Six key areas for a partnership approach to politics

Since I last wrote about a partnership parliament’ we have won the Brecon by-election and a lot of the talk, quite rightly, has been about the ‘Remain Alliance’ which helped to deliver victory to Jane Dodds. What the by-election has absolutely demonstrated is that politics has become so factionalised that there will not be a Parliament in which one Party will have an absolute majority after the next General Election.

If we are to have a ‘Partnership Parliament’ then perhaps, we ought to consider a partnership approach to the elections which will precede it. In many ways the one is clearly the precursor to another. So, I set out what I think are the key themes on which we should negotiate pre and post-election.

Note that I said themes here. People rarely vote for or against specific policies. They vote for or against beliefs and themes which express themselves by way of high-level principles which they can relate. They then conclude on those themes that such a Party or such a person is the one that most resembles ‘my’ beliefs.

There are two items which are redlines which must be a pre-condition of the Lib Dems working with other Parties.

Firstly, we must revoke Article 50. This is a change from my previous position that we must aim for a referendum in which we would put the case for staying in the EU. Things have now gone too far.

Secondly, there must be an absolute commitment to electoral reform. The impasse in Parliament has largely happened because too many MPs are calculating their individual chances of survival in a haphazard ‘First Past the Post’ system which has failed to deliver a strong government. 

Both of these objectives can be delivered quickly in the kind of short-term Parliament which might exist after the next election. Then a General Election could be held in which the elections took place on the new STV system There are four areas where declarations of intent can be made now for wider discussions but where some things can be done very quickly.

Principle One – Housing.  Housing is a basic human right and we should consider the place we live primarily as our home rather than as a financial investment. Our homes should be appropriate to our needs and should be placed in safe, green clean neighbourhoods. 

Principle 2 – Climate Change  Put remedial and prevention measures into every strategy so that all departments and levels of government take this seriously and think about it in every step they take. 

Principle 3 – Education – Make the centrepiece of our policies the belief that the best education systems are ones that ensure that people of all ages want to learn rather than being forced through a sausage machine of tests within narrow disciplines. 

Principle 4 – Health and Social Care – Make the centrepiece of our policies the prevention of illness and disease rather than the curing of illness and disease. 

I’ve left out vast areas of policy for two reasons:

  1. We need to get “Six to Fix”, in people’s minds and we do that best by giving a limited number of things for them to think about. We can get all six on a pledge card the size of a playing card.
  2. These are the things that most people talk to us about on the door step.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t have a high-quality and precise manifesto which covers the whole gamut of policies. 

This approach has three main merits:

  1. We don’t need to establish large amounts of new policies. The ones I have mentioned above are ones where we already have established policy ready to go.
  2. Most people agree with the basic principles outlines above
  3. They act as a useful ‘litmus test’ for parties or individuals that might want to work with us pre-or post-election.

It is abundantly clear that all Parties must begin now to think through what will happen in the run up to and after a General Election. If Parliament is to be effective it must be prepared for new ways of working and the best way to prepare for those new ways is to test them out by realism in the cauldron of British Politics – the General Election itself.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the Leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats.

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  • Richard, an interesting collection, and as a former Convener of Social Care I welcome your emphasis on health and social care.

    However, there is a glaring omission. Poverty and inequality has grown in recent years. No mention or endorsement of Professor Philip Alston’s UN Report on Poverty in the UK. It vividly describes and provides evidence which ought to be the basis for Lib Dem policy – just as Seebohm Rowntree’s work inspired radical elements in the last truly Liberal Government.

  • David Becket 4th Aug '19 - 10:40am

    As usual Richard talks sense. However the situation is now very urgent.
    A cabal of elderly right wingers have landed us with the most reactionary government ever. No deal Brexit, a Home Secretary who wants to bring terror to the streets, a Health Minister opposed to abortion and a super rich Leader of the House who is going to increase his fortune taking his business into the EU and using tax havens.
    This is not the Tory Party elected in 2017, and represents an undemocratic take over.
    The unspeakable Cummings now claims it is too late to stop a no deal, and the pathetic leader of the opposition (sic) is both incapable and unwilling to do anything about it.

    Jo, Keith Starmer, Philip Hammond, Heidi Allen and Caroline Lucas need to plot a way to ensure a general election before we leave the EU.

    Failure to adopt one of our red lines should not prevent us standing down in favour of somebody with a better chance of taking a seat. This is a desperate situation.

  • I suppose housing could be said to be tangentially related to poverty, David, given it’s most people’s biggest expense.

    I worry that there’s nary a mention of civil liberties, myself. I know it’s fashionable to decry caring about civil liberties as snobbish and not down with the people, but still, we are meant to be the LIBERAL Democrats…

  • Peter Martin 4th Aug '19 - 11:13am

    @ Jennie,

    Agreed on the question of civil liberties. The Blair government made a number of changes to the legal system which have gone against hundreds of years of legal tradition.

    For example, compensation to victims of miscarriage of justice is much harder to obtain. There is a new standard of degree of innocence. Barry George was deemed to be “not innocent enough” of the Jill Dando killing and denied compensation for the years he spent imprisoned.

  • William Fowler 4th Aug '19 - 11:18am

    All depends if Boris does Brexit, may well end up with a conservative majority. Latest chatter is that if a GE is called it will take place after Oct 31st so Brexit will happen regardless,

    However, the idea that a partnership govn could emerge to revoke article 50 and reform the electoral system – given that more than 50 percent voted for the parties in the partnership which stood on remain and Brexit has not happened – seems quite reasonable and rather more democratic than other alternative outcomes. However, if Labour is in that partnership I doubt very much if they would give up their power in favour of a quick election under PR until they were forced to do so by the end of the five year term.

  • Trevor Wenman 4th Aug '19 - 11:28am

    The key focus should be on the red lines. We could always go further on policy, but none of the four areas you mention preclude further refinement and development. Tackling poverty is part and parcel of how we address the four principles.
    I would personally prefer just three principles, simply because of the “power of three” in presentational terms. (But don’t increase the number of red lines!)

    If we only have three principles, I would suggest dropping housing. Not because it is not important, any more than poverty is not important. It would chime with all our potential “parliamentary partners” However it is not distinct enough from the Tories. They would claim housing as their priority as well. You and I understand how tory local government policy has largely created the housing crisis through right to buy and making it so hard for Council’s to build new homes, but that is too difficult for the average voter. On climate change, education and health and social care we are strong and the Tories are vulnerable, and together these three present a coherent, distinctive package.

    If this works, we ditch Brexit and, with electoral reform, we will have the chance to push for the rest of our liberal agenda in a succession of coalition governments

  • Mick Taylor 4th Aug '19 - 11:47am

    What we must not do is waver one iota on STV. We know it is the only system that puts voters in charge and delivers PR. AV, D’Hont or AMS are no substitute and any way they put parties in charge. No referendum either just legislation.

  • Peter Chambers 4th Aug '19 - 11:56am

    Housing as a home rather than a financial investment covers a great deal. Adopting this as a policy would put us squarely against the prevailing national financial policy of the last few decades, where those who already have draw in those of us who work for wages as ‘new money’ to inflate their bubble and provide for their ‘exit’.
    Expect a huge reaction from wealth mangers, estate agents, and foreign billionaires already invested. It would be a battle they could not ignore. It would also answer the often mentioned point that in opinion polls ‘many people say they do not know what the Liberal Democrats stand for’.

  • Don’t forget principle 5: The economy and the industry.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Aug '19 - 12:41pm

    We have already seen with Theresa how utterly foolish “red lines” drawn around a minority position are.
    I am a strong supporter of STV but the idea that we could get it accepted for Westminster by some short term emergency coalition is just daft. I would compromise on a top up system as in Scotland, Wales and London for Westminster, and STV for local elections.
    Abandoning our referendum policy on Europe really would be a kick in the teeth for all those Leavers who do not trust politicians. Also a big mistake, however tempting it may be to ultra Remainers.. Again, we should have learnt from the Pledge that the end does not justify the means in politics.

  • Joseph Bourke 4th Aug '19 - 12:42pm

    Well constructed and argued piece from Richard.

    Getting Six to Fix”, in people’s minds is a good approach. “Housing as a home” should be a top priority.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '19 - 1:23pm

    What about streamlining local government and giving it real fiscal powers to make local decisions for local people? Why stop at six? Let’s go to ‘Seventh Heaven’!

  • Housing under no circumstances should be dropped. Decent housing for all should be our battle cry; “But, but my house price might drop”, so would mine but tis a price worth paying for a more equal society. Remember the price of a house only comes into play when you sell up, if your moving up lower prices help you, if your selling up because your dead, doesn’t really matter does it.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Aug '19 - 2:26pm

    Without wishing to rain on the parade any more, of course any change in the electoral system could not be achieved in a short term parliament without getting rid of the Electoral Commission (very unwise!) which would have to draw up new boundaries and go through the statutory consultations. Three years is about the mimimum time even after Parliament has agreed a clear instruction. So to get electoral reform through we need a stable arrangement like the 2010 coalition. Opponents would filibuster this as much as possible…

  • Splendid list, although we all have our own hobby horses we would kine added. On climate change we need to be the people coming up with the practical and achievable solutions, not hiring multi million pound carbon fibre boats (is carbon fibre environmentally friendly ??) to holiday in the States
    Housing must be a priority, although we need to accept that many will see it as an investment an long as there is a free market and property is less volatile than stocks and bonds. Not sure the investment issue is a problem that need prevent us achieving ambitious goals for social and affordable housing.
    And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could put more resource into the prevention of illness ? A more away from the bio medical model of healthcare, of only patching up bodies already broken would not only save money in the long run but prevent untold human suffering.

  • @John Marriott. Sorry, but any mention of local government is almost certain to provoke a response from my direction – How about less local government (in the sense of government doing things for us) and more local democracy, in the sense of people calling the shots themselves ? We could start with ensuring that every council must have some seats up for re-election at least every other year. My local party hasn’t fought local elections since 2017 and we are sitting about waiting for the next lot in 2021. And all local people can do is write desperate letters to the local paper, which they do. A lot.
    And end co-option of councilors in first tier council (voters know this goes on and they think it’s corrupt).

  • We can all come up with reasons not to do something, but the we’d need the Electoral Commision to come up with boundaries is just lame. No we wouldn’t just parcel up the existing constituencies into groups of five and run an election. But it wouldn’t be quite right I hear the reposte, true but it would be much fairer than the system we have and if we wait for perfection we wait foreever.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Aug '19 - 3:24pm

    Oh, we’ll just tell the rest of the MPs to endorse STV (which has very little support outside the Lib Dems), and then we’ll just tell the Electoral Commission to redraw the boundaries without consultation (do you really thing it is a simple case of ramming constituencies together? How many MPs do you want, 600 or 650? How do you decide which 5 seats?) , and then we’ll just tear up a few more things that separate the government from the conduct of elections..

    I do think frustration with Brexit seems to be making unicorns infectious

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Aug '19 - 3:26pm

    Chris Cory,
    I agree 100% that elections every year in local government are best for democracy

  • Andrew,
    We are entering desperate times, niceties will be cast aside, how rapidly they will be cast will surprise you. There is a quote “Never let a crises go to waste” be sure the like of wee Mogg and co won’t, we would be foolish to let convention get in the way of making radical change, but as I said “We can always come up with an excuse for not doing something”.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '19 - 3:39pm

    @Chris Cory
    I’m not quite sure where you are coming from. Do you want to devolve real powers from central government? I certainly do. Having spent thirty years as a Councillor, as many LDV readers and contributors are probably fed up of hearing about, I am convinced that, if local government is prepared to put its own house in order, it can deliver for local people.

    There used to be quite a few District councils that elected by thirds over a four year cycle, with year four being devoted to County Council Elections. Lincoln City, which unlike the rest of the County is not ‘parished’, is the only example left around here. If all areas in England had two tiers (Unitary and Town/Parish/Neighbourhood Councils) as in the other nations of the UK, the obvious way make sure that there were local elections every two years would be to stagger elections between the two tiers, as happens now with areas that still have County, District and Parish Councils.

  • Martin:

    I fully agree with you. We need to detail and advertise our PR plans so that other parties can then review and then hopefully agree to them. Also our candidates at the next election need these details so they have the full picture when questioned.

  • I can see that larger, centralised parties such as Labour would prefer a top-up form of PR such as the additional member system, but with the make-up of those lists firmly in the hands of the party leadership, it causes all kinds of problems when it comes to accountability to the electoral. And if it’s anything like in Scotland, we’d end up with some truly useless MPs

    STV is harder to explain, but its merits as far as accountability and constituency links make it worth fighting for. I also think it properly addresses the genuine concerns we sometimes hear about PR – as opposed to the can-kicking ones. There’s going to be more attention on PR in the coming months and years, so I think it’s time we got stuck in with the cross-party campaigning. I see a lot of activity from the “Make Votes Matter” group, who are theoretically cross-party, but are obviously focused on persuading Labour MPs to the cause, which risks a message designed to suit their party interests becoming the presumed best option.

  • I’m afraid that some Lib Dems are ready to ignore the pressing emergency while making long time plans. Woul you rather crash out of the EU than ally with somebody who doesn’t meet all the “red lines”? I think that in a state of emergency there isn’t the luxury to be picky.

    My suggestion: Prioritise. Be prepared to ally with anyone willing to stop Brexit. Next reform.the electoral system with anybody willing to reform it. When the Brexit is prevented and the electoral system reformed, THEN go to a new general election, and put in place all these red lines. Don’t forget the human rights.

    I’m really, really afraid, that if someone thinks, that preventing the Brexit is a good opportunity to make other demands, UK will crash and burn out of the EU. Certainly Brexit will not improve the living conditions of the underprivileged.

  • Paul Barker 4th Aug '19 - 6:34pm

    There area number of stages here :
    1st is doing all we can to stop Brexit, that’s mostly down to our Parliamentary Team with the rest of us making noise to support them. Our hands are tied compared to our enemies though, they can use violence & we can’t. We have to include in our thinking that we may not be able to stop Brexit however bad things get.
    2nd is fighting & winning The Election whenever it comes. We need a simple message, 6 Points are 5 too many. We need a solid Electoral Alliance with The Greens (outwith Scotland) & others, one that can quickly roll over into a Government Program based on agreed Principles. Talks about this should be happening Now, if they aren’t then we are wasting our greatest opportunity.
    We know what the basis of such a Deal would be – Revoke, PR, other Electoral Reform, a Green New Deal, Massive Devolution, a big rise in Non-Pension Benefits & more Social Housing would all be obvious measures.
    August is a massive window of opportunity for us, however biased The Media are ( & they are) they need News & we can provide it if we have the will.

  • I am Irish so I have lived in a country that runs an STV system. I cannot believe the naivity of LibDem members and posters here regarding STV.

    First off, nobody seems to be say how many members STV constituencies should have. STV with single member constituencies = alternative vote. STV with three member constituencies is very different from STV with five member constituencies. STV =/= proportional representation. A party can quite easily get 8% of the vote and win no seats under 5 member constituency STV.

    Secondly, UK voters are hugely wedded to their constituencies. Some areas such as Cornwall (currently 5 single member seats) might work as a 5 member STV seat because there is a natural area of the right size. However, most areas will not. People simply will not support change.

    Thirdly, a huge issue under STV is intra-party competition. In a given constituency there might be 3 or 4 Conservative candidates competing for 2 Conservative seats and 3 or 4 Labour candidates competing for 2 Labour seats. STV weakens the power of party central offices. Some posters here seem to see such weakening as a “good thing”. It’s not – party central offices need other ways to exercise control with increased patronage. Intra-party relationships become poisoned as MPs from the same party compete to retain their seats.

  • Fourthly, as liberals we need to be sensible and adopt a incrementalist approach. Scotland, Wales and London have experience of AMS, i.e. the additional member system. Yes, that involves the closed list where the order of those on the list is decide by party members not voters. However, that can be a good thing. In some countries which run open lists there can be candidates who grandstand and act as mavericks in order to advance above their position on the list and that’s not helpful. The LibDem system means that the members themselves get to decide the order.

    Fifthly, there is a key selling point for the Additional Member System – it’s that the current system skews the regional balance among MPs within parties – Northern English MPs are overrepresented among the Labour parliamentary party compared with the Labour electorate. Southern English MPs are overrepresented among the Conservative parliamentary party compared with the Conservative electorate. AMS on a regional basis is something that Labour Party in south and east of England can get behind because the current system screws them over significantly. You can even see Conservatives in places supporting AMS as they note that the Conservative revival in Scotland and Wales was driven by having AMS for Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections where the Conservative Party finally got a share of seats coming close to the 15-20% of the electorate that it always had through the 90s.

  • @Rob Cannon Good points. Personally I’d suggest 12 constituencies (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine regions of England), which each would have enough MPs to keep the elections proportional, but whatever constituency size the Lib Dems are suggesting, there should be something about it on paper.

  • @ Patrick One constituency for the whole of Scotland ?

    You’ve got to be joking.

  • @Rob. I appreciate your concern for my naivety regarding the relative merits of STV and AMS, but as I’m Scottish I’ve direct experience of both. In my experience, STV gives us superior elected members.

    If there’s no chance of a party getting more than two seats, then the party should just put forward three candidates at most, and not put forward any candidate that doesn’t know how to behave. Yes, there will be some competition between candidates, but that means we don’t risk having elected members who don’t bother to turn up, or who do the basic minimum, safe in the knowledge they have a large majority or that they’ll be at the top of the relevant list.

    In my local authority area, we had two candidates from the same party, and everyone, regardless of party allegiance, knew that one of them was useless. She’d previously got in based on the colour of her rosette, but this time around there was a very obvious preference for her party colleague and she lost her seat. As things stand, I have representatives from three parties representing me, and I can honestly stay that three of them are very good and hard working and most locals would be happy to see them back. The fourth is decent. All four are superior to my local MSP and considerably better than some of the dubious ones who snuck in via lists, presumably because they are chummy with someone at central office.

  • John Marriott 4th Aug '19 - 7:27pm

    Whatever voting system replaces FPTP has got to produce a result where one, two or even three parties can, by forming a coalition or by achieving an absolute majority (as the SNP did in Scotland a few years ago) produce a government that represents over 50% of those that voted in the election.

    If you want to see the unfairness of FPTP you only have to look at the projections in today’s Sunday Times, particularly in the first of three scenarios, where one percentage point separates Labour and Lib Dem and yet the former gets over three times the seats of the latter (24%/23% =181/51 seats).

  • Sorry, got side-tracked!

    In terms of constituency size, for STV I’d recommend four-five, but we’d need to see how that would look, and which areas they’d cover. We’d need to allow for a few exceptions with two or even one MP in very rural areas, and in high density parts of the larger cities, six-eight might be more appropriate.

  • Rob Cannon – I’m Scottish, so I too come from a country that runs an STV system. We’ve had it for local government for 12 years (thanks to the LibDems) and the problems you describe are things we just haven’t experienced at all. In fact STV has been extremely successful here; the key indicator being that absolutely nobody is calling for its abolition. (Is there a big popular movement of people in Ireland doing that? )
    Scotland incidentally has 4 voting systems: STV for local government, AMS for Holyrood, FPTP for Westminster and the list system for Europe. You could even say 5 as we effectively use AV for council by-elections. 20 years ago I remember Tories were using your argument that people are “hugely wedded to their constituencies,” but in fact Scots are living proof that people are perfectly adaptable when it comes to voting systems. We use all of these different ones, sometimes on the same day, without any hassle whatsoever.
    Calling LibDem members ‘naïve’ about STV is a risky business, especially if you’re trying to persuade us to your point of view. STV is our totem policy, and has been for decades. It’s not a whim. We do know what we are talking about. We like STV because it gives maximum power to the voter, is more proportional than most systems, and still keeps a reasonable constituency link. Oh, and the fact that it reduces the power of the central parties, which you see as a bad thing, is another reason most of us like it (decentralisation of power being quite a big Liberal principle).
    Your 5th point, about parties representation being more regionally spread, is not a “key selling point for AMS” at all. It would happen under STV too, or indeed the party list system.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Aug '19 - 8:04pm

    STV is by far the easiest form of PR to implement. ANY change from FPTP to STV must be better than what we gave now. If initially we combine existing seats into five member seats that doesn’t have to be set in stone. Let’s get STV up and running, get a representative parliament elected and worry about revising boundaries later. We should get a bill drafted and ready to go so there’s no delay.

  • @David Raw, I don’t see why not, it is one constituency in European elections. And if we look at another country with proportional representation, The Netherlands is just one constituency in the general elections.

  • David Allen 4th Aug '19 - 8:14pm

    Prating on about the electoral system, when No Deal Brexit is staring us in the face, is daft, daft, daft. If we can’t recognise peril when we see it, we deserve to get slaughtered.

    Boris is playing a game. We need to work out what he is playing at and then work out how to beat it. If we ignore his game, we’re lost, just as Hillary Clinton was lost because she was too nose-in-the-air to recognise that a racist buffoon was about to outplay her.

    It’s obvious that Boris’s game is to win a snap election, and gain himself five years to get over the catastrophe that No Deal Brexit will bring. But Boris does face two problems. One, if he gets No Deal Brexit through by dubious parliamnetary shenanigans and then calls his election, he risks fighting amidst chaos in the supermarkets and gridlock on the motorways. Two, if instead he calls his election ahead of Brexit, he risks being called Theresa Mark 2, and he risks the charge that he’s scared of what NDB will bring, so he wants to con people into voting for it before they get to find out just what an awful idea it is.

    So, does that mean Boris can’t find a winning play?

    Of course not! The Bullingdon trains young toff-thugs to play dirty, and that’s what Boris will do. The most obvious line is to let Grieve and Clarke vote down NDB in Parliament. Then Boris can claim that an election was forced on him by Parliamentary Traitors, who deserve to be Booted Out by Boris’s Bullies.

    Then we must all unite to fight the Bullies. We can’t afford to fall out with anyone over the ideal electoral system, or anything else except Brexit!

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Aug '19 - 8:35pm

    “UK voters are hugely wedded to their constituencies. Some areas such as Cornwall (currently 5 single member seats) might work as a 5 member STV seat because there is a natural area of the right size. However, most areas will not. People simply will not support change.”

    Do people think that is necessarily true across the country? And if it is then perhaps it would be approprite to base multi-member constituencies on the historical counties…?

  • @ Patrick “I don’t see why not”. Do you live in London or the South East ?

    So you intend to replace 59 constituencies with one constituency. Are you aware that it’s 454 miles from Lerwick to Stranraer ? What sort of relationship will the new MP’s have with their local communities ?

  • Fiona: Considerations in constructing electoral systems for local government and for Westminster are very different. STV could work for local government because people are already used to multi-member wards, there are not huge ideological gaps and wards are small.

    Multi-member STV constituencies for Westminster will lead to the phenomenon of parties putting up candidates for geographical and ethnic diversity which will not be helpful. Candidates will be saying something like “Vote for me in the East Surrey constituency because I am the Guildford-based candidate” or “Vote for me in the East Surrey constituency because I am the only visible ethnic candidate.” It’s a recipe for disaster and is something that AMS avoids.

    You’ve also ignored my point that 4-5 member STV constituencies is not the same as PR – a party getting 8% or less won’t be represented.

  • Robert Cannon 4th Aug '19 - 9:38pm

    “Worries about what might be a perfect system is the enemy of improvement. So long as the constituency size is more than one, it would be better, I think that constituencies could have 3, 4,5 or even 6 MPs depending on circumstances, but what is important is to produce, ideally with other parties, workable proposals, so what we want is clear to everyone.”

    There are fundamental differences between 3 seat constituency STV and 6 seat constituency STV. 3 seat constituency STV is not at all proportional.

    Germany has an AMS system for federal elections on a regional (Lander) basis with a minimum 5% threshold for share of vote. Austria has a similar system with a 4% threshold. What is so deficient about these systems?

    New Zealand, which is the only country to move from a Westminster FPTP system to a more proportional system did so through AMS.

    It’s like people here don’t remember the abject failure that was the ATV referendum. I’m not a fan of ATV at all, but surely LibDems can learn from the failure of that referendum that any electoral reform proposal must be incremental to gain acceptance.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Aug '19 - 10:57pm

    STV works perfectly well in Eire. Indeed for many years the leaders of a Fine Gael and Labour represented the same constituency!
    Under AMS many MPs have no constituency connection at all. In my view very few people have any loyalty to any particular constituency. What they want us an MP who represents them. STV is the only system that guarantees that since voters are in control.
    David Allen is just plain wrong. Our electoral system is one of the reasons why people voted for Brexit because they feel totally disenfranchised under FPTP

  • @David Raw , neither at the moment. I’ve been living in different places for the last two decades, currently in Finland. The most northern constituency in Finland, Lapland, is much bigger than Scotland, and elects 7.MPs (of total 200) to the Finnish parliament, as it is very scarcely populated. The two biggest constituencies by population, Helsinki and Uusimaa (next to Helsinki) elect together 58 MPs (of total 200).

    I have also lived among other places in the Netherlands, where all 150 MPs are elected nationally, as the whole country formes a huge single constituency. The parties try to make their lists regionally representative, though.

    I think if UK one day adopts PR, it requires new thinking about the regional representation. Many more things would probably be decided on local level. If someone needs to turn to their MP, they would probably turn to a MP who is specialised on their issue, for instance education, or health, or fishing. The MP wouldn’t necessarily have to be from the same particular place.

    Things just work in a different way in countries with PR, as I have witnessed in many places. I don’t think that many advocates of PR are actually aware of all the changes the PR would cause as side effects. I don’t mean the changes would necessarily be bad, but they might be a surprise to someone who has never lived in a PR system, before.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '19 - 8:02am

    “I can see that a 3 seat constituency is likely to be less proportional than a 5 seat constituency, but please explain how it is “not at all proportional”. ”

    Fair question – but as I see it the issue is – the fewer the number of seats in the constituency the greater the proportion of voters whose votes don’t count – i.e. they don’t contribute to electing a candidate of their political choice. That happens with other voting systems as well. Under the d’Hondt system North East England elects 3 MEPs. The LibDems got a slightly larger share of the vote in that region than in West Midlands and i Yorkshire and the Humber, didn’t win a seat in North East but did win 1 seat in each of those other 2 regions.

    Ths figures taken from

  • John Marriott 5th Aug '19 - 8:41am

    Isn’t it amazing how so many people on LDV at least get so exercised about which voting system is tge best one to replace FPTP. I won’t repeat what I said eRlier; but mention was made of Germany. There half the members of the Bundestag are elected directly, so called ‘direkte Mandaten ‘, whereas the rest are elected by d’Hondt from regional lists, so called ‘indirekte Mandaten. There is, of course the 5% threshold or ‘Sperrklausel’, introduced for the second post war Federal Elections in 1953. The liberal FDP gets most, if not all of its seats, if it passes 5%, by the second method.

    I might be wrong; but, when it comes to local elections, there are some areas where, voters can choose up to however many people it takes to fill a particular council from a list of potential candidates. That’s how it used to work in Parish Council Elections over here before 1972, or so I am led to believe.

  • @Martin, 2-member constituencies are used in U.S. Senate elections. Where the elections are “proportional”, they practically always produce the same result: one Democrat and one Republican. If all the states would use the proportional elections for the Senate, the Senate would constitute of 50 Democrat and 50 Republican senators. Therefore many states use FPTP in the Senate elections, resulting that both seats will go to the same party.

    I don’t think that 3-member constituencies would be much improvement to that. Currently, in England it would probably produce in most constituencies one Conservative MP, one Labour MP, and one Lib Dem MP. In Scotland SNP would probably replace one of them, in Wales Plaid Cymru.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '19 - 10:59am

    Re US Senate elections… they are anything but proportional because each state has two senators, irrespective of size of electorate.

    If I understand correctly that was a deliberate decision to avoid urban areas dominating rural ones. Unfortunately, with the shift of people away from the land into cities, it has had the very non-beneficial side-effect of enabling rural areas to dominate urban ones.

    And it only works, insofar as it does, where you have two parties.

  • “STV works perfectly well in Eire.”

    Anybody who posts here and refers to (the Republic of) Ireland as Eire is clearly not very familiar with the country as they would know that the term Eire used to refer to Ireland is antiquated and borderline offensive for Irish people.

    Being Irish and having lived in Ireland half my life I am more than well aware of the problems with STV.

    Something that posters here need to realise is that there is no one perfect electoral system. The electoral system needs to reflect the culture and history of the country for which it is being used. That’s why an incremental approach to change is likely to be more successful. There’s also a need to educate people on how recent the single member FPTP model is. Within my parents’ memory there were multi-seat constituencies in the UK, e.g. Norwich which had two seats until 1950.

  • Thirteen contributions ago, and c16 hours ago,at 8.14 pm, David Allen tried to pull us back onto the real topic, and away from the fun of arguing over PR — interesting, important, but FUTILE NOW! Please now read again what he said and discuss that. Full speed we head for the iceberg — and argue whether life boats should be planked or panelled. It’s not good enough, and it doesn’t impress readers with eyes open.

  • David Evans 5th Aug '19 - 12:19pm

    David Allen and Roger Lake are right. We all need to focus on the crisis that is here and now and not repeatedly go on about our personal hobby horses (i.e. debating the minutiae of electoral systems). If Boris Johnson gets Brexit through by whatever means it won’t matter what electoral system we personally prefer.

    We will have finally lost the war, and he and those who have been planning and promoting this for years will have won.

    End of.

  • Denis Mollison 5th Aug '19 - 12:41pm

    Roger is right that the immediate absolute priority is to stop Brexit, especially a no-deal Brexit.

    But in the present volatile political situation, it would be good to have our electoral reform plans ready. I’ve recently updated the scheme for the UK Parliament that I devised 10 years ago, with STV in constituencies based on Local Authority areas, that our MPs took as far as a vote in Parliament in February 2010. I aim to submit a post to LDV shortly, describing the updated scheme and the ease/difficulty of introducing it quickly if the opportunity occurs; I hope this will answer some of the questions and assertions in the comments above 🙂

  • Paul Barker 5th Aug '19 - 1:49pm

    The 1st job is stopping Brexit, that may or may not be possible.
    The 2nd is getting a Parliamentary Majority for a Progressive Alliance, ie excluding Labour, Tories & The SNP. That may be possible but will be massively difficult, we need to be building that Alliance right Now. The best Electoral System, like the best forms of Regional Government are those that we can get through the next Parliament fastest & expending the least Political Capital. There is a massive job to do after we stop Brexit & we have too few members, too few activists , too few Voters & too little money.
    Some of the comments on here remind me of my (brief) membership of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, a sort of Political Fossil left over from the 1880s. They have spent 140 Years having Fun going nowhere. Paradise is always just over the Horizon & that’s the way they like it.
    I don’t want our Party to become a fossil.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Aug '19 - 2:15pm

    What we’re hopefully moving towards is a coalition of MPs who think alike on these issues, regardless of their Party allegiance. This could push through the legislation especially on electoral reform. The simpler it is the better and I favour just altering the electoral system before Brexit is finalised. Then another GE under the new system would help us to break the impasse.

  • Say we propose immediate adoption of STV. We propose that we leave it to the Boundary Commission to decide on the size of the constituencies. It would decide on how it felt it could best amalgamate existing constituencies while maintaining constituencies with geographical and local coherence. We propose doing this within sixty days of taking office. It is then given to a Royal Commission to review along with all the other issues; such as the number of seats in the Commons, the distributions amongst the nations, etc.

    Is this a clear proposal that could be readily and rapidly implemented? Yes.

    After sixty days would be have a better electoral system than we have now? Yes.

    Would waiting for the Royal Commission’s proposals before implementing reforms stop us benefitting from the advantages? Yes.

    Is there any aspect of the proposal that is worse than the current system? No.

    Would the Royal Commission’s hands be tied at all by the immediate implementation? No.

  • David Allen 5th Aug '19 - 3:51pm

    “The 1st job is stopping Brexit, that may or may not be possible.
    The 2nd is getting a Parliamentary Majority for a Progressive Alliance, ie excluding Labour, Tories & The SNP.”

    I don’t think this is the choice we are likely to face. We will face Boris, campaigning for five years of Trumpism in the UK, probably based on “Parliament blocked my amazing No-Deal-Brexit Plan – Let’s elect a No-Deal-Brexit Parliament!” Then we shall not want to “exclude” the SNP, or the Grieve / Clarke Tories, or indeed the Starmers and Thornberrys, if they can manage to commit to Remain. We shall need to work with all these people to stop Boris.

  • @Nonconformistradical, yes, I know they are anything but proportional. That’s why I used quotation marks. My point was, that two-member constituencies aren’t better than FPTP.

  • Denis Mollison 5th Aug '19 - 7:04pm

    @Patrick – I’m puzzled by the discussion of the US Senate. Each state has 2 senators, but they are elected at different times, thus individually by FPTP (or some variant on it, a few states now use AV, others a runoff). So there’s no element of proportionality, such as you could have if both were elected at the same time.

  • To Roger and ‘the two Davids’ (now there’s a blast from the past that will send shivers down some of our spines): Of course Brexit is our number 1 priority, but I don’t think either the party or LDV can be accused of not addressing it as such. We talk of little else – and rightly so. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss other issues as well. We are not a single-issue party, and STV/PR is one of our most consistent policies. Talking about it here does not mean we have forgotten Brexit, and indeed if you read the lead article again it actually invites discussion of PR (and other issues) in addition to Brexit. So we are certainly not off-topic. It may not be a topic you like, but it is in the main article, so it’s perfectly valid to discuss it here.

  • Rob Cannon, you haven’t addressed any of my points. [4 August, 7:34pm].
    Scotland introduced three new and different electoral systems, including STV, between 1999-2007. There were no riots in the streets: people just went out and voted. So I think it is perfectly possible to take people with you when implementing PR if you do it in the right way.
    And if STV is so bad in Ireland, why is there no serious movement for changing it?
    Pointing out the flaws in STV is not really an argument against the UK adopting it. There are flaws in all electoral systems – nobody here is naïve about that. As LibDems we have taken the view that STV is the best (i.e. least flawed) system on offer. Many of the technical questions you raise are valid enough but are things that can be sorted out in the implementation, learning from experience of other countries etc.

  • I would like us to have four main policy areas after Brexit and PR and think they should be poverty, education and training and the environment.

    Poverty, education and training should be part of our anti-Brexit position with us stating we would end relative poverty in the UK within a declared time scale. I have suggested 8 years. Education was once our Unique Selling Point and we need to build on this. A start would be to increase spending per pupil to its historic high and sorting out tuition fees by replacing them with a graduate tax. However, training is the area we need to work on, to ensure everyone has the training they need to reach their full potential. I expect our environment policy paper which we will discuss at Federal Conference will contain some good policies.

  • David Allen 6th Aug '19 - 5:58pm

    “I would like us to have four main policy areas after Brexit and PR and think they should be poverty, education and training and the environment.”

    Let’s imagine substituting “thermonuclear annihilation” for Brexit, so that the comment reads as something a bit like:

    “I would like us to have four main policy areas after thermonuclear annihilation, starting with arguing the respective merits of alternative PR systems, and then doing something good and strong and positive about poverty, education and training and the environment.”

    Now, at the risk of being accused of a little exaggeration, I would suggest that No Deal Brexit will be a catastrophe, maybe not quite as bad as the thermonuclear variant, but pretty bad.

    It would be crazy to argue about PR systems, or educational reforms, or to think we could do anything effective about poverty, after a thermonuclear war. It is nearly as crazt to think about any of these things after No Deal Brexit. If NDB happens, there will only be one policy area for the next generation, and that will be trying to recover from NDB.

  • David Allen,

    I think you have misunderstood what I wrote, “after Brexit and PR” did not mean after in time, but meant they should be included in our main policies.

    The problems of poverty, education, training and the environment need addressing. We are not a one policy party. I even linked poverty, education and training to addressing why people voted for Brexit.

    If we leave the EU with or without a deal we need to have policies which improve things for everyone and addressing poverty, education and training will be part of the solution to the economic hit the UK will take if we leave the EU. Also environmental issues will not disappear if we leave the EU.

  • David Evans 7th Aug '19 - 3:08pm

    Tony (Lloyd) have you any idea how long the Boundary Commission took to complete its 2018 review and simply produce a map with 600 single member constituencies based largely on a set of principles and a methodology known and used for decades?

    It started in February 2016 and was finally presented in September 2018.

    Implementing an entirely new approach even based on existing constituency boundaries, would take massively longer and be easily undermined in the public eye due to the massive difference in size between different constituencies.

    There is no quick, easy, fair fix.

  • Denis Mollison 7th Aug '19 - 8:11pm

    @David Evans – On the contrary, drawing boundaries is much, much easier for STV; it can/should be just a matter of deciding which Local Authority areas to combine. The essential point here is that with STV you don’t have to carve up LAs, which is the difficult and controversial part of the process. The longest part of the lead-in time would be training staff for a different counting arrangement – the plus side of that is that electronic counting is more reliable; once you have it you wouldn’t want to go back to hand-counting. I hope to do a separate post on the details of implementing STV for the UK parliament shortly ….

  • David Evans 7th Aug '19 - 10:01pm

    Dennis – We are talking about a bureaucracy being asked to do something fundamentally different from anything it has done before. It has no prior process, no prototype, no plan to follow to set up a system that will determine the next government of this country. It is bound by statute and will be more closely monitored by all sides than ever before. Sides that have vast amounts of money to mount legal challenges and will do so on whatever pretext they can find to undermine the process that is likely to take their power away for good.

    If you really expect it to be done in less time, all I can say is, like when we went into coalition, when sadly vast numbers of Lib Dems just believed we would make it work, you really do underestimate how much hard work is needed to change things for the better and how well organised our enemies will be in their efforts to stop us.

    Unfounded bravado and optimism at the expense of hard work and planning is the main reason why we fail. It’s not the ideas that are bad, its the unwillingness to accept that others will work phenomenally hard to destroy those ideas, and in fact they are very good at destroying liberal ideas.

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