Sal Brinton writes: Hungry for Democracy?

Next Tuesday the UK will commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the vote and we will be marking the contribution of the commitment of suffragettes and suffragists over years to achieve it. I am sure, however, that many of them would be very concerned about the fault lines in our democracy one hundred years on.

The democratic deficit in our country is stark. First past the post denies representation to millions: in the 2015 General Election, the Lib Dems, Greens, and UKIP got over 24% of the vote, but won a mere 1.5% of the seats in Parliament. And in 2017 the Conservatives and the DUP received 43% of the votes between them, but hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.

First past the post ensures a large swathe of seats never change hands and voters can be born, live, vote and die feeling their vote just doesn’t have any value. Dorset West has not changed hands since before the women won the vote. This results in apathy amongst voters who say there’s no point in voting because their vote doesn’t count and – as bad – complacency from political parties. This is democracy denied.

For years we Lib Dems have believed we need a serious constitutional overhaul, including reform of the House of Lords, votes at 16 and most urgently, proportional representation (PR). We will not waver from this: if our parliament is to represent the people then their votes must count.

Not least because on this centenary of women getting the vote, first past the post is the world’s worst system for gender representation in politics. Every country in the world with more than 40% female MPs uses PR. In the UK women are at least 40% of AMs of the devolved assemblies of London and Wales, both elected by PR.

Make Votes Matter is a cross party and cross organisation coalition that has come together to campaign for PR. On your behalf, Paul Tyler and myself attend their steering group meetings. Make Votes Matter recognises the campaigning, suffering and even death that those women faced over many years to win the vote, which is why many of us will not eat for 24 hours on Tuesday 6 February to mark their commitment and recognise that our democracy today is broken.

If you want to join us, please use #Hungry4Democracy over the next few days and especially on Tuesday 6 February to explain why you think we need PR. If you want and are able to take a more significant actions then join us on our 24 hour hunger strike from 8pm on Monday 5 February, and join our vigil (for however long or short a time you can) outside Parliament from 7am – 8pm on Tuesday 6 February. If you can’t join us on the day, help us to make social media sing with #Hungry4Democracy.

We recognise the severity of what many suffragettes went through to win the vote, and that for some British people hunger is a daily reality and that sexism remains prevalent in the 21st Century. So, some of us will be donating what we would have spent on food for the day to be divided equally between The Trussell Trust, the Fawcett Society and Make Votes Matter.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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5 Comments

  • OnceALibDem 1st Feb '18 - 12:20am

    Great initiative. Where is the party promoting this? Are others being encouraged to do this locally? Is there a co-ordinated action day on the weekend before to have local parties promoting this?

    In short is there any sort of campaign besides having a funky hashtag.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Feb '18 - 12:38am

    This is amazing , saying that I do not agree with hunger strikes, I did not think it the way to do things one hundred years ago , nor on the H block nor when others have done it , it is organised self harm at worst, fasting as in religious practice, at best.

    As a Liberal though I support or defend other peoples right to differ, and as this and many causes behind such actions are terrific, and as Sal is too, shall be thinking of you with real and genuine respect.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Feb '18 - 12:40am

    ps

    It may be undemocratic , but could be done by vote, if she wants to stay in office, shouldn’t Sal do so as she is an absolute gem !

  • “We recognise the severity of what many suffragettes went through to win the vote,”

    It’s good to hear that, Sal – but it should never be forgotten it was a Liberal Government that refused to spread the franchise to women and introduced the appalling ‘Forced Feeding’ of imprisoned suffragettes under successive Home Secretaries Herbert Gladstone, Winston Churchill and Reginald McKenna (responsible for the notorious ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act in 1913).

    It should be remembered that the same Liberal government could have, but didn’t, spread the franchise generally at a time when no women and 40% of the men (70% of the adult population) were not allowed to vote. The Lloyd George 1918 Coalition reforms restricted female suffrage by age and property. My Granddad got the vote but my Granny didn’t. Who knows what history would have turned out like if the Liberals had been ‘Liberal’.

  • Nigel Hardy 6th Feb '18 - 8:07pm

    Where is this being promoted within the party? If you go onto the MakeVotesMatter website you will find lots of useful info, and including a list of MP’s/parties favourable to electoral reform, and indeed it states the LD’s support it. It seems however, the party is asleep and not banging the drum to help MVM. Understandably the party feels bruised and cheated by the shenanigans of 2012 to see electoral reform off, but we simply allow the Tories, who are the main culprits for keeping FPTP to get away stifling democracy if we do not get together with other parties to keep up the pressure.

    A lot rides on the Labour party winning the next GE, either with a majority or a coalition to secure reform, but pressure needs to be applied. Some seventy Labour MP’s (currently 25%) now support reform and MVM, including the Shadow Chancellor, however Corbyn is his usual evasive self. The LibDems could be really influential here in converting more Labour MP’s.

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