked in a referendum whether you wanted a change and you said no. Don’t vote for the people who don’t respect the answer you gave.
    3 – Vote for our opponents and after this long election campaign you’ll get a long referendum campaign, followed by another long election campaign. Aren’t there more important things to worry about like the economy etc etc?

    I would bet against another Tory majority.

  • Electoral pacts are a fact of life in a multiparty state, and should not be dismissed out of hand; however, this is not a good start to forming them.
    First, it is still far too close to the past election and too far from the next one. The government is in no immediate danger of falling (some folk wanted “stability,” remember?) and the political landscape in 2020 — that is, the salient issues and the relative positions and strengths of the parties — will likely be very unlike that of 2015. To make agreements today and expect them to be relevant five years from now is absurd.
    Second, there is no guarantee that the party with the strongest candidate against the Tories in 2015 will be the strongest party in the same constituency in 2020; indeed, there’s every reason to expect that it will not be the case.
    Third, electoral pacts are most acceptable when they are made by parties which share some obvious common causes, so that they can present themselves as coming together in a front to achieve that goal. This is something the voters can understand. But an alliance merely for electoral advantage looks cheap, meretricious and mercenary, and would likely be rejected by the voters. STOP TORIES is not enough of a common cause to justify an alliance.

    A Labour-Lib Dems alliance is credible, but a Lib Dems-UKIP one is not. An SNP-Green-PC alliance is credible, but a Lib-Dems-Green alliance stretches credibility. The notion of a Green-UKIP alliance is absurd.

    The political situation is, in any case, not so desperate as to call for such desperate measures. Ordinary politics will do. Let the Tories govern, let them make their inevitable mistakes, and when they lose popularity, as they must, step up as the party most likely to fix those mistakes.

  • John Tilley 29th Jun '15 - 6:36pm

    “…..Reform will only be achieved when one of the two big parties is in charge…”

    Oh yes let’s ignore the evidence.
    Neither of the “two big parties” is “in charge” in Scotland.
    In fact there is only one big party in Scotland and it is the SNP.
    Has electoral reform been achieved in Scotland?
    Let’s look at the evidence.
    What electoral system do they have for MEP’s, the Edinburgh Parliament and local councillors in Scotland?
    Is it FPTP? No.

  • Above. Sorry, that last line should rather obviously read: ‘I wouldn’t bet against a Tory majority’

  • Christopher Haigh 29th Jun '15 - 6:47pm

    Paddy is spot on. The opposition parties could form a single issue front to get a system of proportional rep voted in and then agree to call a new general election if that is possible.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '15 - 6:50pm

    Hi David. Yes I would be alright with a Lib-Lab alliance. It would have to have economic competence in its constitution though.

  • Seriously though, the underlying point of Roger’s article is the major challenge we have to crack on eight seats in a FPTP electoral system. Nationally it will be easier to get a hearing on issues where we go out if our way to differentiate ourselves from what everyone else says, tackling the issues that no-one else will. Could get us heard and help lift our poll ratings a bit

    Trouble is, each individual constituency is a self-contained election where you need 35-45% to win. If we appear to be silent on health, education, jobs etc we get that. We need to be distinctive (and liberal) about our solutions, but they need to be solutions to problems that the 35-45% care about, not just the things 5-15% care about

  • Little Jackie Paper 29th Jun '15 - 6:53pm

    No – I’m sorry, but this really is all a part of the problem to my mind. Trot out all the excuses in the world – the electoral system, the media, the establishment – it’s just displacement. Conservatives (small-c conservatives) may not get on well, but the fact of the matter is that they are able to broadly unite under the banner of the Conservative Party and they win. Liberals/Progressives/Leftists can’t find a platform, don’t unite and they get beaten. A lot.

    Look, I don’t like conservative politics any more than the next man. When I look at what conservatism is now I see little more than a ghastly mixture of corporatism and I’m-alright-Jack world views. The article however presents a startlingly limited horizon. Whatever it is that will change the rightward-lean in UK politics, it’s going to be a bit stronger than a group of people all really sure that the electoral system is the be-all-and-end-all.

    Is it really asking too much to think of a non-conservative platform that will actually get people to rally around – a vision (for want of a better term) that doesn’t rely on a single-issue that animates the internet, but no one else. 1997 was not that long ago and we seemed to manage a, ‘big tent.’ That is the type of big thinking we need – not some wishful cant about how wonderful it would be if the electorate all sat down and decided to make FPTP their defining issue for election day.

  • This just smells of desperation and a total lack of ideas.

    Why not just merge with Labour & or the Greens ?

  • Tony Dawson 29th Jun '15 - 7:40pm

    Horse, door, bolted, after, shut, the, has.


    It is a great shame that the message which Paddy was ‘fronting up’ for the last few years didn’t have any appeal to Labour and Green voters.

  • I think this is unrealistic, but the prize is too big to ignore. We should pursue this.

  • Co-operate with the Greens – yes, indeed. In fact their Manifesto was as near to what Social Liberalism ought to be as you’re going to get. Willie Rennie has made a start on this.

    Labour ????? Some of them ,maybe, but problems if they swing back to the Blairite right. Their attitude to welfare cuts in the Budget will be the clue. The nearest to a Social Liberal is Jeremy Corbyn with all his faults. The three ‘main’ leadership contenders are an uninspiring bunch. As someone living in Scotland, whatever you folks think down south, Labour complacency and old fashioned machine politics was totally outflanked and destroyed on the radical left by the SNP. The SNP do have progressive elements despite the nastiness of some internet trolls and a tendency to centralism.

    UKIP ??? please close the door on your way out. The worst kind of know nothing Tory right wing – led by a public school ex-banker pretending to be a man of the people in Harris Tweed and Burberry . There’s a lot of nastiness underneath that matey smirk. indeed it’s the antithesis of what Liberalism ought to be.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '15 - 8:21pm

    ‘David-1′ talks a lot of sense

    Electoral pacts are a fact of life in a multiparty state, and should not be dismissed out of hand; however, this is not a good start to forming them.’

    but we must remember the electoral timetable. In May 2016 there will be pr elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and, at last, the Mayor of Greater London and Assembly.

    By Decemeber 2017 we will also have a referendum on EU membership in which there may be some sharing of platforms as Labour spokesman Alan Johnson MP said on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

    This sort of idea could only be implemented after both Liberal Democrats and Labour have elected new leaders. The personal chemistry is important, and can develop while both are in opposition, but only slowly and if there is enough mutual trust.

    Please note what Tim Farron said at the more recent hustings.

  • The Greens are our enemy. We have to see them off. Not any easy task, where they organize they organize well. Last weeks Scottish opinion poll they had 10% we had 5%, lot of work to do before the Assembly elections, and their vote rise in Cambridge last week which lost us the seat, shows what we have to contend with.
    Paddy Ashdown seems to be talking out of his hat as well as eating it.

  • To add another fly to a jar that is starting to buzz ominously:

    If you can convince people they care about voting reform and if you can win a majority and if you can agree a form of PR and if you can implement it and then call a new election… Then the Tories will walk it, maybe comfortably enough to get a majority alone, certainly with the kippers backing them. For two reasons.

    Elections are expensive things, the big two are the only parties with coffers big enough put up two serious election campaigns inside of 6 months. The Tories are the only ones who can do so comfortably.

    If this rainbow coalition is going to be able to actually fight as one unit it cannot have any other policies. The kippers and the greens agree on basically nothing. So this government will have nothing to guide it, no mandate to do anything other than PR, no experience or competence in government. When each of the 6 once-a-month crises hit the coalition will flounder.

    This chaos and the self destruction of the left right after might even be eniugh to reverse PR and kill the project for a generation. I wouldn’t pur money on it… But I wouldn’t put money against it either.

  • @David Raw,

    You must have read a different Green manifesto than me! I saw a huge shift towards authoritarian socialism actually! With an unbelievable number of expensive promises, all to be paid for by tax dodgers… (and the rich, who would be abolished, basically, with the Schumacher policy of no-one getting more that 12 times the lowest paid). Well, there was hardly any policy that was not appealing… But that sort of redistribution can only be imposed by revolution…

  • I would like to see a pact of progressive parties in 2020, although it would need a programme of government wider than just electoral reform. It would involve negotiating a coalition agreement before the election, so electors would be able to vote for or against that agreement.

  • Thanks to everyone who has responded. I have been out this evening, but will attempt soon to tackle the misgivings. Some of them, though, seem to have misunderstood me. Probably that is my fault — but please do read my proposal a second time, because some objections or queries are actually covered, I think.

    Thanks again,
    Roger Lake

  • Andrew: “and the rich, who would be abolished, basically, with the Schumacher policy of no-one getting more that 12 times the lowest paid”

    Sounds good, reckon Farron or Lamb will go for it?

  • To save time, may I just quote the exact time against your response, and answer each in txurn? As yo see, I don’t type well.
    1. 5.36. I’m trying to get a democracy. OK, in some seats you don’t oppose UKIP. There may be some in which they don’t foul our pitch. But the important point is that when the Mayday Alliance wins the election it will form the government only long enough to get PR. Then there’s an election, using PR. There will be little point in any tactical voting then, and we shall oppose UKIP with our LibDem manifesto.

    2. 5.42 Why is it a non-starter? Tell us, and I’ll try to disagree.

    3. 5.45 A lot of people voted for Greens and UKIP, and I believe a ‘democracy’ should represent the population, not a ‘winning’ party. See my reply no 1, about tactical voting.

    4. 5.55 Every seat. Why not? Apart from other arguments, I believe the best chance of an effective Alliance is to keep it simple.

    5. 5.59 Bypassing the unfairness of the vote for AV, imposed on the coalition by the Tories, I point out that in no postwar election, I believe, did the ‘winning’ party get half the votes: the electorate has never voted for a Tory Government, or for a Labour one. Or, admittedly, for a Liberal one. But all these apparent preferences have been contaminated by very widespread tactical voting, a thing of the past once we get PR.

    Your points:1 They do, don’t they.
    2 See above.
    3 What’s all this about a referendum? And why should campaigns be long? An Alliance government will have to deal with ‘events, dear boy’, but it’s sole purpose will be to install a proper voting system — let’s call it PR, because that is what I desire and expect — and will then call an election in the ordinary way.

    They tell me my comment is too long. I will resume in the morning, if allowed.

  • Roger Lake

    What’s the point of having one let alone two elections when any change in the voting system would need to pass a referendum ?

  • Sammy O'Neill 30th Jun '15 - 12:55am

    This idea is so unfeasible, it’s ridiculous. If we optimistically assume the Tories didn’t win, In the time it would take to amend the voting system, some other government decisions would have to be made. What do you do? All the parties in your alliance of losers have totally different positions (or none) on most policies. How do you maintain sufficient unity without putting off every key decision? Say the day after the alliance enters office the Falklands were invaded. How is a government held together on a platform of electoral reform going to be in a position to form the required united front on that?

    Then the big question: how do you stop the decision being reversed in the future? Sure you can try to devise a system to ensure nobody gets a majority (see the Scottish Parliament for evidence of how well that went) but I suspect that in the long run you’d definitely get a period where the Tories and similarly thinking minor parties would have sufficient seats to have a majority even under PR. Or do we then do what Ireland did and spend 30 years arguing about whether to change it back and have a few referendums instead of focusing on other issues?

    Basically, it’s just not feasible.

  • There should be agreement between the parties to bring about electoral reform. Certainly, there should be a pact between the smaller parties not to enter into any kind of government deal without securing a bill for electoral reform as part of the agreement. And what has referendum got to do with anything? Where is it written that the electoral system can only be changed by means of one of those?

    Going further, to full electoral alliance, I am less convinced by. I can see the case for standing aside to give the most credible non-Tory a clear run, but I can’t see the Labour Party being willing to stand aside in the number of constituencies that they’d have to retreat from to make it work. And do they even support proportional democracy in the first place?

    The smaller parties should consider an agreement not to stand in each other’s held seats, allowing the pro-reform bloc to grow without feeding on itself. And as I say, a clear and simple agreement not to enter government in any form without a Reform Act that brings proportional democracy to the UK should be in place as well. Any coalition would then be made around consensus and compromise on the broad range of policy much as the previous government was, with electoral reform more an entrance fee the large partner would have to pay to initiate negotiations.

  • I don’t see that a single issue united anti-Tory party could possibly work for the reasons that Dal pointed out. And while I think formal pacts or alliances are the wrong way to go, I see no reason why we can’t run joint campaigns on specific things we have common cause with others on. For example giving cross party support to the social housing campaign groups like Focus E15 in London or opposing fracking. There could be an agreement not to use negative tactics against each other. We could even turn a blind eye to (or quietly encourage) local constituency parties vote swapping in key marginal target seats.

    In short we need to work together where there is mutual benefit while making sure we retain our distinctive identities (does this sound like Liberalism to anyone?).

  • John Tilley 30th Jun '15 - 6:44am

    There can be some potential for loose cooperation between parties on the left who agree on more than changing the voting system for Westminster elections.
    However the arrangement that you have suggested in your article simply will ot workin practice.
    There needs to be more glue to stick together a popular front than simply electoral reform.
    The media, particularly the BBC, loves a simple red v blue with a bit of far right (pornography of fascism) threatening from the wings.
    Anything else they find too difficult to understand and apparently impossible to report.

    If we have learned nothing else from the last 5 years we surely have learned that the BBC can only operate in terms of a two and a bit party system. All those presenters called Dimbleby (or similar) could never cope with a system that was not virtually the same as it was in 1959.

    As LJP points out —
    Little Jackie Paper 29th Jun ’15 – 6:53pm
    “….Whatever it is that will change the rightward-lean in UK politics, it’s going to be a bit stronger than a group of people all really sure that the electoral system is the be-all-and-end-all.”
    He goes on to ask –
    “Is it really asking too much to think of a non-conservative platform that will actually get people to rally around ?–”

    LJP grasps that the great unwashed mass of the voters have to be part of this as well. Not all voters are middles class obsessives pondering which voting system might be neatest. Some voters have irritatingly shown that they care much more about other things. Jolly unreasonable of them but even an enthusiast for STV like me has to acknowledge that if the majority of voters thought this was a high priority then they would probably vote Liberal Democrat in England.

    Well over 90% did not vote for the party of Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister with Responsibiity for Constitutional Reform. After five years in government he so alienated the public to the concept of constitutional reform tha even he hardly mentioned it during the 2015 general election.

    Politics would be so easy if it were not for those pesky voters.

  • A very interesting debate.
    I must get down to reading the Greens manifesto etc as my thoughts had been moving me in that direction for some kind of pact. I appreciate the simplicity of the proposal and the valid points against.
    I wonder what some polling firm would find if they put a simple understandable proposal to a significant enough number of voters – Not that polling firms always get things right 🙂
    I confess that the thought of any kind of arrangement with UKIP leaves me feeling dirty, however I do believe in democracy and the proposal does promise a quick separation.
    The SNP have proved to be an excellent electoral machine, however it must be remembered that for Westminster at least pretty much the only way is down – I still don’t see the Tories being major beneficiaries of that.
    Let’s work on Labour to be wholehearted for good PR and on a pact with the Greens agreeing with both the best form of PR well in advance of the election and to appear in all manifestos. At the same time we must find winning arguments to the concerns that UKIP has owned.

  • There is a hopelessly optimistic dream that runs through a number of LDV posts and comments. It is that one day there will be an election based around some rationalistic determination of ‘the truth’.

    We are not alone in this, you can see it in the blogs of other parties. But elections are actually a wondrously messy process and they are generally won by the most commonly held perception of the truth, complicated by the fact that the outcome is actually the cumulative effect of over 600 individual contests. Also, as political activists, we don’t get to choose directly what the election is about.

    Does this mean we shouldn’t be idealistic? No, absolutely we should (three cheers to Tim Oliver above without any knowledge of his definition of Liberal), putting forward a different choice on how the world could work better is what we’re here for. But any strategy that doesn’t acknowledge the inherent messiness of elections, or depends on engaging the electorate in highly focussed political process issue at the expense of all others, or rests on a party with 8 MPs dictating terms, is doomed to failure.

  • 6. 6.23 “First” See the last para of my starting piece: building the Mayday Alliance should go on alongside all the other things parties do, to get it ready. And can we be sure the five-year-term Act will not be rescinded?
    ‘Second’: agreed, it may not be, but that will become a matter of dispute. The point is that every party bar the Tories ( and perhaps SNP?) stands to gain from PR, so the aim of every party in the Alliance is not to win the seat, but to ensure that the Tory does not.
    ‘Third” I disagree: I believe STOP TORIES is indeed a enough of a common cause to justify an alliance. It is, indeed, the ‘obvious common cause’ you outline. Some illiberal people will say that this is proposed solely for Lib Dem electoral advantage, but such cynics would be wrong. Remember that whatever the voting figures were at the recent election, we can be sure that they would have been very different if we already had PR, since tactical voting would scarcely happen. Shortly before the election the respectable left-wing press was telling us that about 60% of people polled would favour PR.

    7. 6.23 Yours is a depressing view, Sid, and it may well be right. But it is a counsel of despair, and must be rejected. I hope and believe that one of the two big parties may be about to realise that the right thing for their future is PR, and i think we both know which one!

    8. 6.34 The Liberal Democrats do not need to reestablish themselves, Alex, we are alive and kicking. My proposal requires political agreement on one thing only — the necessity of dishing the Tories. It requires no compromise on anything else. Once we’ve got PR it’ll be back to each party against the others, until the first PR election almost certainly results in all the negotiations for a workable coalition, just like many advanced countries.

    9. 6.36 Good point, John. It may be worth reminding ourselves that the SNP avalanche in May overwhelming all other parties was by FPTP, whereas the PR balance in the Scottish Parliament is that 64 (SNP) SMPs are only just over half the total. Of course, the Westminster and the Edinburgh elections did take place at different times, with the Independence referendum between, which does complicate the comparison!

    10. 6.40 Thanks for clarifying that Dal. I write in constant fear of making similar typos.

    11. 6.47 Great idea. Thanks.

  • 12 6.50 Well . . . isn’t it in the Cabinet you need it, more than the constitution?
    And are you getting it from the Tories now? Obvious truths are often actual errors. It is not always true that ‘you don’t get out of debt by borrowing more’.
    For example: you need your car for work, and you’re still paying for it. A tyre bursts. Do you buy another on your credit card, or lay up your car until it’s paid for?
    My own opinion agrees with the SNP on this: ‘austerity’ is not the answer. But if you disagree, remember that I do not speak for the Lib Dems, even though a member. i believe opinion is divided on this.

    13. 6.53 Good points, Dal. But I emphasise two things: my proposal has two distinct phases. The point of my Mayday Alliance is to concentrate on the single issue of getting electoral reform as conclusively and quickly as possible. I believe, therefore, that in the campaign for the first election voters will only be interested in deciding whether they want a Parliament by and for grown-ups, or one where we do as we’re told by Nanny Tory — all for our own good, of course! Everyone will have rolled up their sleeves, reconciled to the fact that there are going to be two General Elections in quick succession. The Government formed after the first will install PR, and then call a second election, at which all those issues you mention will come to the fore, and the parties will once again argue the important toss about health, education, etc. in the competition. And the actual competition on the ground will not be for seats, but for votes.

    14. 6.53 (2nd) ‘The` Conservative party win’ , you say. Yes, and they even claim a mandate, when two voters out of three voted against them. There may have been a tiny shift to the right, but two thirds of the voters voted leftish. They ‘lost’, but were they beaten? Or was there something wrong with the voting system? (AND, incidentally, the money spent by the right?)

  • 15. 7.09 Sorry to hear that, truly. I hoped it had a delightful scent of opportunity and hope for everyone.

    16. 7.40 Allied, we might recapture the horse.

    17. 7.55 We are inured to complexity. My own opinion is that the realsim of my proposal lies in its simplicity.

    18. 8.12 Let’s move on . . . .

    19. 8.21 I think ‘personal chemistry’ is and will always be an important factor in political life; it lubricates the intricate twists and turns of negotiation. But I believe the simplicity of my proposal means no such lubrication is required for the next election, though vital after it.

    20. 8.25 Inside the kingdom we have no enemies, surely? Some parties get things wrong, and we oppose them and try to deny them power, by using the ballot box. But anyway, lets get PR first, and then choose our firends.

    21. 8.41 These percentages don’t mean very much, because of the skew caused by tactical voting under FPTP. You don’t really believe only 8% of voters are basically Liberals, do you?

    22. 9.31 With the stumpy Scottish tail wagging the British Bulldog, and 4 million UKIP voters getting just one MP it may not be too hard to persuade everyone that PR will serve us better. This is not a rainbow coalition I am suggesting: it is a black and white issue, and the Tories are one of those colours, the rest of us the other.
    Please see my replies 8. and 13.

    23. 9.33 No doubt it’ll be back to the bear garden for the second election. Each party must be ready for that. But first things first. PR — go for it.

    24. 11.25 One for Andrew to answer, i think.

    25. 12.38 Surely, the first election would be that referendum? The Mayday Alliance would hope to win our next General Election by putting up candidates against Tory candidates, and the sole promise of MA candidates would be to install the new voting system (and of course mind the shop till reopening time). Anyone voting Conservative would be supporting FPTP, and anyone voting for the Alliance candidate would be voting for a new, better, electoral system.

    26. 12.55 Fair enough, tho’ I’d draw the line at ridiculous! I suppose in a true democracy everything is always open to change (like the 5-year term law?). I just believe that the nations would be happier with a parliament that represented actual opinions in the home and the pubs, without manipulation by mountains of money.

  • I think you fundamentally misunderstand what British elections are for. The British electorate does not want an electoral that results in a continental-style soup of parties: they want a system which gives a ‘winner’ who can govern for a while, and who the public can then judge as either having succeeded (in which case they get another term) or failed (in which case they get kicked out).

    The British public will never willingly accept a system which would basically guarantee there would never be a proper single-party government again,and which would open the door to such things as, say, the Liberal Democrats becoming a basically permanent part of government, just with shifting coalition partners.

    What the British public want from an electoral system is not perfect proportional representation, but the ability to hold politicians to account. And you can’t hold them to account if it’s not absolutely clear who is in charge, who has responsibility; in a coalition each party can (and does) say ‘well we know our government had failings bbut it was not our fault, it was because of the compromises we had to make in coalitions’.

    Whereas with a system which gives a proper winner, you know who is responsible, you know who to blame, and you know you can get rid of them with no chance of them slinking back into a ministerial office as part of a different coalition.

    Some people seem to be under the delusion that the British public want their parliament to work like Borgen. They don’t. And they will reject roundly any attempt to make it so.

  • I think there are lots of people taking about what the public want. I suspect that people simply want to be represented and that if what is called the Left is pluralistic, which to an extent it always was, then pacts and alliances make sense.
    Dav,, above, does not have special insights into the political psych of Britain. No one does. So assertion that Britain won’t stand for this or that or the other are full of sound and fury and gung ho calls to arms, but probably signify very little at all. What we do know is that politicians are not trusted, voter turnout is pitiful, governments have been winging it on majorities that are in no shape or form majorities since about the mid 1970s and increasingly votes are being split by multi party politics. The system is in deep trouble and that means too many of the electorate are missing out on representation.

  • I suspect that people simply want to be represented

    I suspect that what people mostly want from government is for the bins to be collected, the police to patrol the streets, the banks to stay open, and life to carry on pretty much as it always has. They don’t particularly care much who is at the top, provided they know they can sack her or him if they get dissatisfied, and and give somebody else a go.

  • 27. 2.07 Important questions about Labour, indeed. I think they might do, after more reflection than they’ve shown so far. They have respected elders who have belatedly come round to it, and that may help.
    third para: tactics, tactics! I believe what we need is strategy, not tactics nibbling here and there. I urge again that simplicity is the thing; not simply for simplicity’s sake, but because every complication is a source of negotiation leading to wrangling leading to discord leading to where we are now.

    28. 2.07 (2nd) I agree with all you say but assert again that you are describing the coalition government that would almost certainly follow the first, which will dissolve itself after installing PR.

    29. 6.44. I sympathise very much with all you say, John, but I think it another counsel of despair. And I’d offer a ‘yes, but’ to your comments on the BBC. Publicity of a fair kind is very needful. In particular, I think you are very unfair in your comments on Nick Clegg, who was, I believe, denied the opportunity of promoting his preferred system of voting by his ‘partners’ in the coaltion. He has suffered for five years from misrepresentation, and from imbecilic ridicule from a generation of irresponsible comedians misusing their access to the media. The celebrated ‘News Quiz’ is an example.

    I would add that it seems to me that the ‘neatest’ system is FPTP. The pain is all over in one day, and with only five years’ pain to follow — pain not for unsuccessful candidates and parties, but for the nation, adult or child, voting or not, washed or not.

    30. 8.48 Well said, Tim. We’re shoulder to shoulder in the same party. But are we standing upright on our principles, or shoving shoulder to shoulder in the scrum?

  • 31. 9.12 Good on yer, Steve. I’m pleased to think I may have sparked an interesting debate — one that I hope will continue in more elevated Liberal levels than my simple footslogging! I feel more sad than dirty about UKIP; many of them, I believe, are good people doing good in all sorts of ways that leave them too little time to weigh the complex issues that are the politician’s chosen responsibility.

    32. 9.22 Hullo again, Dal. Idealism must be tempered with realism, if it is not to be theology without a God.
    I’m not clear what you mean by ‘a party with 8 MPs dictating terms’. I joined the Liberals over 50 years ago because they seemed to me to be a party of reasonable people, not motivated by class antagonism, and not at all inclined to dictate to anyone. And that is why I have stayed in it. The proposal we have been discussing involves no dictation. It invites ‘progressive’ forces to get their heads and hearts together with a view to figuring out how the impasse of FPTP is to be overcome so that the UK can be like other countries in at least one respect: to make it truly a democracy. Austerity is now being forced on our least well off, by a single party which got only a third of the votes at the recent election, but had plenty of money for propaganda. Is that democracy?

    I have come to the end of the comments, hurrah! My thanks to everyone for joining in so far. . . .or have we more to say?

    Roger Lake

  • 32. 9.22 Hullo again, Dal. Idealism must be tempered with realism, if it is not to be theology without a God.
    I’m not clear what you mean by ‘a party with 8 MPs dictating terms’. I joined the Liberals over 50 years ago because they seemed to me to be a party of reasonable people, not motivated by class antagonism, and not at all inclined to dictate to anyone. And that is why I have stayed in it. The proposal we have been discussing involves no dictation. It invites ‘progressive’ forces to get their heads and hearts together with a view to figuring out how the impasse of FPTP is to be overcome so that the UK can be like other countries in at least one respect: to make it truly a democracy. Austerity is now being forced on our least well off, by a single party which got only a third of the votes at the recent election, but had plenty of money for propaganda. Is that democracy?

    I have come to the end of the comments, hurrah! My thanks to everyone for joining in.
    Roger Lake

    33. 11.58 Sorry, I was wrong about finishing; you’ve overtaken me.

    Dav, that’s a very interesting contribution, if I may say so; and putting very clearly a serious point that many people will agree with — or would, if they read this kind of thing. All I can say is that I hope you are wrong, and that it will prove possible to show to the nation that government might work better, with better outcomes more in tune with the nation’s character, than what we have now. Please see 32.above.

  • 34. 12.52 Thanks for all that, Glenn. I’m especially glad you pointed out the “turnout is pitiful”. In that context the good turnout in the Scottish referendum is often cited as something we should envy and aim for. What does not seem to have got much of a mention is the turnout was good because every voter knew that it was actually possible that his or her vote could determine the very outcome itself, as if the shouting of a single spectator could decide the outcome of a football match. Under FPTP thousand or miliions of people do not trouble to vote because they live in a ‘safe seat’, and they can know beforehand that their chosen party will win; or won’t. That will not happen with PR, because every vote goes into the scales, and seats are allocated accordingly: no vote is wasted vote, or a futile one.

    35. 2,17 Dav, there are far too many people in this rich land of ours who dread the prospect of life going on as it always has. The poor are getting poorer while the rich get richer at their expense. And five yaers is the time it takes a newborn baby to start school, and a girl starting her GCSE to get from there to undergraduate or dropout. But thank you for making the point, which I am sure is a fair one.

    Signing off again, with thanks to everyone.
    Roger Lake

  • @Geo Meadows “If we carry on splitting the ‘liberal’ vote we’ll never get anywhere, we’ll have a Tory government indefinitely. We have to come to a an agreement with other parties to only present one PA candidate in each constituency. The only keystone policy for all PA parties would be PR. The next election could then result in a coalition of Progressives. Not ideal but infinitely better than another Tory government.”

    Why on earth should we want to saddle ourselves in a permanent electoral pact with illiberal parties with whom we have nothing in common?

  • TCO at 5.02 pm, Tuesday

    I agree with your first paragraph, but do not understand the second. Surely no-one in this discussion has suggested a permanent electoral pact with any parties? My suggested Mayday Alliance was nearly called a Mayfly Alliance, to signify its very short life. Did you read the initiating letter?

  • Pacts work if you have two or more left of centre or two or more right of centre parties working together. If a pact included Labour, LDs, SNP, PC, Greens and UKIP , then many people will look at his as bunch of politicians clinging together for power. I cannot see the LDs and UKIP agreeing to much .

    Parties need to succinctly and clearly explain how they will improve the quality of life and opportunities for people in a practical and cost effective manner . If they cannot do this then they do deserve anyones votes.

  • Charlie, you seem to be another participant whose comments are less interesting than they might be, because you do not seem to have read how the discussion began with my letter. I don’t say it was good or sensible of me to suggest what I did, but I did try to make it clear that collaboration between the parties comprising the ‘Mayday Alliance’ was to be confined to the single purpose: to change the electoral system. Once that is achieved — and it should not take long if work on it starts soon — the alliance will dissolve, and normal political competition will start again, much as before.

  • There is absolutely no way that Labour will ever agree not to run candidates in every constituency outside of Northern Ireland as not running candidates even in hopeless seats still affects their national vote share. Plus the Labour Party leadership these days is ideologically rather close to the Tory Party anyway and would not do anything which will upset the status quo or weaken the establishment as this proposal would.

    Even under complete proportional representation the Tories would still be in government but instead propped up by UKIP and the reactionary Irish Parties. In the last election Labour got 30.4% of the vote, the Lib Dems got 7.9%, the Greens got 3.8%, the SNP got 4.7% and Plaid got 0.6%. Even adding these up you don’t get to 50%, 30.4+7.9+3.8+4.7+0.6=47.4. Plus a large chunk of the remaining 7.9% Lib Dem vote will be right inclined (due to the party spending 5 years in coalition with a centre right party) or ‘loaned’ Tory tacticals from LibDem-Labour(or SNP) marginal seats. The idea that the public voted for or wanted a progressive government is simply false. The left needs to stop complaining about the government being illegitimate (under proportional representation the government would be even more right wing due to the influence of UKIP, DUP and UUP) and start figuring out why the public rejected progressivism.

  • David Evershed 30th Jun '15 - 9:01pm

    We are already an alliance of the Social Democrats and the Liberals. This causes a problem with making the party distinctive on economic liberalism which the social democrats opposed and prevents us recruting soft conservative supporters who don’t agree with the SDP economic policies.

  • Malcolm Todd 30th Jun '15 - 9:46pm

    David Evershed
    You do realise that if Matthew Huntbach sees that you’ll be for it? It’s like saying Betelgeuse three times. Just don’t do it… unless you’re actually hoping for a 500-word history of the Alliance and the merger. In which case, just – why?

  • JJ
    I suspect there were more UKIP voters who hated the Tories than Lib Dems who loved them…

    But the reality is you cannot predict what would happen in a PR election based on voting in an FPTP election… patterns would be quite different… For a start I don’t think people would have liked the look of Bluekip and the Tories would have got less votes as a result. I do agree though that under PR a Tory government uneasily supported by UKIP would have been possible – but not necessarily what they would have gone for…

    @David Evershed And there was me thinking we were the Party of Beveridge, Asquith, and Lloyd George that fought the Tories ever since the 1850’s!

  • Malcolm Todd, 9:46pm : thank you! You made me laugh out loud for real, just as I was seeking some light relief after quietly seething with Joe Otten on another thread!

  • Roger Lake
    My concern is that for many people indifferent to politics , you will make all politicians as nothing more than desperate grubby types , willing to sup with the devil to attract votes. We are not at war: the Nazis are not on the other side of the Channel which is the only time a coalition has been supported by the British people.

  • Simon Hebditch 1st Jul '15 - 4:06pm

    I was astonished to see Paddy Ashdown’s call for a progressive alliance across Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens. What has he been doing for the last five years but propping up a Tory/Lib Dem alliance? All is madness.

  • David Allen 1st Jul '15 - 4:30pm

    An alliance between Labour, Lib Dems and Greens would quickly be rubbished by the Tories as a coalition of losers, people interested only in saving their own skins, and happy to ditch all their principles for the sake of seeking power. This woudl be followed by a steady drip-drip feed from the Tories of choice insults from the pre-alliance past – Labour slagging off Lib Dems, Lib Dems slagging off Labour, etcetera.

    The proposal to form a single party to oppose the Tory kleptocrats is, in principle, a great idea. We could call it the Democratic Party (Hon. President B. Obama). But it could not possibly evolve from an alliance of the existing parties. It would have to be a new, breakthrough party formed by insurgents, people not tarred with the brush of Blairism, Brownism, Milibandism or Cleggism.

  • Charlie, at 2.42

    It depends what you mean by ‘support’ . We went through the War with the MPs elected in 1935 . The coalition was formed in response to an emergency in which party interests took second place. So the British people supported the coalition during the war, because that was the government they got, and the only one on offer. So when you say ‘support’ you do not mean ‘elect’.
    On the other hand in 2010 they elected MPs in such proportions that no one party could sensibly try to govern alone, especially in view of the financial crisis .Coalition was the only sensible answer. The Lib Dems believe in PR, so it would have been inconsistent of them to attempt a coalition with Labour, when Conservatives had both more votes and more seats . No riots followed, so it can be said that the coalition was ‘supported by the British people’.
    May I make another point? You seem to imply that a coalition is a second-best expedient. But doesn’t it have the merit that a majority of the voters actually get most of what they hoped for? Conservative voters got most of what they wanted from Cameron’s first Parliament, and Lib Dem voters got quite a lot of what they wanted. What both lots of voters were unable to achieve, was the measures on the fringes that fewer voters wanted. The Cameron- Clegg coalition was the first Government, since 1945 at least, to have the electing support of more than half the votes cast — a shocking thought that still surprises me. I suspect that if you disagree, that is because you do not favour democracy, but prefer what might generously be labelled ‘legitimate dictatorship’. The coalition that formed the Government 2010 to 2015 enjoyed the electoral support of two thirds of the kingdom’s voters: 36% of them Conservative, 23% Lib Dem. If that is not support, what is?

  • Simon Hebditch 4.06 Ist July

    Not madness, Simon, surely, but bowing to the inevitable? The Tories had most seats and, more importantly, more votes. In acceptable areas the Libs ‘propped up’ the Tories; but where Tory plans were too objectionable, the Libs prevented their enactment. We got the best of two manifestos, and saved the country from the worst. Coalition with another party might have been easier to stomach — but it’s votes that settle things.

    David Allen 4.30 1st July

    Para 1: True. We shall need effective spokesmen to counter Tory misrepresentations.
    Para 2: Are you making a new proposal? Because I have not proposed a ‘single party’, but an emergency Alliance, with the single policy of changing the voting system and then disappearing, revealing the separate parties, each with its own flag and its own aims and strategies to pursue, in collaborative competition with the other parties.

  • David Allen 2nd Jul '15 - 2:58pm

    Roger Lake,

    Para 1 – I fear that if the Tories were to paint your Mayday Alliance as a coalition of losers, they would win the propaganda battle, however much we tried to argue back.

    Para 2 – yes, mine is a new proposal, because I fear that yours wouldn’t work. I do see that you haven’t proposed a long term alliance, only an “emergency” measure. But I don’t think that helps, either. The effective answer the Tories could give to that – and basically a perfectly valid answer – would be:

    “These guys are telling you to vote for their ‘temporary’ partnership – but if you put them in, you’ll then have to trust to luck as to what happens next. They’re promising they’ll soon dissolve their partnership and call a second election, but there’s nothing to stop them breaking that promise if they win, and hanging on to power for five years. Are you going to trust a Lib Dem to keep a promise?”

  • Roger Lake
    I never said all coalitions did not work: liberal and labour , liberal and tory, perhaps tory and ukip but liberal, labour, green and ukip?. The idea that there can be a coalition between all ends of the spectrum without it looking desperate , I seriously doubt.

  • Dav,
    I agree that us Brits like the clarity of a clear winner in elections, and so don’t like coalitions on principle, but only because we associate a clear winner with a strong government. What we really hate is weak government (think John Major), and a few years of very small majority or minority governments will change appetite for voting reform IF Labour are still not in a position to win outright. Then Rodgers proposals will look like common sense.

  • What we really hate is weak government (think John Major), and a few years of very small majority or minority governments will change appetite for voting reform IF Labour are still not in a position to win outright. Then Rodgers proposals will look like common sense.

    Why? If what you want is strong government, why would you ever choose a system which virtually guarantees (not completely guarantees, cf Scotland, but almost so) that there will never be a proper working-majority single-party government again?

  • David Allen, 2nd July

    The Mayday Alliance would presumably(still!) have more members by far from Labour, than from any other party. The MA promise would not be, and could not be made to look like, a ‘Lib Dem promise’. Even if it could, even Tory supporters would be able to see that the LD members would be relatively few: remember that the MA ‘ruling party’ would be made up of all parties, in proportion to their success in this year’s Election . By the time of the election fought by the MA it will be, I believe, in the public perception, simply ” the Alliance that’s going to rid us of the Tories, it says”. I chose the name ‘Mayday’ as the universally recognised signal calling for rescue. I decided against the ‘Democratic Alliance’ for two reasons: ‘democratic is half the name of the LDs. And many Tories call themselves democratic, and some people (why on earth?) believe them! Remember: two thirds voted against the Tories — and the one third claim a mandate!. And remember, everyone, that this whole debate is about a simple suggestion from an amateur. I am one, but have no claim or right to speak for them. If this Alliance gets started, it will be an alliance, not a Lib Dem show. Hitler was defeated not by the UK or the USA or the USSR, but by the Allies (all of whom were jostling thoughout for all sorts of post-war advantage — for when the job was done. The MA will fix the tories, and THEN all will get on with democratic politics, much as before, but with more honesty and more justice: ask the Greens, ask the UKIP. Of course, the Tories may well still be there: but they only got a third of the vote this year; and who would want to make coalition with them?

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jul '15 - 4:30pm

    Please will folks remember that the 2020 general election comes after the 2016/7 IN? OUT? referendum and the 2019 euro-elections, if IN. These elections are not abolished by simply ignoring them.

  • Richard Underhill, 26/7

    True; but . . . . Legislation can be repealed. Can we be sure the next general election will not be sooner than 2020?

    And: nothing in my proposal implies any neglect of politics-as-usual day by day. But I welcome your reminder.

    But: watching the agonised travail of our Labour friends, we can offer them a Labour Prime Minister by Christmas 2020. (Because in the MA Labour are bound to have the most seats, I think.)
    That ought to cheer them up, surely? And us, for my single short-term goal is to oust the Tories before they do irreversible harm. Well, ok, to minimise it.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jul '15 - 8:41am

    The Fixed Term Parliament Act provides for an early general election if either:
    1) a motion of no confidence using the precise wording in the Act is passed or;
    2) ) a motion of confidence using the precise wording in the Act, is defeated.
    There is therefore no need for the government to repeal the Act and the Queen’s Speech did not say so.

  • So it really would be that easy? (I ask in genuine astonishment.) Doesn’t that mean that the PM can at any time put up a motion of Confidence, on the understanding that his own backbenchers are duty bound to vote No, and hoping that all other parties will do so too?

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