Opinion: We feel the handbrake of history on our Liberal reforming.

I doubt it’s gone unnoticed, but there are rather a lot of Tories in parliament.

Some 306 Tory MPs were elected in May 2010 (47% of the total on 36.1% of the vote), compared to a meagre 57 Lib Dems (only 9%, despite the party actually getting 23.0% of the vote).

And so the Lib Dems in parliament have had quite a battle to achieve their successes so far in government.

First Past the Post is neither a fair, nor a kind system (so let’s hope it can still be changed as soon as possible!).

Thus, on Tuesday of this week, the arithmetic of the parliament resulting from our broken electoral system may, aided by the Tories, seek to conspire against the public’s wishes, with a sizeable number of more traditionalist backbench Conservatives set to rebel against the government motion to legalise equal marriage.

Hopefully, the motion will pass anyway.

The Tories have a contemptible record of opposing socially progressive reforms dating back over a century; acting as a handbrake on ideas to correct injustices, and to make the UK a fairer, more tolerant and more inclusive country.

But what history shows us, is that, in time, the reforms argued for by liberals almost always happen anyway.

The campaigners continue, the arguments for change remain sound, and with the blockage of the Tories electorally put aside, a majority is delivered to see the changes through.

That is why the Tories’ focus on their membership and core vote is self defeating.

Opposition to equal marriage is a vote loser. It will mean fewer Tories elected, which will mean more progressive voices for change when this and future reformist questions are inevitably asked again.

A temporary defeat won’t stop progress, for those fighting for change will not give up.

While the Tories could feasibly delay this legislation, which would be a great disappointment to campaigners, they cannot stop it forever.

Indeed, the more Tories who vote against equal marriage now, and who go on to lose their seats, perhaps the better for Liberal Democrats – for the sooner the more liberal Tories realise that they are in the wrong party and come over to join us, the Liberal Democrats, then the sooner we can grow as a parliamentary party, grow our influence, and go on to do what’s rightly desired by the public and right by the country.

* Andrew Tennant is a Lib Dem member in Loughborough.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 5:50pm

    So you prefer a system where individuals and governments can be elected with a majority by a minority, railroading their unpopular priorities over a population that do not support them.

    It’s certainly a perspective. But for me it’s neither a rational nor a moral one.

  • Looking at the polling data, for the last 2 years the Liberal Democrats’ share of voting intention has remained confined to a narrow band, approximately between 8 and 12 per cent. In the last two months, however, there’s a slight hint of a very small increase in the Liberal Democrat share. It’s still within the margins that have been normal since January 2011, but the numbers are rarely going below 9% and tend to be more stable around 10%.
    What has changed in the past few months? The only thing I can think of is that the Lib Dems have allowed more daylight to be seen between them and the Conservatives, and have defined a distinct position on at least some issues. Though one hardly dare make predictions based on such slight evidence, there seems a distinct possibility that if the Liberal Democrats do more in the way of distancing themselves from the Tories, their share will increase further. At any rate, a position of governmental collegiality has done nothing to shift Liberal Democrat fortunes. Isn’t doing anything that looks like it might break the party out of its rut worth a try?

  • Isn’t the assumption that every election is a referendum on the previous election’s manifesto a bit unlikely, not to mention unprovable?

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 6:15pm

    Presumably we live in the same country – I struggle to recall a popular government in my lifetime.

    The Lib Dems have highlighted the skewed unfairness of FPTP for decades – we can only work to help the general public catch on. The red-blue tinkering hasn’t made the public happy – what is needed to do that is a more significant change to a better electoral system.

  • No, nothing but a long string of bad decisions in government, some of which might have been avoided if the governing parties hadn’t been able to cling to lopsided parliamentary majorities despite lacking anything like a comparable degree of support from the country. A government that isn’t chosen by a majority has little incentive to work on behalf of the people as a whole, rather than for the benefit of that small array of power brokers that got them into government in the first place.

  • To Jedibeeftrix: I’ve always wondered whether the Tory Party pay you for monitoring this website………………

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 6:36pm

    @Rob Heale
    I like to think that jedibeeftrix will become a Lib Dem one day. Obviously there are just a few areas of disagreement to work through first…

  • Rob Heale

    A tad unfair on our Jedibeeftrix…. simply because he/she ha d some particulary uncomfortable analysis of the failed AV ‘reform’ (particularly cutting I thought on those who argued that you had to vote for AV as it was sooooo much better than FTP) I dont think it equates to closet Tory party membership – if you follow his/her other threads Im pretty sure they wouldnt want him/her……

  • Keith Browning 2nd Feb '13 - 7:27pm

    @ Rob Heale
    All these websites/blogs etc have ‘watchers’ whose job it is to balance the argument in favour of the ‘establishment’., the ‘official line’ or their particular interest group. You see it all the time on various inter-active political discussions. I laugh sometimes how quickly the ‘watcher’ replies if the topic is too brazenly challenging the status quo, or the discussion is going in a direction their ‘friends’ wouldn’t like.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Feb '13 - 7:58pm

    Are we in the real world here?

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 9:22pm

    @Richard Dean
    Why do you ask Richard?

  • Richard Dean 2nd Feb '13 - 9:38pm

    You ask Richard because Richard is wise! 🙂

  • @Andrew Tennant
    “…… railroading their unpopular priorities over a population that do not support them”

    Just out of curiosity, you’re not trying to claim that this couldn’t happen in a PR system are you?

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 9:44pm

    A government could always notionally stand on one platform and govern from another. But a proportional system at least requires a majority consensus on elements of a possible programme, while FPTP deliberately does not and is therefore broken by design.

  • @Andrew Tennant
    “… proportional system at least requires a majority consensus on elements of a possible programme..”

    Yes, on elements that all parties creating a government may have agreed and campaigned on anyway. Any horse trading (consensus) over the remainder though will be carried out by politicians, not the public. It is very easy to imagine situations where a policy that has a majority of support within a country is dropped, or where a policy with minority support is pushed through.

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 10:24pm

    Even if I were to accept your somewhat cynical portrayal of the mechanics of coalitions – surely better that politicians chosen by a majority of voters take such decisions on priorities than politicians representing a minority of voters?

  • @Andrew Tennant
    “…. surely better that politicians chosen by a majority of voters take such decisions on priorities than politicians representing a minority of voters?”

    Well that’s fine, in the event of a future referendum on PR campaign on that point, but don’t try and run on a claim that can easily be shot down in flames (AV Referendum Lessons 101).

  • Andrew Tennant 2nd Feb '13 - 10:44pm

    Are there specific YestoAV claims you felt untrue? Perhaps you feel that baby needs a new intensive care unit, not a functional voting system?

  • I wish our Coalition Government was led by Birgitte Nyborg!!!

  • I am not entirely sure how we got onto this topic but in my opinion one of the main reasons why the A.V. Referendum was lost was because the people running it (mainly younger social media types I think!) failed to put the message across in a clear, positive and simple way. Unlike the No campaign, who appeared to understand the traditional media, the Yes people didnt organise a leaflet to all voters delivered by the P.O., had a poor and complex P.P.B., and generally failed to get the message across. A message to us all………….

  • @Andrew Tennant

    It’s all about being credible (didn’t someone quite famous say something along the lines of “never again would an MP be elected without majority support”), it will be up to you to persuade the people that any potential system is better than the current one (in fact not only do you have to persuade them, you have to make them enthusiastic enough to get out and vote). Come out with claims that can be easily shot down at your own peril.

    Of course, you can carry on telling yourself it was those nasty Tories that did you in (even though I seem to recall that the particular advertisement you’re talking about was from the Labour side of the the No Campaign (even if it was financed by Tory money)). To answer your question though, no I didn’t believe that ad, but there again I do remember thinking that both campaigns were abysmal.

  • I do remember thinking in stunned disbelief that the Lib Dems, having waited so long for something that would change their political fortunes and propel them into power forever, had not had a solid campaign ready when they were given the chance to argue for a fairer system. It’s almost as though they really could not be bothered and yet arguably their very existence was at stake . The’No ‘ Campaign really threw everything they had at it. And it wasn’t just down to money but the quality of the debate. They seemed shocked that their opponents could act in bad faith. There is no room for naivety in politics.

  • @Rob Heale
    “I am not entirely sure how we got onto this topic ….”

    My fault, I apologise (I put in the lessons 101 comment)

  • David Allen 3rd Feb '13 - 12:53am

    “To Jedibeeftrix: I’ve always wondered whether the Tory Party pay you for monitoring this website………………”

    There certainly are professional monitors, but I don’t believe Jedi is one of them. Jedi certainly has some strong right-wing views on specific subjects, but not on all. Paid shills are more boringly monomaniac than that.

    The worst offenders used to be Lib Dem HQ, which used to “rebut” every post I made, every time, very quickly. They have largely given up now. Too many other Lib Dems now share my disgust about the way we have behaved under Clegg.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Feb '13 - 1:21am

    Perhaps if people focussed on policies and arguments rather than personalities and insults, then it wouldn’t matter at all whether there were monitors or even shills – quite the reverse – it would give us all valuable practice in recognizing their errors and developing persuasive counter-measures?

  • Mark: and yet people still respond to jedibeeftrix, who I am sure will be happy to know is one of the main reasons why a hell of a lot of people don’t bother reading below the line here any more. I really think the lib dem voice editorial collective needs to read and digest that article by Anil Dash. …

  • Andrew Tennant 3rd Feb '13 - 2:34pm

    You give the Conservative party far too much credit for it’s embracing of negative liberty. A party that is so centrist, interfering, and moralising on personal issues cannot claim to offer the public freedom from state oppression.

  • Andrew Tennant 3rd Feb '13 - 4:24pm

    As highlighted in the original article, the Conservatives are overly enthusiastic about placing restrictions on individual freedom without the need to spend additional taxpayers’ money.

    Many Conservative voters I know like to think themselves libertarian – it always baffles me that they could think freedom is best delivered by the moralising blues rather than the liberating oranges.

  • Old Codger Chris 3rd Feb '13 - 4:28pm

    Getting back to Andrew Tennant’s main point – according to a poll mentioned on BBC radio today only 7 percent of the public would be influenced (in either direction) in their voting habits by the equal marriage question. I suspect that on polling day the actual percentage will be much smaller and rightly so. It’s hardly up there with Womens Sufferage (opposed by a Liberal Prime Minister incidentally), the NHS or Education For All.

    As for the voting system – of course FPTP is rubbish but so are AV and STV. A semi-proportional Additional Member System would – if carefully designed – be the least worst answer.

  • Andrew Tennant 3rd Feb '13 - 5:00pm

    @Old Codger Chris
    Only seven percent Chris?

    That’s greater than the difference between the largest parties for each of the last two elections!

  • Old Codger Chris 3rd Feb '13 - 5:12pm

    Andrew Tennant – I take your point but the percentages for other issues were much greater. We all vote for the best – or least bad – package. Also I assume that some of the 7 percent OPPOSE gay marriage. Come to think of it, if they vote UKIP the Tories may be damaged after all.

    Mind you I’ve just heard a Tory MP saying that his foot-soldiers won’t turn out. Given that voluntary party workers are a diminishing band – I wonder what the average age is – that could cause problems for the Conservatives, just as Tuition Fees etc etc have de-motivated so many Lib Dems.

  • Old Codger Chris 3rd Feb '13 - 5:16pm

    I failed to explain that the Tory MP I mentioned above says his voluntary workers OPPOSE gay marriage. Which may or may not explain why he opposes it too.

  • Robert Wootton 3rd Feb '13 - 11:23pm

    About a PR voting system. If we had PR, every government would be a coalition government that reflects the the pattern of political viewpoints of the electorate. Therefore we need to enable a cabinet to do “what if?” five year projections on a graphical model of, for example. the economy, the NHS of different policies which would be televised and the electorate could indicate directly to the cabinet which policy and outcome they preferred.The electorate could then vote for each policy.
    The technology and the know-how has been around for forty years. As has this idea.

  • Simon Banks 4th Feb '13 - 10:47am

    Jedibeeftrix: I’m curious what you understand by “fair”. I can see that there are arguments for FPTP on grounds of effectiveness, but nothing you’ve said seems to me to be an argument for it being fair. How can a system which leads to such huge distortions be fair? There are valid arguments against any proportional system, but not in favour of FPTP on grounds of fairness. As for the effectiveness, is it obvious that British or indeed American goverments elected on FPTP are more effective than continental ones like the German or any Scandinavian goverment?

  • “Yes, it works just fine in a relatively stable and homogenous society.”
    I really wonder whether our society is homogenous and have doubts about stable. Mulitculturalism and a lack of conformity have changed that (foir the better). To me, society is like a mosaic and electoral reform would reflect that change.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Feb '13 - 10:28pm


    No, I am by no means an ideal tory – which i presume is the typical spectre imagined here of the unreformed colonel blimp.

    I admire that sort of Tory more than the modern Tory. The Colonel Blimp types had a social conscience, I do not believe they would have supported the selling out of our country to the world’s shady billionaire types which the modern Tory is all about. The old style Tory was about King and Country. The modern Tory is about money, making himself and his friends stinking rich, calling that “freedom” and sod everyone else.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Feb '13 - 10:40pm


    “First Past the Post is neither a fair, nor a kind system”

    It might not be kind, but whether it is fair or not depends on what features you value in an electoral system.

    What I value first is that there is someone in the national assembly who speaks for me, knows my concerns and issues, thinks as I do. Growing up in a supposedly “true blue” constituency, nothing but Tory MPs for the whole county, and those Tory MPs doing NOTHING to represent the interests of people like me, growing up poor on a council estate, convinced me more than anything that FPTP stank.

    There was an article in the London Evening Standard a few days ago about someone who was trying to exchange social housing, and had thought how nice it would be to swap to somewhere in the south (the true south, I mean). The person was astonished “Did you know there are estates in places like Worthing and and Eastbourne the size of Nevada?” she wrote. Slight exaggeration there, but underneath – yes – this is the hidden secret of the south, there are poor people on the south, big council estates in the south, but people are hardly even aware of their existence due to the skewed representation of FPTP which represents only local majorities, leaving local minorities voiceless.

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