Opinion: The battle for the Electoral Reform Society – the results

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the battle for control of the Electoral Reform Society. The results of the Electoral Reform Society Council election have since come out and they show a clear victory for the ‘reform’ slate, eight of whose 15 candidates got elected. Just four of the existing nine council members were re-elected (the Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer and Michael Meadowcroft, who topped the poll) with the other three successful candidates also being in favour of reform.

There had been talk of a legal challenge to the elections, centering on whether those given free membership could vote but this now seems unlikely, particularly as the Society has taken legal advice on this point.

Rather surprisingly given the nature of the ERS only 32% of the members voted, although there is some suggestion that the sheer number of candidates (53 for 15 places on Council) may have deterred some people from voting.

In many ways the election results were a demonstration of the value of STV – the clear will of members for changes was reflected but the Council still reflects a wide range of views and experience.

To what degree this will change Electoral Reform Society remains to be seen. After its subsequent AGM there was a Council meeting but that decided to leave the election of officers until the next meeting. This is said to be because they wanted to get to know each other better although it may also be because two of the reform slate could not be there. I understand that they are planning to change at least two of the officers, possibly running Jessica Asato (who ran David Miliband’s social media campaign) as one of their candidates.

The AGM itself was a curious affair. The most controversial resolution, to remove STV as one of the main objects of the Electoral Reform Society, was defeated, as were a succession of other motions seeking to make constitutional changes. The impression I had was that a lot of these came from a small group in ERS who were bitter about events in previous years, particularly around the departure of a previous Chief Executive. One of the problems for the Officers is that having signed a legal agreement with a confidentiality clause as part of the previous CEO’s leaving package they are unable to talk about this – which looks like they have been covering things up. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the ERS had been factionalized in the past and to which the current Council had, ironically, cleaned up the previous mess. The motions debated at the AGM can be found on the ERS website.

There was a brief discussion at the AGM about the AV Referendum campaign but as the AGM was running well over time and the ERS’s own enquiries have not yet finished it was agreed to hold a special EGM later in the year for a fuller discussion.

The focus of the ERS in future will clearly be building up a more grassroots organisation with much more of a focus on the members and developing a campaigning capacity – STV for local elections seems likely to be a priority.

In the meantime the ERS is a body that all Lib Dems should join, particularly as they are still offering free membership!

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5 Comments

  • Thanks for the two pieces on this, Simon – very illuminating.

    As someone who took advantage of the free membership and voted in these elections, it’s worth making the point that the freebie offer was extended to everyone involved, however tangentally, in the Yes campaign.

    I was aware of the exclusive commitment of the ERS to STV, but it was not mentioned in the publicity surrounding the free membership offer, and the organisation did, after all, back AV. Therefore it is hardly fair, as certain posters have done, to tell non-STV supporters that they ought to leave the ERS – nor is it very realistic if they want to further the wider cause.

    I was encouraged that 40% of the membership voted to end the exclusive commitment to STV. My view is that it is a system that works well in some contexts (eg ERS council) but that it’s not right for Westminster. Nor, crucially, is it likely to be attainable: as far as I can see the result of the AV referendum demonstrated that preferential voting is a very difficult sell to the wider electorate. Proportional voting could be a very different matter.

  • ‘although there is some suggestion that the sheer number of candidates (53 for 15 places on Council) may have deterred some people from voting.’

    Aye, that’s why I didn’t vote. I meant to but to be honest just couldn’t find the time to make an informed decision and forgot.

  • 53 candidates for 15 positions were very daunting indeed! Having said that, I spent two weeks combing through all their “manifestos” (except for one who didn’t give us one at all) and sorted them into for groups – No, Maybe, Possible & Yes – getting them down to one group and eventually only 20 names. I was then left with the choice for 15.

    By the time I got on to the website to do my voting, the deadline had gone past and I missed the boat by only a few hours. A long time wasted (for me) – I suggest that, in future the online deadline should be at midnight, not 5.00 p.m., and the number of candidates should be limited to no more than 30! 53 was over the top in my view!!!

  • Simon McGrath 18th Sep '11 - 11:36am

    An update -I understand that the new council has elected John aunt as chair, replacing the previous chair

    Not sure if there were any other changes to the officers

  • Simon McGrath 18th Sep '11 - 12:03pm

    Further news on the new officers. Both the previous Chair and Treasurer have been changed:
    John Ault, Chair , Jon Bartley as VC, Deputy chair campaigns Amy Dodd, Deputy Chair groups Keith Sharp and Treasurer Chris Carrigan

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