Tag Archives: democracy

Ditchley Lecture – Saturday, June 27th

Democracies can die. We’re witnessing authoritarian governments elsewhere in Europe undermining judicial independence, manipulating media, limiting parliamentary scrutiny of government actions and hobbling opposition activities. It couldn’t happen in Britain, could it? Are you sure?

Commitment to open society, toleration of diverse opinions and opposition, and effective checks and balances on government, are core elements in political liberalism. Constitutional and limited government was also a core element in Edmund Burke’s concept of Conservatism. Constitutional Clubs in English towns institutionalised the association between Conservative values and our unwritten conventions. But the government we have now has thrown much of that side of Conservatism away.

Michael Gove’s long and carefully-prepared Ditchley lecture, on Saturday, June 27th, had a populist and authoritarian tone. ‘This government was elected on the basis that it would be different from its predecessors’ – from Theresa May’s government as well as the rest. As David Frost explained in a similar lecture four months ago, the majority that Boris Johnson won last December (of seats, but not of course of votes) has given them the mandate to reject the Brexit package May was negotiating, and insist on a hard defence of the UK’s sovereignty from European influence. Gove sees this government as representing ‘the people’ – explicitly, the ‘forgotten’ people who provided the majority in 2016 – against the metropolitan elite: the ‘somewheres’ against the ‘anywheres’ (he quotes David Goodhart) who ‘tend to have different social and political values from other citizens.’

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Mike German writes: Democracy, digital technologies and trust

A new report from the House of Lords has shone a searchlight on the effect of online activity on the health of our democracy. Over the past year Paul Scriven and myself have been members of a Select Committee taking evidence, investigating the level of harm, and developing proposals for tackling this critical issue. As Liberals we see technology can be a tool to help spread power, and improve democracy. But that can only happen with the correct framework around it.

Trust in our democracy is being eroded. Our key conclusions are that democracy should be supported rather than undermined by technology platforms, and that misinformation poses a real and present danger to our democratic processes.

There have clear examples of dangerous misinformation online during this Covid-19 pandemic. The online references to the 5G network and its connection with the virus, led some people to damage the telecommunications infrastructure. Other spurious medical advice has abounded. In the last General Election the Tories changed their website for the day. They claimed it to be an authoritative source of independent information in which -guess what – the Tory policy was the only right course!

The net effect of online misinformation is to threaten our collective democratic health. It is damaging trust in our democracy and takes us on a downward path where no-one listens, and no-one believes what they read and see. The government has promised an Online Harms Bill, but progress is moving at a snail’s pace. Ministers have been unable to even say whether we will get the new law before 2024. It is clear to us that the Tories are running scared of tackling the big online platforms. Our report calls for OFCOM to be given the power to hold these platforms legally responsible for content which goes out to their huge audiences in the UK.

Trust in what you find online has declined. People, particularly those coming up to voting age (16 in Scotland and Wales – catch up England!) need the skills and confidence to navigate online and find sources they can rely on. Too much of our education curriculum is about computing skills and not critical digital literacy.

There are lessons for all political parties as well, but the report singles out the Tories and Labour for their inability to see problems within themselves. Political parties must be held accountable for what we say, if we are to gain and expect the trust of the British people.

Electoral law has simply not caught up with the impact of online activity.

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Paul Tyler writes: The Peers are Revolting or Who is Taking Back Control ?

A pause for thought: during the weekend of VE Day memorabilia were we celebrating 75 years of European peace, the retreat of fascism and the advance of parliamentary democracy ? Hopefully yes: realistically – in the case of the Brexiteers and their newspapers – NO !

And yet we have no cause for complacency. The UK is already looking as if we have reverted to being “the sick man of Europe” in terms of both our public health and the health of our democracy.

While in those 75 years the dictatorships of Western Europe have all collapsed, and effective representative democracy has taken their place, voters in Britain are increasingly marginalised and cheated. The Conservative manifesto in December 2019 aspired to make all votes of equal value: the actual result produced a ratio of inequality at the extremes of 33:1.

However, it is not just at elections that our representative democracy is under attack. Boris Johnson may choose to give a presidential-style address to the nation on a Sunday evening – to avoid questions and challenge from MPs – but we do not have a presidential constitution. He and his Government should be accountable to our Parliament, not the other way round.

No 10 obviously finds this inconvenient. Dominic Cummings is notorious for his disdain for Members of both Houses. MPs are already chaffing at the constraints that the combination of “virtual” exchanges and the business managers’ politicking are imposing.

The position in the Lords is far worse. Here, of course, there is no substantial Tory majority with plenty of lobby fodder to bully, and the response of Ministers to the Covid-19 emergency is under constant, sustained examination. And yet, there is no provision for effective scrutiny of legislation, let alone for votes on amendments, and the majority of Peers have been frozen out of debates or ludicrously squeezed by derisory time limits.

The response from Big Brother Cummings (the much more powerful BBC) has been to threaten that all Peers over 65 should be forcibly excluded.

That was too much for even the most tribal of Tories, and – led by former Cabinet Minister Michael Forsyth – a cross-party revolt resulted. Mr Cummings may think he can casually rip up the constitution, but that requires legislation.

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Now is the time to stand up as champions of deliberative democracy

Our party is back on the right track. Covid seems to have brought us to our senses: the reaction of local parties, of MPs, and of peers to Covid has been impressive, and it does seem that there is a renewal of our central commitment to the idea of the empowered citizen as the most important element in a healthy politics.

The next step is to make ourselves the party of deliberative democracy, and to do so right now, by calling for a Covid Citizens’ Reference Panel to deliberate on and input into government policy as we transition over the …

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Daily View 2×2: 23 April 2020

On this day in 1516, the Reinheitsgebot was enforced across all of Bavaria, stating that beer must be brewed from three ingredients only – water, malt and hops. And yes, Wilhelm IV, Duke of Bavaria was a bit of a stickler for purity, but that wasn’t a bad hill to die upon, was it?

2 big stories

Whilst the Job Retention Scheme appears to be operating smoothly thus far – noting that payments aren’t due to reach employers until next week – for the self-employed, there’s no news as to when their scheme will start. And the decision to have a ceiling …

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LibLink: Chuka Umunna: Dark and dangerous threats against MPs like me are a sign that No 10 and Cummings are getting utterly brazen

The Government is reportedly investigating MPs who have had dialogue with representatives of foreign governments. It also intends to introduce legislation to stop MPs talking to foreign governments. In an article for the Independent, Chuka Umunna said that this had a whiff of the 1930s about it.

However, the right-wing nationalists running the government are now taking things to an altogether different level – this is quite frightening, particularly if they were to get a majority at the general election whenever it comes. They are seeking to persecute and harass MPs by falsely accusing them of colluding with EU governments over Brexit. It is an absurd proposition given that the EU27 and the UK government are all working to ensure the withdrawal agreement Johnson has negotiated with the EU is delivered, and he himself wrote to them over the weekend urging them to ignore parliament’s desire for article 50 to be extended.

This, he said, was a brazen attempt to suppress dissent.

These accusations are made to call into question our loyalty and patriotism. Former Conservative backbenchers and ministers Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve, and Brexit Select Committee chair and former Labour minister Hilary Benn are reportedly under investigation.

This has a strong whiff of the 1930s about it – it is a brazen attempt to suppress dissent and persecute political opponents in parliament by this right wing, nationalist government.

One foreign office official put it well today when they said: “Threatening MPs with investigation is something you would expect the government to be stopping abroad, not encouraging at home.”

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The irony of the Tory Voter ID plans

Our democracy in this country is pretty much broken.

On one hand we have a government that constantly bangs on about the will of the people, whilst simultaneously doing its damnedest to undermining it.

The irony of that is not lost on me.

A Government that actually did care about the will of the people would make sure that the people got the parliament they asked for, for a start, by introducing a proportional system of voting. This is not boring constitutional stuff – we should be doing more to frame it as a fundamental issue of trust.

In recent years, the introduction of individual electoral registration has led to a severe democratic deficit. Just last month, Electoral Commission research showed that 17% of voters were not correctly registered.

That’s not far off one in five people, who are more likely to be young or from marginalised groups – and least likely to vote Conservative.

That is, surely, a much bigger problem than some confected spectre of “voter fraud” which is being used as a justification to bring in this measure.

The Electoral Reform Society has this to say on that subject:

Thankfully electoral fraud is very rare in the UK. Where voter fraud has occurred, it has been isolated and therefore is best tackled locally.

Out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017, there was one conviction resulting from the 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud – that’s 0.000063%. Adding a major barrier to democratic engagement off the back of this would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

And our Tom Brake said that this measure was a blatant attempt at voter suppression and rig future elections:

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LibLink: Luisa Porritt MEP: Britain’s Democracy Gap

In an article for Politico, Deputy Leader of Britain’s Lib Dem MEPs Luisa Porritt argues that the behaviour of the British Government is damaging democracy in this country.

A British government that is threatening to march the country out of the European Union because it claims its institutions are “undemocratic” shut down its own country’s parliament last month. Prime Minister Boris Johnson uses incendiary language and accuses those who disagree with his Brexit policy of “terrible collaboration” with the EU.

Britain today is increasingly out of step with the basic principles of democracy it once would have championed.

The Brexiteers, ironically, decry the EU as undemocratic. That’s simply not true:

Compare that with what’s happening in Brussels. While my British parliamentary colleagues were shut out of their chamber against their will, members of the European Parliament have been pressing on with urgent issues.

The European Parliament is scrutinizing the incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s new team and has taken a strong stand against nominees with potential conflicts of interest. MEPs have also set an ambitious agenda to tackle the climate emergency and ensure that the EU’s member states uphold the rule of law — something our own government needs reminding of.

How far, she notes, we have fallen:

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Narcissm – Democracy’s Nemesis?

Jacinda Ardern’s empathic response to the bombing of a mosque in New Zealand in March this year made international headlines. The press went into a frenzy over her sensitive and visibly moved reactions to those affected by the tragedy.

It’s really telling of our age, that Ardern herself became the subject of the news when she was doing what any decent leader should be doing. We elect politicians to represent us, so surely the ability to sympathise and to imagine who we, the electorate are, what our needs, aspirations and vulnerabilities are, is a basic requirement of the job?

Why are we putting up with Johnson and Trump when we could have Ardern? We are living through an epidemic of manipulation on a global scale and there is a pattern to how we got to this point. It didn’t happen over night.

While some of my Brexit-weary friends are turning to G&T, baking or prayer, my pick me up has been Ramani Durvasala. Durvasala has been studying Trump’s seemingly erratic behaviour and is finding that it follows a set pattern. Each time Trump gets away with something outrageous, he goes one step further and the next unthinkable thing happens. Liberals are in a permanent state of shock and disbelief.

Trump, like his friends Johnston and Farage are narcissists. We hear the word bandied about quite a lot at the moment and while each of us has some degree of narcissism, at their most extreme, sociopathic narcissist have key behaviours in common. They:-

• lack empathy and compassion.
• are manipulative and will distort the truth to suit themselves
• think the law and rules are for others, not them
• are highly critical of others but don’t take criticism well themselves • are entitled and often pompous
• are quick to anger, rage and outbursts
• are superficial and shallow

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We nearly lost our temper. But it worked out.

I was recently at an event speaking to a couple of Liberal Democrat friends – let’s call them Tim and Fiona. A friend of mine, Roland, who is a Conservative Party supporter walked up to us with a broad grin on his face. “Well, your party’s gone and done it. It’s abandoned any pretence of being democratic; promising to reverse the result of the greatest democratic exercise this country has ever undertaken. Good for us. You’ll lose.”

I introduced Tim and Fiona and Tim started to respond.

He started talking about only implementing the change if the party got an absolute majority. …

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It’s time to fix our democracy, before it’s too late

Sorry, folks, but is anyone else getting pretty fed up with People’s Votes, Brexit and Leadership Hustings in LDV? Of course these things are important; but there really IS more to life! Even if all that gets sorted out in the next few months/years (fat chance of that, most of you will probably say) we are still left with a democracy which, while currently in A & E, might soon be heading for intensive care unless we wake up. I know that this kind of esoteric musing appeals to the political anorak rather than a hardworking citizen trying to keep …

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The Brexit Party is undemocratic!

Apparently, we Liberal Democrats hate democracy. Or so I’ve been told by those who support an exit from the EU.

Apparently, we don’t respect the result of the 2016 referendum.

I hear it’s now undemocratic to hold any other view. It’s undemocratic to spend nearly three years campaigning for and building a massive consensus for that view, to the point that going into any People’s Vote referendum campaign, there would be every reason for us to be optimistic.

It’s undemocratic, I’m told, for us to rebuild the Liberal Democrat Party as a people’s movement against Brexit and for an open and tolerant Britain.

It’s …

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What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

The Houses of Parliament currently function as the location in which Parliament expresses and exercises its sovereignty. It seems obvious that they no longer fit that function well: archaic logistics, terrible accessibility, lack of office and meeting space, and chambers designed perfectly for the cheap game show otherwise known as PMQs, but not for deliberation or wise governance.

Soon the buildings are to have a very expensive makeover during which time MPs and Lords will have to decamp. Perhaps we should make the decampment permanent. Build a site suitable to house the legislative body of a modern democracy.

Some argue that such …

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Theresa May’s abuse of power is the real threat to an already strained democracy

How dare Theresa May suggest that rejecting her deal is damaging to democracy? How on earth did we get to a place where a Prime Minister  of a minority government pushes the country to the brink, forcing false choice between two unpalatable options that most people don’t want. Two massive polls, of 25000 and 20000 people respectively, for the People’s Vote campaign and Channel 4 suggest that people want to remain in the EU.

Proceeding with Brexit without reference to the people, surely, is much more damaging to democracy. Andrew Marr could have challenged her forcefully on this to her face this morning but yet again he gave her pretty much a free pass.

She needs to be challenged as to why she is pouring billions into no deal preparations, some of them farcical,  for an outcome nobody wants, when she could go back to the people and ask them to mark her homework. It would be cheaper and would put some legitimacy back into the process. It seems she is scared of an outcome which will split her party.

She has every reason to lead on this. She is safe from challenge from her party. She has already said she’s not going to fight the next election. Does she really want her legacy to be driving the country off a cliff? Let’s be clear, her deal damages the economy, makes us all poorer and creates uncertainty. Although she didn’t actually say that she would proceed with no deal when asked to several times by Marr. MPs need to make sure that that option is taken off the table in the coming weeks.

May cannot be allowed to argue that she is defending democracy when all the evidence suggests that both her deal and no deal are unwanted by the majority of people. She needs to be ridiculed for saying that, often and publicly.

Anything less than People’s Vote is an abuse of power by a minority government. That point needs to be driven home by journalists, commentators and MPs. We can’t stand by and just let May get away with this.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s look at some things which are much riskier for democracy than, you know, asking people their opinion on the biggest issue in living memory.

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Biggest poll since EU Referendum says Labour will be punished if it enables Brexit

Labour would crash to a worse defeat than it suffered under Michael Foot if the party enables Brexit, according to a huge new poll. YouGov surveyed a huge sample of 25000 people and the results show that the party risks losing millions of supporters in two scenarios under which it either votes through some form of compromise deal or fails to order MPs to oppose Brexit.

These findings are consistent with the Channel 4 poll in November which showed that a majority of its 20,000 sample backed Remain.

The fieldwork was done over the Christmas holidays and was completed on Friday, so this is about as fresh as you can get.

It is amazing that current voting intention shows only 34% support for Labour, the main opposition party, at a time when the government is driving us over a no deal cliff that could see shortages of food and medicine.

The poll suggests that Labour’s vote would crash to 26 per cent – and 16 points behind the Conservatives if its MPs vote with the Tories to bring about Brexit. That would bring about Labour’s worst result since the 1930s. Maybe that’s the real reason that Corbyn has gone cool on a motion of no confidence.

The YouGov poll shows a majority for Remain under any scenario in a new referendum on the deal vs remain and no deal. 

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If you were PM….

An interesting quiz popped into my inbox from those nice people at Unlock Democracy.  You have to imagine that you are PM – after all, that job may well be up for grabs in the near future.

You are presented with a series of policy dilemmas – would you rather do x or y? Actually, in some cases, I was a bit “NEITHER” or “NOT QUITE LIKE THAT” or “BOTH” but that is part of the fun.

It has a serious point:

Every day decisions affecting millions are made by a handful of ministers, while the rest of us struggle to have a voice. By taking the quiz and sharing it afterwards, we can spread the word about the need to bring power closer to the people.

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Paul Tyler writes…Was the Brexit poll compromised?

That is the question the Conservative Chair of the investigating Commons Select Committee asked last weekend.  Hitherto, his Ministerial colleagues have seemed determined to turn a blind eye to all the recent revelations of possible illegality by Leave campaigners.

Will they be more forthcoming this afternoon ?     My Question to be discussed in the Lords reads as follows:

“Lord Tyler to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied that current electoral law adequately prevents the misuse of personal data in United Kingdom elections and referendum campaigns”

The HOUSE magazine has published some background for this mini debate:

The revelations come thick and fast.   Daily – sometimes it seems like hourly – we learn that our personal data may have been misused in ever more controversial ways.  In particular, ingenious development of Facebook material appears to have played a key role in targeting both positive messages and contrived attacks in the Trump election campaign AND to secure the Brexit result of our own 2016 EU Referendum.

So far Ministers have hidden behind a reassuring report from the Electoral Commission about the conduct of that referendum.  However, that was issued months ago, long before the detailed analysis from Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer began to gain traction, and the whistleblowers from Cambridge Analytica, AIQ and the Leave campaigns emerged to give their evidence.   Since the turn of the year the alleged network of illicit collaboration has caused the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner and the House of Commons Culture Media & Sport Select Committee to open new investigations.  The latter, led by Conservative MP Damian Collins, is being especially pro-active, and their witness list in the next few days is itself an indication of the vital role Parliamentary Select Committees can now play.

Despite apparent BBC attempts to minimise the significance of all this increasing weight of evidence (presumably because other media have provided the investigative journalism) there are signs of growing public unease.   Have we as nation been conned, just like so many in the US ?    Has our personal data been “scraped” for this purpose ?   Are our very strict laws, which seek to protect our elections and referendum campaigns from being bought by billionaires and foreign governments, up to the job?

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Wisdom of the Crowd

e voting screenDuring the Article 50 vote, I found myself tweeting quotes from a famous speech made by Edmund Burke, who was a Whig MP and Political Philosopher in the 1700’s, on representative democracy.

In his speech to the electors of Bristol in 1774, he said that government and legislation are matters of reason and judgement and must not be decided by opinion and inclination. The quote I used to underline the point that MPs who believe Brexit is wrong should not vote to trigger Article 50 was, “Your representative

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Let freedom ring

This is the speech I’d like to hear Tim Farron give before the General Election.

I stand with you today to talk about the security of our nation, the protection of our way of life and about combatting the terrorist, the bomber and the gunman.

Our police and security services are working at full capacity. We know that and we thank them for it. The government deserves praise for its reaction to the Manchester outrage.

Many voices – prominent and influential Muslims among them – have joined in condemnation of the terrorist’s actions and in praise for the wonderful response from the emergency services and the people in Manchester, across the UK and worldwide.

We are deploying money, human resources and all the relevant machinery of the state to keep us safe from harm.

But there is one thing we are not doing.

No leading politician of recent times has attempted to replace the poison being fed to the impressionable with a counter case of championing democracy and its values and rights.

There is a vacuum in the battle and it is being filled by the extremists to spread hate, violence, death and destruction.

Democrats have to force out their death cult and replace it with the clean, pure, fresh air of democracy.

Every school, every pulpit, every council chamber should ring every day with democracy. It is freedom.

I call today for the leaders of political life in the U.K to join me in a reaffirmation of the fundamental values, right and benefits of democracy.

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This election is about protecting our democracy

Remember the Brexit “Battle Bus” with this slogan, “We send the EU £350 million a week lets fund our NHS instead Vote Leave”? It was powerful and “misleading” according to the UK Statistics Authority. Mr Farage referred to it as a “mistake”.

No! “The number plastered on the side of the Brexit bus was a big fat lie.” 

It was not a mistake because it affected the “Brexit” result the way Mr Farage wanted.

In short, we were misled and those who subverted our democracy with this deception have gone unpunished. Therefore it will happen again to further diminish democracy.

Last month the CPS announced that there would be no criminal charges brought against 14 MPs over their expenses in the 2015 election. In March 2017, The Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party a record £70,000 for “numerous failures” in reporting expenses for the 2015 General Election. For that election the Conservatives raised some £38, 000,000. 

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This is how to respect the referendum result

I am frequently told that, as a “Remoaner” I must “respect” the result of the referendum. It seems to me that I am not being asked to respect it so much as to fetishise it.

Actually, I do respect it. I respect it for what it was – an advisory vote won by a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies.

Then, because I say that, I am criticised (virulently quite often) for being undemocratic and for not respecting the will of the people. And many people who did not vote Leave, and do not want to leave, seem to have accepted the line that the vote has happened and they must “respect” it.

But democracy is so much more than a single vote.

Generally speaking electoral votes stand, even if the majority is unsatisfactory. But that is premised on two conditions.  The first is that the voters get a chance regularly to change their minds. The second is that the voters were – at least relatively – well informed about the subject of their vote. All sides make their offers clear, and the media do a proper job of examining their claims.

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Zambia: one too many close calls for democracy?

Zambia 1Democracies in the developing world must often overcome a number of hurdles on the road to maturity and development as a stable state. Peaceful elections, a vibrant civil society, regular transfer of power, and fair service delivery are all key indicators of democratic development. No doubt, differences in the maturing of democracies should be considered based on local realities, and a so-called Western roadmap must not be the only lens through which we view this development.

But has the southern African country of Zambia, rich in copper and with plentiful tourism potential, had one too many close calls in its democratic development? Does Zambia and its people need to rethink their political path?

The most recent August 11th elections certainly give that impression.

This year’s General Elections resulted in the incumbent Edgar Lungu (Patriotic Front – PF) winning the presidential race by just over 2.5%, enough to avoid a second-round run-off. The liberal opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), led by Hakainde Hichilema, also lost the last presidential by-election by a mere 27,757 votes. Those early presidential elections were called after the passing of former President Michael Sata in 2014. On the surface, these results appear to be a sign of political maturity, with an election called upon President Sata’s death and an apparently democratic process in place for political succession.

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“We are not going to let them anywhere near power again” – a PM too comfortable with power

Theresa May has not even been Prime Minister for two months. However, she is already displaying a complacency in power that is quite chilling.

At only her second Prime Minister’s Questions, she had this to say to Jeremy Corbyn:

What we do know is that, whoever wins the Labour party leadership, we are not going to let them anywhere near power again.

These are not the words of a Prime Minister who believes that power comes from the people.

You could dismiss that as banter if the Tories were not trying to stitch up the entire political system in their favour. Lib Dem Peer Paul Tyler warned of a crisis of legitimacy in parliamentary democracy if the boundary changes were allowed to go through:

Reducing the number of MPs without also reducing the size of the Executive is a mistake. With the pay-roll vote approaching half the membership of the government side of the Commons, the power of government to control Parliament is increased. And with no prospect of democratic reform of the Lords, we are edging towards a dangerous lack of democratic legitimacy in parliament.

The Conservatives are blatantly attempting to fix the system to keep themselves in power.

Individual electoral registration means that young people who move around a lot are unlikely to be on the electoral register – and they would be more likely not to vote Conservative. In April this year, a report, Missing Millions, outlined why this matters:

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Muddled mandates and the EU Referendum

Brexit means Brexit were among the first words spoken by Theresa May when she was anointed by Conservatives as our new Prime Minister. She swiftly followed that up by appointing prominent Brexiteers to key Government roles to direct the UK withdrawal from the EU.

Brexiteers argue that the outcome of the EU referendum provides the UK with a clear and unequivocal mandate to take the country out of the EU. Well, not quite: the result delivered confused and conflicting mandates.

Firstly, two out of the four countries which comprise the UK voted to remain: overwhelmingly so in the case of Scotland. Brexiteers do not therefore have a UK-wide leave mandate. It is important to remember that Scotland and Northern Ireland are countries not English counties. Scottish and Irish voters delivered a clear and unequivocal Remain mandate which deserves as much respect as the UK-wide vote: quite how that can be achieved is, at present, unclear.

Secondly, during the campaign Brexiteers offered voters all sorts of different alternatives to UK membership of the EU – the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, UK in the Single Market, UK outside the Single Market etc. Consequently, there was no single definitive leave mandate. Many of the leave voters I spoke to during the campaign were convinced that UK access to the Single Market would be guaranteed post-exit: if that is not the case will they still be so keen to leave?

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Referenda need not offer binary choices

It might well be that the United Kingdom, or its successor rump state of England and Wales, will be relying on the skills of the New Zealand’s trade negotiators to help shape the Brexit agreement with the EU. Amusingly, these might be the same people who are also representing  New Zealand and Australia in areas where those two countries collaborate to reach common terms with the post-EU British / English-Welsh state.

That’s a mouthful of a paragraph because it’s a mind-blowing idea, or should be.

But it would unlikely to have become reality had it been thought about before the Brexit referendum.

Unfortunately, we have somehow got it into our heads that referenda are binary, yes / no questions.

But they needn’t be.

And we could have learned that lesson from New Zealand before forcing many people to choose between the status quo and an option that was, really, many options, none even remotely defined.

Last year and this, New Zealanders voted in two referenda designed to address one issue: to keep the current flag or replace it with a different design.

In developing the question to be put to the electorate, prime Minister John Key, his advisors and the parliamentary committee tasked with establishing the rules under which the referendum would happen realised that a simple yes / no option along the lines of “would you like to replace the current flag of New Zealand with a new design?” might well have resulted in a yes vote. There would then have followed a lengthy period of bitter argument about what the resulting flag should look like, at the end of which a significant percentage of the population who had voted for change might well have ended up wishing after seeing the new flag that they had voted, instead, to keep the current one.

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It’s time for a Constitutional Convention

We are now facing the reality of life outside the EU and with it the prospect of a new United Kingdom. With the result of the referendum so close it is essential that the path we move forward on as a country is determined by a wide range of views: those who voted in and those who voted out; the young and the old; people from the left, the right and centre; voices from all parts of the United Kingdom.

We have a chance to take this huge, albeit unwanted, change in our relationship with the world and turn it into …

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The mess we are in

The EU referendum delivers an unmanageable mess. The UK will lose its membership of the EU, and more immediately has lost its elected Prime Minister. Like many Lib Dems, I have never voted Conservative, but I do recognise the dignity and decency of David Cameron. The referendum outcome creates space instead for Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and the reactionary Nigel Farage.

Democracy itself is in an impossible contradiction. The UK norm is representative democracy expressed in Parliamentary sovereignty. The policy of the majority of Members of Parliament is to remain in the EU. But the referendum decides to leave. Paradoxically, those wanting to leave the EU favour Parliamentary sovereignty, but reject this principle on the question of EU membership. This is an irresoluble conflict.

There is therefore a greater decision UK society has to make – whether government is to be by representative democracy or by popular referenda. We cannot have both. This is the first question of principle. The second is the criteria which should apply to either representative democracy or referenda. The last general election showed how unrepresentative first-past-the-post constituency voting is. The referendum highlights the huge problem of maintaining social cohesion when half the population wants exactly the opposite of what the other half wants. Reconciling this is nigh impossible.

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In praise of…New Zealand’s referenda culture

This summer, the global news media was not at all rocked to its foundations by news of New Zealand’s forthcoming referendum on a national flag.  The centre-right National Party led by John Key is in the middle of a (possibly misjudged) bid for centre-ground opinion by pursuing a symbolic rebranding of the nation. In a country with a complex colonial legacy, this is arguably opening a can of worms – but maybe a necessary one.

I’m in no position to assess the relative merits of the many flag proposals, but I am intrigued by the process. A long-list will be …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 7 Comments

Lord Paul Tyler writes…Tackling the Tory Democratic Deficit

The advent of a Conservative government might once have meant no reform at all to our political system.  However, David Cameron is almost accidentally opening the door to a review of party funding regime, the electoral system and the procedures of the House of Commons.  During the Queen’s Speech debates, the Lib Dem team in the Lords has been tackling all three issues.

The Government wants to dry up some of the money available to Labour by placing restrictions on trade union funding.  The principle that trade union members should consent to their subscriptions funding a political party is quite right.  Yet it will be totally unbalanced to introduce that reform without something on the other side of the ledger, namely a cap on the large individual donations which fund the party arms race in spending.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 18 Comments

Opinion: Electoral funding reform is vital for the future of our democracy

Election finance reform may not be at the top of many people’s Christmas list, but it is arguably a more important issue right now than even electoral reform. As Liberals we hold the fundamental values of fairness and equality as sacrosanct, while as democrats we believe that power and influence should be derived through the ballot box. The most grotesque feature of this election was the amount of money that the Conservative party spent.  To be absolutely clear, until the Electoral Commission releases the spending stats, all we can work off is declared donation income, which reveals an eye watering income disparity between the parties. In the first two quarters of 2015, the Conservatives received around £24m in donations – nearly 4 times that received by the Liberal Democrats, in fact, the top 20 Tory donors gave more than all Liberal Democrat donors put together. The influence that these rich and powerful donors have over their parties is potentially toxic to our democracy, skewing politics towards special interests, and weakening the power of individual voters. While I am no fan of the Labour party, or the money which comes from the Unions, David Cameron has already announced his intent to weaken this financial association, thus crystallising for his party an insurmountable fundraising advantage, this is a naked attempt at a ‘political kneecapping’, and an outrageous abuse of Government power.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 12 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarmarcstevens 9th Aug - 2:09pm
    A very good well argued post and I agree with much of it but draw the line when it comes to the abuse of free...
  • User AvatarPaul Barker 9th Aug - 1:52pm
    Both Ed & Layla make interesting points but are unclear on whether they would reject a Coalition with Labour without a Guarantee of electoral Reform....
  • User AvatarMarco 9th Aug - 1:51pm
    @Peter Martin The Lib Dem’s didn’t invent the idea that Corbyn was hard-left it was clear from his policies and track record e.g: - Praise...
  • User AvatarIan 9th Aug - 1:36pm
    Ed is the first of our potential leaders I remember even mentioning PR at local level. About time too. If we had gone for that...
  • User Avatarn hunter 9th Aug - 1:10pm
    Yes Tim was very clear.Layla too trusting, Ed hovering. If we are to have power in the future we have to have clear decisive leadership...
  • User AvatarAndrew Sosin 9th Aug - 1:04pm
    Vince Cable's book Beyond Brexit says Universal Basic Income has as many difficulties as Universal Credit. He suggests fixing Universal Credit and ireversing the cuts...