Opinion: The imperative for any agreement to include electoral reform

It is imperative that any agreement with any political parties following the election includes electoral reform. On Thursday, the electorate of this country voted for a hung parliament, showing that there was no clear majority supporting one party. The voice of the electorate needs to be listened too and not ignored.

The Liberal Democrats cannot offer a blank cheque to prop up a Conservative administration.

The Conservatives have offered an inquiry into electoral reform. However, the inquiry was held on Thursday. The election showed the need for electoral reform. It is well known that under the current electoral system each vote is not equal. In safe parliamentary seats, thousands of votes are deemed to be worthless at each election. This means that a significant proportion of the electorate are not effectively represented in the House of Commons. These safe seats are the modern equivalent of the rotten boroughs that existed in the early 19th century. The Whig party, a predecessor of the modern Liberal Democrats, fought, ultimately successfully, to change that system. We must do the same now. We must be the voice of the electorate that, on Thursday, sent a clear message that the electoral system of this country needs changing.

Whilst it is recognised that electoral reform would be beneficial to the Liberal Democrats, this demand is not made for selfish motives. In some areas of the country, including the South-West and Scotland, the Liberal Democrats would actually lose out. However, above all else, the Liberal Democrats, and before the merger the Liberal and, before that, the Whig parties, have pushed for electoral reform since 1830. This is not a recent conversion.

I appreciate that it is the national interest to put in place, as soon as practical, a stable Government for this country. However, a deal should not be done at any price. We must not enter into an agreement which does not include electoral reform. Indeed, it is in the national interest that the electoral system be reformed.

We cannot, and must not, allow this party to be taken into an agreement that does not support this position.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • PR is absolutely central to Lib Dem support. If a deal is done that doesn’t include a guarantee of at least a referendum, or if the resulting coalition doesn’t deliver it, the Lib Dems are finished.

  • I have not heard any comment on the unfairness of the system we have just now on those voting conservative in strong labour areas or labour in tory areas – the system we have at the moment is as unfair to Tory voters as anyone else.
    The Tories got over 400,000 votes in Scotland yet returned one MP…
    Are these voters worth less Mr Cameron?
    Scotland is an example of where a form of PR can and does provide representation for those voting for the ‘wee’ parties (in Scotland that is the Tories)
    The system in place will never provide any representation for these people in one of the constituent nations of the ‘united’ kingdom – and Mr Cameron should recognise that this lack of representation will hasten its eventual downfall – a parachuted Scottish secretary anyone??

  • The torys will never concede voting reform though will they? backbenchers would certainly reject any referendum bill.

  • electoral reform would not ‘benefit’ the Lib Dems, it would be fair to us! About getting the language right.

  • Imagine how happy it would make Liam Fox; he could actually represent a Scottish constituency.

  • Lib Dem negotiators have gone silent on PR, interesting.

  • Chris Smith 9th May '10 - 7:10pm

    I am a Labour voter converted to Lib Dems (I defected from Labour to the SDP at the time David Owen, Shirley Williams, & Roy Jenkins defected from the Labour Party).

    I live in the countryside of East Anglia in a strong Tory seat for as long as I can remember.

    My utter frustration with politics is that I just feel voting for Lib dems is a wasted vote under the current system.  I am therefore totally disillusioned in UK politics,  I know many feel the same way.

    Twenty three percent of the population (23%) thats nearly a quarter voted Lib Dem.   We should have over more than another 100 seats in Parliament.   The country has spoken clearly in this election and there was not a winner.  23% voted for you – we want electoral reform so our voices are adequately represented in Parliament.

    This is not an issue to be traded away so Nick Clegg and few senior Lib Dems can find themselves on David Cameron’s cabinet!!!

    I urge the leadership to ensure that any deal with any of the party has electoral reform at the top of the agenda.   Notwithstanding the current economic climate 23% of the people have certainly spoken.  We are fed up with politicians and their dodgy dealings.  LET OUR VOICES BE FAIRLY REPRESENTED IN PARLIAMENT – DONT CHEAT ON US.

    Not that it matters if I never vote Lib Dem again in a safe Tory seat,  I will just abstain as a fed-up voter. 

    My plea to the Leadership is please don’t let us down.

    Your sincerely,

    Chris Smith

  • A.H. Gillett 9th May '10 - 7:21pm

    A concrete promise of electoral reform is not a substite for repairing the economy as has been claimed by some, but an important one-off promise that can then be enacted by an independent commission. Tackling the deficit, by contrast will require a strong consensus government and continual work over this parliament. If we secure electoral reform, then the country will feel less short-changed on its votes and will be more confident in the goverment’s ability to enact the huge fiscal reforms needed to tackle the deficit.

    Electoral reform is not just a deal-breaker, it is the necessary bedrock for cooperation in a parliament of minority parties. It must be our starting-point if we are to work effectively in the interests of the country.

  • I totally agree a referendum on introducing STV or no coalition. We can still do a confidence and supply arrangement without hitching ourselves to the Tories without getting the most important thing we want in return

  • Chris Smith,

    An open Conservative says with gentle respect that your post is a tad confused.

    You have had enough of politicians and their “dodgy dealing, “but this is precisely the outcome you will get with PR. Much as activists like to imagine that they will be micro managing the post election deals, but I sincerely doubt that is what will happen after PR. Probably we shouldn’t expect it. You/We will not have all the information and nuances to hand. The guy looking across the negotiating table into the eyes of his counterpart is best placed to decide whether its ” deal or no deal”.

    I can see the “fairness argument” – that’s a perfect reasonable proposition. But with Government you are balancing form and function. If ( and I acccept its possible to be otherwise) you end up with fair paralysis, then you truly are in governmental trouble. It is unfashionable to say so but fairness isn’t everything.

    Another point for Lib Dems to consider is this. Conservatives, like Lib Dems, come in all shapes and sizes. You have run a campaign that we need to make a different kind of politics. So will some of you take responsibility for challenging those in your ranks who perpetuate the class war rhetoric of Brown’s agressive Labour Campaign?

    Amongst the Conservative ranks are foks like me who were once “progressive” minded with many of its values
    who have simply concluded that the liberal nostrums for social problems which have been the consensus for the past 40 years have failed. We wish they hadn’t, but can no longer support them.

    I speak as one who was born in a Council house and has worked with the country’s deprived for all his professional life. It is because the poor have been let down by the State that I have changed my mind. You may not agree with me, but argue with me on substance – don’t get lazy and call me a “Tory Toff” only after a tax break.

    Not only may there be something in the Laffer curve paradox that tax rate reduction can result in MORE tax take, but folks like me are considerably less “posh” than your leader.

    In short, if you want to remake politics, start by laying aside some of the cruder discourse. You don’t want to lay aside the politics of shouting only to have it remade in your own ranks. Only you can do this.

    Finally, lets not forget that this Parliament will be made up of different folk than the last one. The Conservatives will have a lot of Cameron’s new people, many of whom are of his ” progressive Conservative” stamp. In contrast Labour has been stuffed with Charlie Wheelan’s chosen Brownites ( who have after all, just been rejected by the electorate). Get to know the new Conservatives before you discount the possibility of working with them.

  • My current and future support of the Lib Dems is dependant on a PR referendum being made the non-negotiable condition of any Lib Dem coalition arrangement. Even then, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a Conservative/Lib Dem alliance and wonder if Nick will be able to convince me it’s a good thing.

  • The deficit argument is a red herring. Most of what got us into the mess was the first past the post winner takes all economic system.

    I’m a realist on a time scale for voting reform, but deficit reduction without a representative government and a fairer economic system, there will be huge unrest.

    Like most people, I am increasingly disillusioned with the political system that boils down to your vote being ignored once every 5 years.

    Like the MPs who didn’t get it about MPs expenses, they don’t seem to get it about the need for reform.

  • I voted Lib Dem on Thursday, and I too, believe in PR. PR is the only way that we can ensure that we don’t have an executive dictorship that only has 36% of the popular vote, like we have seen under Labour/Tony Blair, and PR is the only way to ensure that the decisions made in parliament command majority support that represents all sides of the political spectrum that makes up modern Britain.

    But, I disagree profoundly with those who say that if the Lib Dems cannot get an agreement for a referendum on PR from the Tories than they should cut off a deal with them.

    We are still in the early phases of a massive financial disaster. Our structural deficit is completely unsustainable, and we have huge problems in Europe. The next year will provide the momentum to which direction our country will take. If we do not have the faith of lenders that we need to lend us billions that we are willing and able to take the measures to sort out our problems, then I fear the momentum will push us along a path which will end up in complete ruin for us, and with China, Brazil, India and such developing powers prime places for investment and business, I fear we would never rebuild our country to our current level. After we have rebuilt our country from rubble, we might find that we can no longer invest in our youth, or provide social justice for the less well off, and the weak and troubled, and we might also find that Europe no longer wishes or needs us to play a vital role in the European Union. And it’s my firm believe that if we are not playing a vital role in the EU then our country will weaken significantly.

    The only viable government that can stop this from happening in the long term, is a Con/Lib Dem coalition. A Tory minority government is next to useless, as it will be seen as weak by the markets, thus enhancing anxiety about lending and investing in Britain. A Labour/Lib Dem led rainbow coalition will be even worse if possible, as the many parties will be seen as likely to fracture, or if SNP and Plaid Cymru succeed in ensuring no cuts are made in Scotland or Wales then our deficit reduction plan will be questioned.

    We need a government that lasts for 2-3 years at least, and that has a long term deficit reduction plan that people believe in.

    If we have a weak government, then it’s likely that there will be another election soon, with the Labour having a new leader, likely to be David Miliband or Alan Johnson. Does anyone seriously believe that a Labour led by one of these would lose more seats at the next election? It would most likely end in another hung parliament, possbly with the Lib Dems being blamed a worsening financial situation for not going into a coalition this time around, and recieving less votes, making Labour less likely to offer electoral reform next time around.

    I suggest that the Lib Dems play a long game on electoral reform. The ball is indeed in the LIb Dems’ court where PR is concerned.
    If the Lib Dems go into coalition, and that coalition is seen to be successful by the electorate, then that massively enhances the case for PR. If we can’t find a way to make a coalition work, then that massively decreases the case for PR, as our current predicament is what would be the norm under PR.
    There is also the argument that people use for not voting Lib Dem, that they have no experience of government. If the Lib Dems get a few cabinet places, and are seen to be doing good work in those areas, then that will massively boost the legitimacy of a Lib Dem vote in my view.

    I honestly believe that if we are seen to be bloody minded enough to put our economy, and our country in such a precarious postion, because of PR, then it will have serious repercussions for the Lib Dems. History will show that this is a big moment for our country, and history made not look too kindly on us.

  • Looks like Nick will be getting shafted by the tories, and shafting our party. My Libdem cancellation is ready for posting.

    The Labour deal is the only way to go, however slightly more difficult Nick will find it. There seems to be an awful lot of closet tories in this party.

  • There is no way I will ever vote Lib Dem again.Selling your soul to the devil,by joining the tories ,is against everything I have worked for all my life.The dishonesty shown during the build up to the election and by this agreement forces me to look for another party to support.

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