Paul Tyler writes…..Listening is just the start…

Once we have honed our listening skills we should surely seek to improve ways in which people are themselves empowered.  How can they make their voices and their votes more effective ?

Here are a few immediate and urgent opportunities:

Fair Votes 

Despite the Conservative manifesto promise to make sure “every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy” the current inequality is outrageous.  It takes 33 times as many votes for Green Party supporters to elect an MP as for SNP supporters, with big differences for Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in between. Voters are cheated by the First-Past-The-Post system.

Ed Davey has committed himself to the cross-party campaign.    But what should be the first priority?   Persuading the Labour leadership to wake up, and accept the strong support of their membership for reform of elections to the Commons?   Or concentrate on extending the STV success in local authority elections in Scotland – now to be repeated in Wales – to ensure voters in England do not miss out?  

If the electoral system is the bedrock of our democracy, then surely some consistency throughout the UK is essential ?

Who Votes?

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for votes for all citizens when they reach 16.  We led national efforts to extend the franchise for the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and were only thwarted by combined Conservative and Labour Peers when we pressed then for 16-year-olds to be able to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum.   Again, Scotland and Wales are leading the way, and the case for UK consistency is now overwhelming.

UK citizens working or living abroad are often affected by political decisions taken here – most notoriously on Brexit – but their representation is inadequate.  We want them to vote in separate constituencies so that they have MPs who are committed to looking after their particular interests.

Similarly, EU residents working and resident in the UK make a substantial contribution, not least with various local taxes, and should continue to be allowed to vote in local elections.


The imminent Devolution White Paper, we are told, will force through the amalgamation of two-tier councils to create more unitary authorities, all with the compulsory addition of elected mayors.   This looks suspiciously like centralisation rather than decentralisation, and is certainly not devolution. Whitehall retains the financial stranglehold, treating elected local representatives as simply a delivery mechanism for national policy priorities.

We have long championed subsidiarity = bringing decisions as close as possible to those who will be affected by them.  The present Government is moving in the opposite direction. 

The example of the SNP Government is also salutary.  Concentrating power at that level, with little devolution to lower tiers of governance at community levels, is no way to spread empowerment.


The current review of election regulation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) – which the Tories are this week blatantly using to attack the integrity of the Electoral Commission – is a vital opportunity to strengthen the rules governing campaign expenditure.  Recent evidence shows that illegal activity, often by ineligible foreign participants, is currently hidden and unregulated.  Referendum interference, as well as the funding of campaigns in target seats, may escape the legal constraints.

Our submission to the CSPL sets out our principled approach to the latter as follows:

The foundation stones of the UK’s Parliamentary democracy are the constituencies.  We do not elect a President or Prime Minister, let alone a Government, but individual Members of Parliament.   The Executive derives its authority from the collective mandate of those individuals.  It must follow that the integrity of the process by which they are elected is of huge significance in determining the overall health of our political system.  Ever since 1883, when Parliament legislated to restrict the ability of wealthy men (they were almost always men) to purchase election outcomes, and thereby MPs, this has properly been an overriding principle.  The application of that principle has been severely strained by changes of campaign techniques and technology in the last decade.

Far from dismantling the statutory regulator, and inviting the Police to take over its role but with less transparency (as Johnson and Cummings are urging), we are recommending a more comprehensive role for the Electoral Commission.

Our citizens can only be empowered if they can have confidence that elections are not being secretly bought.

Deliberative Democracy

The publication of the report of the trail-blazing Citizens Assembly on Climate Change is a wake up call for all of us.  Are we so conditioned by conventional representative mechanisms that we are failing to explore and exploit this potential for empowerment ?



* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • richard underhill. 1st Sep '20 - 5:36pm

    Would this mean that the current mayor of Greater London would be abolished and replaced with lots of Mini-Mayors?
    Making local elections less frequent would weaken democracy.

  • The admirably clear language of this post shows how a manifesto ought to be set out. Paul Tyler for Head of Communications?

  • richard underhill. 1st Sep '20 - 5:55pm

    Nick Clegg chose the wrong objective for the referendum.
    There were two of us in our constituency, and a borough councillor who refused to help.
    It was designed to attract Labour support, but they did not like it.
    If an MP has more than 50% of the vote why campaign for change?

  • Julian Tisi 1st Sep '20 - 6:05pm

    I suspect we’ll be waiting some while for Labour to come round to any form of electoral reform. Worth knocking on the door but we have to accept that Labour have form in trying to appear as reformers (to cut into our vote) while opposing reform of any sort. PR (STV) should remain our policy but we might have to be smart about considering what we might demand in a hung parliament. I suspect PR for Westminster elections (or a ref on such) might be too much of a push (it will look self-serving and neither main party would likely concede it). A more realistic – and achievable – short term aim might be STV for local elections, bringing England & Wales into line with the system already used in Scotland and NI. This will educate voters in E&W in how the system works and should both make the case for and make it easier to win any subsequent referendum on the same for Westminster elections.

  • David Evershed 2nd Sep '20 - 1:48am

    Step one for Fair Votes and democracy is to have an elected House of Lords.

    A glaring omission from Paul Tyler’s list.

  • John Marriott 2nd Sep '20 - 7:53am

    It’s hard to disagree with Lord Tyler’s emphasis on ‘fair votes’. While I wholeheartedly agree about the need to have “more unitary authorities” I would go further and say we need all first tier councils to be unitaries. However, please let’s not try to create a load of strongmen by concocting more elected Mayors. In urban areas a single person on whose desk the buck may stop may have some merit; but a mayor for Lincolnshire, where I live? After all, we already have Council Leaders, if it’s a single person with whom the public wishes to identify.

    So, imagine the scenario if Lincolnshire finally goes unitary. It elects a Council from the Humber to the Wash, probably dominated by the Conservatives. In a separate election it elects a Mayor for Lincolnshire. Judging by the current local infighting about reforming local government structure between the leaders of our seven predominantly Tory dominated district councils and the leaders of the completely Tory dominated councils in North, North East Lincolnshire Unitary and the Lincolnshire County Council, it’s unlikely to be a recipe for peace and harmony. And what about the Town and Parish Councils? Even more elections?

    For a start, one Council from the Humber to the Wash is just too large, while having seven small councils with unitary powers would not have the financial clout to get things done.Having two or three councils representing roughly 350,000 people each would make more sense. It all makes for interesting times if you are interested in such things as I have been for years. The trouble is, it’s a bit like having liberal views. The majority clearly is not.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 8:43am

    “It takes 33 times as many votes for Green Party supporters to elect an MP as for SNP supporters, with big differences for Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in between. Voters are cheated by the First-Past-The-Post system.”

    We’ve heard this kind of argument many times from the Lib Dems.

    The “wasted vote” figures always highlight how unfair FPTP is to the Greens and the Lib Dems. If there have been any mentions at all of UKIP and the Brexit Party I must have missed them. But the parties of the far right are even bigger losers under FPTP than the Greens. Therefore, they’d be the big winners under PR. UKIP and Brexit topped the polls under the last two PR based EU elections.

    If that’s what you want to risk happening again then go for it, but I’m not sure I do. I’d support a change to AV but no further.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 9:07am

    “UK citizens working or living abroad are often affected by political decisions taken here – most notoriously on Brexit – but their representation is inadequate. We want them to vote in separate constituencies so that they have MPs who are committed to looking after their particular interests.”

    UK citizens are already allowed to vote in UK elections for 15 years after ceasing to be resident. The longer anyone is away the less likely they are to want to return. So some cut off does seem to be appropriate. 15 years seems to be on the generous side.

    Do we really want someone who leaves for, say, America in their early 20s to have a vote in the UK for life? Even though they might only be occasional visitors? How about we have the same tax rules for UK residents abroad as for American residents abroad? They’d have to pay UK taxes too. Then there would be a stronger argument for representation.

    On the other hand we should be more generous in allowing foreign nationals who are resident in the UK to acquire citizenship. Australia allows applications, usually granted, and which aren’t difficult or expensive, after a period of only two years legal residence. Why can’t we do the same?

  • Denis Mollison 2nd Sep '20 - 9:30am

    @Peter Martin
    In 2015 UKIP got 13% of the vote but no seats; in 2017 the roughly similar AfD in Germany also got 13% of the vote – and 13% of seats in the Bundestag.
    If you look at the knock-on effects of these results, UKIP’s has had much the bigger effect: because of how FPTP works for parties, the Conservatives adopted UKIP’s policies and here we are dashing over the Brexit cliff. If Farage had been in Parliament with 80 MPs it might have been painful in the short run, but it would have provided much clearer politics and very likely a better outcome.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 10:07am

    @ Denis,

    You’re assuming that the voting system doesn’t change the way voters vote. You must know this isn’t the case. Lib Dems pick up Labour support in those seats where Labour has no chance and vice versa, albeit to a much lesser extent. So tactical voting isn’t a total loss for Lib Dems. You can score less than 13% but still pick up a dozen or so seats. Whereas UKIP and the Brexit Party haven’t been around long enough to build up local strongholds to the same extent and don’t see this benefit. Their supporters will, much more often, vote for their second choice.

    So whereas Lib Dems might have picked up more votes under PR, both UKIP and TBP certainly would. They’d have polled much higher than 13%. It wouldn’t have just been Farage and 80 MPs.

    Incidentally the German voting system doesn’t favour Lib Dem type parties. There’s no equivalent in Germany. The FDP aren’t at all the same. They are very much further to the right and represent Thatcherite economic thinking although with a more pro EU slant.

    If PR encouraged the supposedly sensible middle ground of politics, why haven’t the SPD done much better than they have in German Federal Elections? They have been losing support steadily for years now.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Sep '20 - 10:26am

    As someone who represented North Cornwall in Parliament, I would have hoped that Paul Tyler would have addressed the issue of the size of STV constituencies in rural areas. For somewhere like Cornwall you would need one constituency for the whole county returning 6 MPs, to achieve reasonable proportionality. Anyone advocating this needs to answer the question of how a single MP can adequately serve such a constituency, bearing in mind that three or more parties may have MPs elected. We should not be too hasty in throwing out Roy Jenkins’ AV+ plan, which would have retained single-MP constituencies (although larger than at present) with proportionality achieved through a list system. Whether STV or AV+ is used the voter has the same voting experience, being asked to rank the candidates in order of preference. While the Scottish and Welsh AMS systems have a list vote as well as a constituency vote, this is not essential – regionalised lists could be made up from the losers in the constituency elections in order of who polled the highest percentage votes.

  • Denis Mollison 2nd Sep '20 - 10:44am

    @Peter Martin
    I wasn’t intending any such assumption: it’s difficult to guess how many votes and seats each party would get under PR, not least because it would change parties significantly.
    I didn’t intend any precise estimate for how many seats UKIP might have had under PR in 2015, just that it might have been a great deal larger than 0.
    Under the PR system in Wales UKIP got 12% of the seats on 13% of the vote in 2016 (just before the Brexit referendum). Being in parliament has revealed their lack of cohesion as a serious political force: 3 of the 7 are still in one party (nBrexit), the other 4 all Independents.

    For avoidance of doubt I am not angling for a system that favours my or any other political group. I want to live in a democracy, and believe that fair representation of voters is an essential part of democracy.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 11:03am

    @ Denis,

    “fair representation of voters is an essential part of democracy.”

    This is the kind of statement which is impossible to contradict. But it does depends on what we interpret to be “fair”. I’d argue that AV in a single member constituency was much fairer, and was a good compromise between perfect fairness and workability. But that option was rejected by a majority of voters in a referendum. They don’t agree. So I have to accept that.

    Would they choose a more radical reform of PR with STV or party lists? Maybe. But it’s possible they might not. But if they do I’d have to accept that too.

  • richard underhill. 2nd Sep '20 - 11:39am

    Start with a Conservative Labour agreement, which happened in wartime. Backbencher Winston Churchill became PM with the support of Patriotic Labour MPs, who wanted “an abler man” to “speak for England”. Former PM Welsh Wizard David Lloyd George spoke in favour, Labour leader Clem Attlee became Deputy Prime Minister and offered political union to France (in the absence of the PM, who was in France). There was a large Conservative majority but the PM who had supported appeasement resigned.

  • richard underhill. 2nd Sep '20 - 11:41am

    Imagine you are a liberal in Northern Ireland and a leaflet from the late Ian Paisley comes through your door. John Alderdice was a wise choice for Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Please see what Jeremy Paxman, an often critical presenter on BBC tv Newsnight, wrote about him. Try to imagine the job that John Alderdice was trying to do and imagine what you would do. DUP founder and leader Ian Paisley MP was seated on his left.
    Gerry Adams had been elected to the Assembly for Sinn Fein and was seated on the other side.
    In Northern Ireland everybody agrees about the weather, but not much else. It was widely known that John Alderdice had bought a house next to a police station and you can imagine why. Try asking him. He sometimes speaks at local party AGMs, as he did for me, joining a long list of lumaries, one of whom spoke about the 1929 general election on the subject “We can conquer unemployment” (which had been high at the time) She resigned her leadership of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords in favour of Roy Jenkins, the first leader of the SDP and a bye-election winner in Glasgow.
    When John Alderdice was President of the Liberal International he arranged an unprecedented conference in Belfast. The Prime Minister of Zimbabwe came and spoke at a press conference. He was in coalition with President Mugabe, returned to Zimbabwe and lived (the cynics definition of a genuine refugee). So, imagine the late Ian Paisley MP in coalition with Sinn Fein. It happened.
    Try imagining Fianna Fail in agreement with Fine Gael in the Irish Republic, after a civil war, after decades of difference many would have said DREAM ON, but it has happened.
    After six male Presidents the Irish Republic elects a radical woman as President and is invited to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth the second, where they discuss a royal visit to the Republic. which has happened without violence. Thank Senator Mary Mary Robinson was elected by STV and awarded the Liberal International Prize for FREEDOM at a meeting in Budapest.
    NOW Dream on.
    So will our newly elected leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson commit to the Alderdice review IN FULL, as an example to the world.
    Please note, in passing, that the former SDLP leader John Hume, was wrong about the Middle East. If you think he was right, DREAM ON, and read the Independent (i).

  • Denis Mollison 2nd Sep '20 - 11:45am

    @peter Martin
    “I’d argue that AV in a single member constituency was much fairer”
    That would still almost certainly have left UKIP with no seats for its 13% of the vote, so no I think that’s still way short of satisfactory.

    Liberal Democrats have long supported STV as combining proportionality and voter empowerment. There has been recent progress, with its introduction for local elections in Scotland in 2003 through the Lab/LD coalition, and moves towards adopting it in Wales for both local elections and parliament.

  • Denis Mollison 2nd Sep '20 - 11:47am

    Apologiers, my link for “STV” came out as a non-existent part of LDV’s web pages. It should have been

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Sep '20 - 1:47pm

    Lots to agree with, Paul. One simple change to our electoral system would be to make all elections by preferential voting. We could retain the other elements of FPTP to make it easier for the Conservatives to swallow. It would mean no-one would be elected by under half the voters that would have profound implications.

  • John Marriot: Unitary Authorities
    Just to underline the potential problems in Lincolnshire, look at the unitary authorities thrust upon Cheshire in 2008. Split into two (East and West+Chester).
    The result is sub regional government, illogical groupings of towns, with their even more oddly amalgamated rural hinterlands, having no local connections other than a county which ceased to exist in any political sense.
    Further the argument between towns as per who gets what is amplified, unsurprisingly the larger the town the disproportionally more they get in investment.
    The loss of local councillors is remarkable, previously my County division has one county councillor and seven city councillors, now roughly the same area has three unitary councillors (all from one party). Making representation even more remote.
    If you think this represents a cash saving, the costs per city councillor as a fraction of the county/unitary councillors as the latter posts virtually rule out full time employment.
    Be very careful when being sold unitary status by this government, they are only interested in (a) treasury savings – not directly saving to the public, and (b) furthering their own partys’ political future.

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Sep '20 - 2:23pm

    I’m so glad that Paul Tyler added deliberative democracy to his list. Our fierce support of Remain has led to the party being described as undemocratic so I would like to see us come up with a package of measures concerning our democracy and how it operates, not just the voting system, with the aim of giving people more power to affect decisions made about them. For example the present petitions system is a joke.
    I would also include education about citizenship in this package and declare Magna Carta Day as a Bank Holiday. People need to feel proud of their country but at the moment that is mainly expressed by right wing populists. We did have a role in the development of democracy so let’s celebrate that at the same time as trying to reform our current democratic process.

  • John Marriott 2nd Sep '20 - 5:53pm

    @Andy Hyde
    I spent 18 years as a District Councillor, 16 years as a County Councillor and 24 years as a Town Councillor, as well as 8 years as a member of a Police Authority. I reckon that I have a pretty good idea how local government works, or not on many occasions.

    I have been a supporter of Unitary Councils for decades and nothing that you have written would make me change my mind. Many parts of England have too many councils, too much duplication and the resultant confusion about which Council is responsible for which service (not that they are responsible for that much anymore) and, quite frankly, too many councillors. If Lincolnshire is anything to go by, roughly a third of County councillors serve on a District Council as well, so called ‘dual hatted’ members. Between 2001 and 2007 I served at all three levels!

    Another reason for change is to bring England in line with NI, Wales and Scotland, which also have Unitary local government, together with neighbourhood councils as a lower tier. With this structure in place, we could then look at devolving power away from Westminster by establishing Assemblies in the English Regions. If you reckon that would add to the election burden for English voters you would be wrong. In fact there would be the same number of elections as before.

  • Paul Holmes 2nd Sep '20 - 6:19pm

    Except John you leave out of the mix that:
    a) The Government have imposed/are imposing two new layers of Local Govt (and elections) onto us via directly elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners.
    b) Regional Government is not on offer, just compulsory directly elected Mayors as a new ‘top tier’ and the abolition of Disticts and Boroughs.
    c) Far from having too many Cllrs we have far fewer Councils and Cllrs than any Western European country (OECD research 2017).

  • Peter Martin 2nd Sep '20 - 7:38pm

    “That would still almost certainly have left UKIP with no seats for its 13% of the vote, so no I think that’s still way short of satisfactory.”

    I have to say that’s fine by me!

    What would you have said had you been around in the time of the Weimar Republic? They had close to an ideal system of PR. We all know what that led to.

  • John Marriott 2nd Sep '20 - 10:05pm

    @Paul Holmes
    I don’t know how things are in Derbyshire; but I would bet that in most three tier authorities (I refuse to call them two tier because I personally value and recognise the importance and, indeed, potential, of Town and Parish Councils) you would find a good proportion of councillors who sit on at least two of the three. That means to me that there are clearly not enough people in any party who want to serve. The reason for this reluctance to stand could indicate the importance, or lack of it, with which many view local government today.

    As someone, who wants to see more power devolved to local councils away from the centre, before this should happen, it would argue that local government needs to put its house in order first. Just because other european countries have more councillors than we do doesn’t convince me that we should have more. Quite frankly, it’s a case of overkill. What we need is a better calibre of Councillor. From my experience a good number turn up irregularly to meetings and, when they do, rarely make any worthwhile contribution other than vote, if that is even required at times. One only hopes that they perform more effectively as community representatives outside the council chamber and committee rooms. For some I doubt that even this is the case.
    @Peter Martin
    No, if any party – and I mean any party – can muster at least 5% of the popular vote, it deserves representation. Your flippant dismissal of the Weimar Republic as being betrayed by its voting system just proves to me that you need to read up a bit more about what happened between 1918 and 1933 in post Wilhelmine Germany.

  • The extreme right should be defeated with argument and exposure (and campaigning to win!) rather than with electoral systems that are not fit for purpose. As for local government putting its own house in order, how about the atrocious situation in Bradford where Labour and Conservative whips regularly unite to stop Lib Dems speaking in debates by using a “move straight to a vote” clause in the constitution which was designed for use when meetings are running very late?

  • Julian Tisi 3rd Sep '20 - 11:42am

    @Petr Martin “What would you have said had you been around in the time of the Weimar Republic? They had close to an ideal system of PR. We all know what that led to.”

    This is one of those well worn tropes brought up by opponents of fair voting time and again. It’s easily rebutted; aside from the fact that no proponent of PR is recommending the system used then, had FPTP been in use the National Socialists would have taken power in July 1932, much earlier than they did. The PR system ensured that they didn’t.

  • John Marriott 3rd Sep '20 - 12:27pm

    @Geoff Reid
    So the Tories and Labour have been beastly to the Lib Dems in Bradford? I’ve just checked and the Lib Dems currently have 8 seats out of 90 with Labour, on 53, having a clear overall majority. Strikes me that, a bit like Johnson’s Tories, they can make it up as they go along. Now, what percentage of the popular vote did they actually get last time.
    @Julian Tisi
    I’m afraid that Mr Martin (was your spelling of his first name an attempt to link him to Russia or just a good old typo?) is very good at giving us the benefit of his wisdom and, indeed of dishing the dirt, while quite often remaining silent when somebody attempts to challenge him, as I did yesterday evening on this same thread, the exception being when ‘Professor’ Bourke joins the fray. Then we are often treated to a veritable ping pong of arguments back and forth.

    So, come on, Mr Martin, what IS your answer? Some of us are waiting.

  • John,
    Apologies for the slow response, I’m on holiday!
    My argument wasn’t necessarily against unitaries, just the form they take.
    The original proposal for Cheshire in about 2001 was for three, roughly East, West and Middle. Which I thought was the better solution than we now have.
    But Labour, for their own reasons, opted for the current form of unitaries in Cheshire of two councils. As a result we have one local council covering an area from Wilmslow to Crewe and another from Neston to Winsford, which prevents any local or community identity being established. Thus widening the gap between elected and electors.
    I do agree about the third tier, parish and town councils being important-even more so in this unitary areas. Although they can be just as political as other tiers, we are in a permanent state of war with Labour on one in particular.

  • It aint going to happen. Let us be concerned about what matters day to day to the ordinary voter. Electoral reform does not, unless we do that there is no way back at all. If we are listening we should be aware of that. Listening mean being aware oif what actually matters to people in their everyday lives. Please do not waste time and energy on this.

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