Paul Tyler’s valedictory speech: The Tories and integrity

I chose to initiate a short debate, on the integrity of our electoral process for my final “valedictory” speech in the House of Lords.

After so many years of working with leading reformers in other parties – Robin Cook and Ken Clarke, for example – I deplored the lack of cross-party co-operation that this government have created. They have made few attempts to conserve the union, the reputation of Britain around the world or the rule of law, but also the traditional purpose of their own party. Ministers even wish to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights, that Churchill worked so hard to create.

Of the Johnson Junta I summed up:

It is this cavalier relationship with the truth that divorces today’s Conservative Party from its past and betrays the legacies of Macmillan, Heath, Major, and, yes, even Thatcher.

Their Elections Bill will increase elusive foreign investments, being deliberately partisan, overturning work done since 1883 to prevent the rich buying constituencies. This aims to reverse the judgement of the Supreme Court in 2018 that reinforced those safeguards. The Bill also attempts to remove the Supplementary Vote from the PCC and mayoral elections, replacing it with First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). This move makes a mockery of the government’s own manifesto pledge making sure that every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy.”

I ended with a challenge:

I plead with true Conservatives – in both Houses and beyond – to reclaim their party.   For many years, I have had staring at me on my desk the reminder of Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing’.

These sentiments were echoed by my colleagues. Lord Rennard argued that the fairness of elections is crucially important when considering any suggested changes. He added that the government is attempting to increase power for millions of pounds rather than millions of votes.  He deplored the Government’s attack on the independence and role of the Electoral Commission.

Baroness Brinton said that democracy was more at risk than ever before, especially considering that our voting system failed to keep pace – something that a move to proportional representation would help. One staggering fact is that since 1935 nearly 90% of single majority governments have not had support from the majority voters. The Liberal Democrats have been particularly disadvantaged, with the vote share increasing by 4% at the last election, but ultimately ending with one less seat. The system is broken, alone in Europe with a 2-party system that now provides seats that are either so safe they will never change, or seats that can be bought with outside (or foreign) investment. Parliament has failed to reflect the people it is supposed to represent, which is bad not just for democracy, but politics and the people.

Baroness Ludford, a member of the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights – with MP and Peer members – demolished the case for photo ID voting as a “solution in search of a problem, and one which entails considerable risks.”  The Joint Committee has serious reservations about its fairness, and it could prove yet another obstacle to active citizenship for young people and those in diverse ethnic communities.

From the Conservative benches there were tributes and expressions of regret from their elections expert Lord Hayward and Lord Cormack, the latter commenting that I was leaving with a “bang rather than a whimper”. He commented that he himself was worried about his party’s move towards English nationalism, which he could not endorse. He added that democracy was flawed if the electoral process was beyond criticism.  He ended: “Nobody will deny him his place in in late 20th-century and early 21st-century British politics.”  Other Government supporters didn’t look too dismayed at my departure!

The Leader of the Labour Peers, Baroness Smith of Basildon, reinforced our view that the government had made many attempts to change politics, which had either been careless or a calculated attempt to push the political system in their favour. She also endorsed my critique that the Elections Bill fails to resolve any problems, but rather passes the “Johnson test”, weakening critics of the Prime Minister and using his largely unquestioning parliamentary majority to do so.

The Minister, Lord True (!), responded with the statement that the “government has long been working on the topic”, that their manifesto promised to deliver a strengthened and protected democracy. The Minister also stated that FPTP was well established and is understood by the public, hence its expansion into the PCC and mayoral elections. He finished by saying that he understood that the voter ID proposal was causing concern, which should be carefully scrutinised by the House when the Bill arrives.

He too didn’t seem disappointed that he wouldn’t continue to have to defend the Johnson administration from Tyler analysis and onslaughts!

The full Hansard Report of the Debate can be found here:

Integrity of Electoral Processes – Thursday 21 October 2021 – Hansard – UK Parliament

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

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9 Comments

  • I wish Paul Tyler well in his departure from the Lords but I suspect he will be staffing the barricades as long as he has breath in his body. A great Liberal voice over the decades that can still rally the troops.

  • Brad Barrows 25th Oct '21 - 6:36pm

    “The Tories and integrity”…
    Sadly, lack of integrity is not correlated with political party. David Amess is an example of a Tory universally viewed as being of the highest integrity. Without naming names, we all know of individual MPs in the Conservative, Labour, SNP and…yes…the Liberal Democrats, who have fallen well short of the level of integrity we expect in our elected representatives. Similarly, all our main political parties have made promises to gain votes in elections, only to betray those promises when they have had the opportunity to deliver. It is not surprising that so many voters believe voting is not worth the bother.

  • Christopher Moore 25th Oct '21 - 7:03pm

    I think you have missed the point of the article.

    Human beings are human beings whether Tory, Labour, LD etcetera. And hence flawed. And hence will have lapses of integrity.

    But the article is talking about the government itself attacking the under-pinnings of democracy. This is a departure and to be deplored and opposed.

  • Brad Barrows 26th Oct '21 - 1:14am

    @Christopher Moore
    I’m afraid I read this article as an attack on the very ‘integrity’ of Tories for supporting an Elections Bill which opposition parties claim undermines democracy. I don’t agree that the Elections bill does this but, even if I did, I would not suggest that the Tories lacked ‘integrity’ for their views. What I do think lacks integrity is for a political party to argue that the existence of an unelected House of Lords is an affront to democracy…and then play along by nominating people to be appointed. The SNP has always refused to nominate members for the House of Lords – I see no reason why the Liberal Democrats could not take the same stand.

  • Graham Jeffs 26th Oct '21 - 10:25am

    Paul Tyler will be greatly missed. It’s almost inadequate to simply say ‘thank you’ to him. A very fine Liberal.

  • Kyle Harrison 26th Oct '21 - 11:20am

    I don’t think liberals can tell Tories how to be “true conservatives”. If you look at the history of Toryism, it is has never been all about pluralism or human rights. I think you’ll find the Tories opposed the Glorious Revolution and defended the rights of King James II. It was the Whigs/ liberals that have always been much more obsessed with formal rights. Tories believe in tradition and the exercise of power. There’s always been a battle in the Conservative Party between liberalism and Toryism. Ever since the Liberals declined and many Liberals became Conservatives. (Margaret Thatcher came from a family of Edwardian Liberals). What we’ve since since Brexit is the triumph of Toryism over Liberalism.

  • nvelope2003 27th Oct '21 - 3:09pm

    Brad Barrows: As the Second Chamber of Parliament is not elected how else can the Liberal Democrats and others take up their role in its proceedings unless they accept nomination ? Why do the SNP take their seats in the House of Commons and not do as Sinn Fein does by abstaining ?

  • Peter Hirst 28th Oct '21 - 4:33pm

    a thoughtful synopsis of all that is wrong with our politics. The Conservatives lost their soul when they put political gain above serving the country. Our best hope is our media and an enlightened electorate.

  • Nigel Quinton 28th Oct '21 - 6:26pm

    I just want to say a massive thank you to Paul for his work over many years on constitutional reform. He has always inspired me and I am sure many other grass root activists with his clarity of thought and well reasoned debate.

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