Tag Archives: electoral reform

Compulsory Voter ID – sensible security measure or deliberate disenfranchisement?

Did you know that the Government has a manifesto commitment to bring in compulsory ID for Parliamentary elections?  They plan to require us to show some sort of ID before we are issued with our ballot paper in a polling station. 

The idea was piloted in five Boroughs in the recent council elections, and the Government is now looking for pilot sites for next May’s elections. The Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission have both published evaluations of the pilots. There is also an excellent report from the Electoral Reform Society setting the issue of voter ID in the context of other priorities for electoral reform.

I took part in a project, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, to find out how voters experienced these pilots.  We contacted Lib Dem and Labour campaigners in the five Boroughs and asked them to survey their residents and to give us their own views. We received responses from 21 campaigners and 329 residents from four of the five Boroughs (Woking, Bromley, Watford & Swindon). We also held a fringe meeting at Federal Conference, where Peter Taylor, the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Watford, spoke about the Watford experience.  

The Five Pilots

The five Boroughs piloted different approaches: Woking, Bromley and Gosport tested various forms of photo ID requirement, although in Bromley and Gosport two forms of non-photo ID were also allowed; Swindon and Watford piloted a requirement to bring a poll card which was electronically scanned, with Watford also allowing other ID in the absence of a polling card.

Voters Turned Away

The Electoral Commission evaluation states that, according to the Returning Officers, 1,036 people attempted to vote without the correct ID, and that between 326 and 350 did not return later in the day, an average of 0.23% of all polling station voters.  The “did not return” rate varied between councils, with 57% of those initially turned away not returning in Woking (where the ID requirements were strictest) and about 27% not returning in Bromley and Watford. 

Campaigners in our survey gave some examples: 

“A gentleman  with a Surrey Senior Bus Pass was refused a vote because his Bus Pass had two names and apparently his name on the Electoral Register contained an additional name”. (Campaigner from Woking)

“I heard of …one person turned away despite having a digital copy of a bank statement, he was told to go home and print the statement out.” (Campaigner from Bromley) 

Voters put off due to the need for ID

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Let this be the last first past the post election in London Boroughs

On 3rd May all the Borough Council seats in Greater London are up for election, which happens every four years. The Borough I live in is typical and has 18 3-member wards. Each voter votes by putting up to 3 Xs on the ballot paper. In each of these wards the top three candidates in terms of Xs on the ballot win. Hence F3PTP rather than FPTP (First Past The Post).

So what’s wrong with that? Five national parties are contesting the borough election, plus around four parties with Residents’ Association in their name, who are active in their own patches. Usually, a party sees its whole slate of three elected, but sometimes one candidate impacts more on the electorate, positively or negatively, and the result is a ‘split ward’. But I have seen nine candidates from three parties having each around 30% of the vote, but only one party gets the councillor seats. Natural justice suggests that they should have had one councillor each. With three councillors of one party, we KNOW that they were NOT the first choice of 70% of the electorate; at worst, the three victors could be the LEAST favoured candidates of 70% of the voters.

It gets worse. Some parties are so entrenched in certain seats that the others have given up. A friend of mine expressed it as ’If you put up a feather duster for XXXX party in YYYY ward, it would get elected.’ Two national parties contest all 54 seats, but the presence of the parents, spouses and children of local party worthies on the ballot papers gives a strong hint of what they think. The voters in such wards show what they think by not turning up to vote for the council, which, more than any other body, delivers government services to them.

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Why didn’t they chant for the Greens?

The Green Party is a great illustration of how much UK politics is shaped by First Past the Post. Corbyn supporters tell us that the country has been crying out for an anti-establishment, left-wing alternative for years. But the Greens have been pushing that message for decades. Yes they disagree on some policy areas, especially on Brexit, but Corbyn’s political ideology is pretty much identical to theirs.

The Greens got only 4% of the national vote in 2015 though. And the latest Britain Elects poll which has Labour at 45% has the Green Party at just 1%. Why will people support Jeremy Corbyn when they didn’t support the Greens?

The truth is that the Green Party, and other small parties like ourselves, face obstacles which Labour and the Tories don’t. They are trapped as an outsider in a two-party system, where their votes count for less, their message is muted, and they are seen as a wasted vote. We’ve come to accept this sort of thing as normal – but it makes a sham of our democracy. How can we justify a system which is so structurally biased, that two parties can give almost the exact same pitch to the people, and one is seen as a revolution, while the other is seen as an irrelevance? 

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Cut the Electoral Corruption!

“Follow the money” has always been a good tip for an investigative journalist or politician.

 In recent weeks and months there have been plenty such trails to follow.  In reverse order:

  • “Arron Banks faces EU referendum finance investigation” (BBC 1/11/2017);
  • “Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage … bound together in an unholy alliance” (Observer 30/10/2017);
  • “Who paid for the leave vote?” (Guardian 28/6/2017);
  • “Labour MP calls for probe into Tory use of voter data” (Guardian 27/5/2017);
  • “Watchdog can’t stop foreign interference in election” (BBC 17/5/2017);
  • “No Conservative election charges from 14 police force inquiries” (Guardian 10/5/2017);
  • “The

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Make votes matter in Wales

Currently, excitement at prospects of electoral reform in the UK is mostly focused on the forthcoming debate  on 30 October in the House of Commons, arising from a petition organised by Make Votes Matter.  While this is an excellent piece of consciousness-raising, it seems sadly unlikely to lead to any reform in the near future.

In contrast, there is a real opportunity for progress in Wales, where the devolved government is considering introducing the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for council elections, along with a range of other election-related reforms.  The deadline for responding to the Welsh Government consultation on this issue is 10 October.

Reform in Wales could be key for the wider UK context: Northern Ireland and Scotland already have STV for local government elections; if Wales could follow their successful example, we would be in that much stronger a position to persuade England to do the same, giving all UK voters the experience of a fairer voting system.

One consultation after another…

The background to the current consultation is a little complicated.  Earlier this year the Welsh Government ran a more general consultation on reform of Local Government; a summary of the responses was published in July. This first consultation had just one, albeit wide-ranging, question on electoral reform, which included both asking for those in favour of changing to STV (12-8 against), and asking whether changing the system should be left for individual councils to decide (26-1 against). It would be interesting to know who the 12 against STV were: of the 169 responses to the consultation overall, 19 were from county and county borough councils but only 9 from members of the public.

The current consultation is focused on electoral reform. Like so many consultations that appear to have been designed to discourage public response, it is a very long document, asking 46 questions.  These include (Qs 13-14) the idea of reform being an option left to each council, despite its strong rejection in the first consultation, and indeed make it worse by suggesting that it should only happen if a 2/3 majority of councilors vote for it.  Yet astonishingly this time there is no question as to whether you are in favour of STV.  This despite the fact that one answer to many of the other questions on the lines of `how do we engage better with the electorate so that more people vote?’ is: use a fairer system so as to make votes matter.

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Why we need UKIP in the fight for Electoral Reform

 

Pursuit of electoral reform was once a defining policy of the Lib Dems, and it remains one of the key reasons why I am a member of the party. But the disastrous AV referendum in 2011 seems to have kicked the issue into the long grass. I have the same hangups about that referendum as many other Lib Dems do. Labour’s support was non-existent; the Murdoch press spread lies; and the vote was used as a way of punishing Nick Clegg. In short – the establishment pulled rank.

One popular observation about electoral reform is that no party in Government would ever support changing a voting system which had just given them power. I don’t think that this argument is as tautological as many claim it is, but it’s certainly a major concern.

However, none of this hides the fact that voting reform has never gained much support from the general public, unlike other anti-establishment causes. Electoral Reformers are in the uncomfortable position of being hated by the establishment but treated with disinterest by the wider electorate too. It is so often seen as peripheral issue, which only middle-class policy wonks from the liberal elite can be bothered to care about (a problem which the Lib Dems are oh so familiar with).

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Electoral reform, Donald Trump … and Theresa May

 

For years, it was said that there was a threat to western democracies from far-right parties with extremist or populist opinions. The BNP were, in the 2000s, supposed to be ‘our’ version of this phenomenon, before they collapsed and – arguably – their vote went elsewhere.

But, still, the possibility of a small extremist nationalist party gaining undue influence was held to be a convincing argument against electoral reform. I think it may now be possible to say with great certainty that this was either a fallacy or a lie.

Why? Because there are two countries where, this year, populist/nationalist agendas have upset the existing political order: Firstly, the USA (in the person of Mr Trump); and secondly, this country (in the shape of Brexit). That is to say, two countries with plurality voting, who have historically rejected voting reform and proportionality as alien to their political culture.

And why might this have come to pass?

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LibLink: Paul Tyler on the need for electoral reform – not new boundaries

In the wake of the latest boundary commission proposals, Lord (Paul) Tyler has been writing in the Western Morning News emphasising the need for electoral reform, rather than boundary tinkering:

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How FPTP caused the catastrophic vote to leave the EU

The EU Referendum demonstrated the extent to which the “First-Past-The-Post” (FPTP) system has allowed politicians to become distanced from the people they purport to represent and has contributed to a sense of powerlessness amongst large sections of the UK population.

Three key effects of FPTP were at work:

  1. Safe Seats
  2. Distorted election results
  3. Distorted politics

1. Safe seats:
Under FPTP, safe seats (where a change in the party holding the seat would only happen in very unusual circumstances) account for the majority of parliamentary constituencies.

An MP in a safe seat does not need to worry about getting re-elected; he or she does not have to listen to …

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LibLink: Tim Farron: Turmoil makes case for voting reform

Tim Farron has written a thoughtful article for the Yorkshire Post saying that we need to reform our voting system to make it fairer and to reflect the views of the people.

What’s surprising is that there’s more than just Lib Dems talking about it:

But just as extraordinary in its way has been the letters page of The Yorkshire Post. It has been bursting with debate on the need for electoral reform in the light of Brexit and the divided state of our country.

Tim went on to talk about conversations with Leave voters in Preston who felt that their concerns were not reflected in Westminster:

Many said that London had boomed while places that had been hit hard by the recession still haven’t seen much evidence of a recovery.

True, there were some who had voted Leave because they were worried about what they saw as an erosion of sovereignty. But many raised issues such as low wages, poor housing and lack of investment.

Even when immigration was mentioned, it was in the context of lack of training and opportunities for people in cities such as Preston to improve their lives and share in prosperity. I pointed out that London certainly has its share of disadvantaged people, but several people asked: “Where is the infrastructure investment in other parts of the UK?”

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We need to look forward. Let’s start with electoral reform

This is not a great day, the referendum is over. Remain lost. We can put away our posters, our hyperbole and our support for George, Dave and Jeremy. There is work to be done.

Perhaps more clear than a desire to leave the European Union. The result and accompanying commentary illuminates the stark divisions in our society. This was not just a no to the EU, its rules, and its immigration policy, it was a slap in the face of the political establishment. Yet the decision will not be an easy one to reverse, if possible at all. The recurring position of the EU was that out is out, to conspire through political back channels to return us to the union would be undemocratic and illiberal. Perhaps the only situation where this is possible would be if an election was called by the new Conservative leader before the activation of article 50, and the winning party stood on a manifesto on returning. Even still it is unlikely and our efforts would be better spent on working for a liberal, outward looking Britain moving forward than undermining the British public. 52% of such a large turnout is a mandate greater than that of most sitting governments.

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Sal Brinton writes…My speech to the Demo for Democracy

Sal Brinton at Demo for DemocracyToday’s excellent Make Votes Matter demo outside parliament was both well attended and fun. A range of bodies, such as Unlock Democracy and the ERS joined with the Make Votes Matter group to urge us into action to make sure that the politicians don’t forget we still need PR for Westminster as well as for local government in England and Wales. All the major parties were represented – even the Conservatives – but neither the Tories nor Labour have signed up as parties.  We, of course, have, as well as the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru. Paul Tyler is our representative at the cross party discussions.

Make Votes Matter is led by Owen Winter, an extraordinary young campaigner from Cornwall, who speaks with passion and enthusiasm about electoral reform. The event started with election lottery, where people picked out a card with one party on it, and then had a second, most of which didn’t match.

I was invited to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, and I started by reminding people that we as liberals have been pushing for PR for over 150 years. It was John Stuart Mill in 1861 who wrote in his essay Considerations on Representative Government:

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Discussing electoral reform in York

Five years after the Liberal Democrats comprehensively messed up on electoral reform, the ludicrously disproportional 2015 general election result has put it back on the agenda.

There will be two related fringes at York, organised by Pro-PR (1-2 p.m. Saturday, Hilton) on the idea of an electoral pact for 2020, and by the Electoral Reform Society (6.15-7.15 p.m. Saturday, Novotel) on the idea of a Constitutional Convention.

Electoral reform is about more than fairness (avoiding disproportionality, safe seats and the need for tactical voting). As Ed Straw sets out in his recent Treaty for Government, our present voting system of FPTP distorts the fabric of politics, leading to wasteful `zigzag government’. Getting politicians to allow change in how they are elected is always a difficult matter, as the long struggles for voting rights illustrate. FPTP is defended by the two parties that benefit from it; perhaps the greatest current hope lies in Labour’s recognising how difficult it is going to be for them to win a majority in the foreseeable future.

Opportunities for reform in Scotland came with Labour’s rush to devolution in 1997, and the Liberal Democrats’ successful coalition negotiation with Labour in 2003.

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Don’t be left voiceless

Last year’s election was brutal. It was a disaster for the country and it made us all realise that politics needs to change.

I’m not talking about the Lib Dems’ electoral defeat. I’m not even talking about the Tory majority. Last year’s election made a mockery of British democracy. 1 in 4 voters voted Lib Dem, Green or UKIP, but have just 10 MPs to represent them. That is appalling.

Why then do the Westminster elite stand up for this broken system? Pure selfishness. I’m afraid that is the only answer I can think of. So many Labour and Tory MPs think they should be elected not because they have the most support, but merely because that is the way it has always been. MPs aren’t elected to protect their positions at all costs. They are elected to represent the people. Without proportional representation (PR) they are failing to do that spectacularly.

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Tim Farron talks Wogan, refugees, EU and diversity on Murnaghan

Tim Farron was on Sky News Murnaghan this morning. It was quite refreshing to hear him introduced as “leading the charge” on the refugee crisis. It is actually blindingly obvious that we have been, but it’s not so often acknowledged.

The Murnaghan programme provides very helpful transcripts of their interviews, for which I am very grateful.

Terry Wogan

He was interviewed only an hour or so after the news that Terry Wogan had died and was asked for his reaction:

I am genuinely very, very upset. He formed an enormous part of my childhood, interviewing all sorts of people on his TV show but also the radio programmes, he was a peculiar and unique individual who appeals both to me – somebody who is obsessed with pop music – and my grandparents at the same time and I think that was his great strength, he spoke without arrogance or pomposity and he was a kind of warm and genuine figure in your living room and around the breakfast table and we’ll all very much miss him.

Refugee crisis

On refugees, he was asked if we should avoid creating a “pull factor:. He was clear that the way to do this was by creating safe and legal routes for refugees.

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Farron says there’s “not a lot of truth” in Independent report on secret talks with Corbyn over electoral reform

Today’s Independent has a report that there are secret talks going on between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over a joint platform for electoral reform at the next General Election.

It attributes the following to a “Lib Dem source”:

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens could also be involved in the talks, the source said. If the  negotiations are successful, up to five left-of-centre parties could stand on an agreed platform of voting reform at the 2020 election – giving them a mandate to scrap Westminster’s first-past- the-post system without a referendum, so long as they are able to secure a majority in the Commons.

It certainly strikes me that if there were successful talks going on, then there would be no reports about them in the press. It also strikes me that the Labour Party is in no position to commit to any deal, given the power struggles that are going on inside it. Another report in the same paper says that there is a plot afoot to move Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the end of Conference to prevent the final day of the event being ruined by the press finding opposition to it from within the Labour Party. Corbyn is fighting so many internal battles, that it’s impossible for him to look outward and work with others, which is a real shame. Actually, I think the sort of alliance that the Independent described on that one issue of electoral reform might not be a bad idea. You might not get a rainbow coalition to work in Government, but you could have one fighting for the Parliament the voters ask for. The Conservatives and SNP are tightening their grips on power on both sides of the border. They are very well resourced and the Tories look set to benefit from boundary changes. These of course would benefit the Tories in two way. Firstly, they benefit the Tories anyway, but   Labour would go nuclear as moderates and Corbynites scrapped over the new seats.

Tim Farron was asked about this on Pienaar’s Politics a few moments go. He said that  there was “not a lot of truth” in the report and that an alliance on electoral reform isn’t his priority at the moment. What matters is rebuilding the Liberal Democrats and effectively opposing the Tories. He said:

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Blair’s other legacy

It is inevitable given that it became the issue that defined his premiership – the failed invasion of Iraq will be seen as Blair’s great legacy.

He got plenty of other things wrong too, but for all his words about a progressive majority, his inaction on electoral reform paved the way for majority right wing government.

Had he been brave enough to face down the conservative forces in his own party we could have seen the 1999 Jenkins commission proposals implemented.

He wasn’t.

In his excellent autobiography, Ming Campbell recalls his wife Elspeth whispering to Blair at John Smith’s funeral, ‘Don’t Forget The Liberals’. ‘I won’t’ was the response.

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Where next in the campaign for electoral reform?

Sometimes election results are indecisive but in the 2011 AV vote, the country gave a resounding no in the referendum.

What we’re not entirely sure of though is what the country were saying no to. Since the vote, the Conservative party in the main have claimed that people are happy with the First Past the Post system.

Progressives would argue that the result was simply a no to the Alternative Vote system – and people did state at the time they only wanted a change that would be proportional. In their opinion, AV didn’t go far enough. And they were right. The problem with AV was almost no one truly supported it without reservation. It was described at the time as a ‘miserable little compromise.’ It was the only system that Labour had advocated for in their 2010 manifesto but largely for what seems like short sighted political reasons, they didn’t support it fully when it came to the actual vote.

Last weekend, the Voting Reform Coalition, held a gathering opposite Parliament on College Green. Party activists, MPs and independents all gathered to support Electoral Reform. Incredibly heartening and hopefully a sign of consensus to come, there was a coalition of both the usual suspects such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, with UKIP also joining in smaller numbers. The really great surprise being that we even had activists from Labour and the Conservatives. The two parties both traditionally opposed to voting reform or at least opposed whilst they were in power. 

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Lord Roger Roberts writes… Liberal Democrats fight to make sure local government reflects will of people

This year we celebrate the Magna Carta and the struggle for rights and liberties. The democratic rights of the people – our enfranchisement from the Great Reform Act of 1834 to the struggles of today and our belief that the voice of every person in the United Kingdom if registered to vote can carry some influence. This includes all men and women without regard to wealth, status or property rights. All 18 and over are included. In Scotland 16 year olds were able to vote in the recent Referendum and now throughout the United Kingdom there is a campaign to …

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Opinion: Progessive parties unite – for survival!

Through the grief and bereavement of last month’s election results, I have been trying to make some logical deductions about the future not just of the Lib Dems but the progressive forces in British politics. Try my logic and see if it works for you.

There may be about 8-12% of those who vote who are willing to support Lib Dem candidates (excluding protest votes). That percentage is fine as long as there’s PR. If there isn’t, we will struggle to have any influence, certainly at national level.

The only way we can get PR is if we have a main party in government willing to enact PR. And that main party has to get into government via first-past-the-post.

The Conservatives aren’t interested because they do very well without it, and will continue to do so. By contrast, Labour may be at the point of recognising that the only way a Labour prime minister can happen is via a coalition – and on that basis, Labour should be open to PR.

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Introducing Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

New members have been asking about Lib Dem organisations that they can join.  You are welcome to submit similar items on behalf of other organisations.

Giving the individual voter greater choice and voice – devolving democratic power to the individual and away from institutions – is integral to making the UK a truly liberal and democratic country.

So I’m urging new – and existing – party members to join Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) and help us campaign to make this essential change a reality.

Take a look at our historic Parliament, supposedly the model for others to follow. Of its two houses, the Lords is totally appointed and expressly undemocratic.

The Commons is elected in a way, which distorts the democratic will of the people; and freezes millions out of any say in the result. For many people in ‘safe’ seats, voting is an exercise in futility.

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Opinion: Goodbye Salisbury Convention, hello UK constitutional convention

This Government is illegitimate.  We should resist it by all legal means possible.

Apparently, according to Sir Malcolm Bruce, all politicians lie at some point.  I don’t accept this is a good thing, but we should not have been surprised when the Prime Minister came out with this little gem on the day of the Queen’s Speech:

“We have a mandate from the British people.”

No Dave, you do not.

The idea of an electoral mandate is a simple one which I teach my A level Politics students.  You win a majority in the House of Commons, you claim the people have backed you, you get on with the job.

This is not democracy though.  Democracy, which I have also teach my students, means “people power.”  The idea fails for David Cameron on two levels:

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Opinion: “Britain isn’t a democracy – we can’t possibly say that!” Yes we can!

When I was at secondary school in the early 1970s, my history teacher was a man with a passion for his subject who always encouraged critical discussion. So while he taught us enthusiastically about British “democracy”, he was indulgent towards me when I challenged his assertion following the February 1974 election: the one where the Tories came top with 11.9 million votes (297 seats), Labour “won” with 11.6 million votes (301 seats) and the Liberals’ six million votes delivered 14 members of the House of Commons.

The reality is that the outcome of every election before and since 1974 has been unfair to a greater or lesser extent. Labour got more than nine times as many seats as the Liberal-SDP Alliance in 1983 with just 2% more of the vote. Tony Blair had a comfortable overall majority with 35.2% in 2005 while David Cameron fell well short five years later with 36.1%.

The 2015 election is more striking than most. The SNP got 95% of Scotland’s seats on just under half the vote. Each SNP MP represents roughly 25,000 voters while almost 3.9 million ballots were cast to get Douglas Carswell into Parliament. 51 of the 55 seats in South-West England are Conservative and Labour is the only other party with representation in that region.

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Opinion: On voting reform, the Lib Dems must seek an ally in UKIP

Voting reform has been a key Lib Dem issue for many years now. It’s not necessarily primary concern of the average voter, but the way in which we choose who governs us is one of the most important aspects of democracy and cannot be dismissed.

The latest election has provided us with a stark display of why a more proportional system is vital for Britain’s future. Those determined to protect that status quo will point to the referendum in 2011 and claim that the British public has already rejected reform, but this is nonsense. AV may be fairer than FPTP, but it was ultimately a fudge, and no more proportional than the current system. We’ve never been allowed a vote on whether we want PR.

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Opinion: A new hope for electoral reform?

Much will be said and written about what happened on the 7th. But we need to think about what happens next now. We have been heavily defeated, and it would be easy to allow that defeat to set the mood and leave us paralysed. We must not let that happen.

The electoral system has delivered a result that bears little resemblance to the popular vote. Our own defeat has been amplified by this – as has been pointed out elsewhere, our parliamentary presence was within 25,000 votes of being wiped out entirely. Imagine, two million votes for no representation at all. We need to work with the others who have been disenfranchised by the electoral system. The Greens, who went home with one seat for one and a half million votes. UKIP, who won the support of almost four million people but who also get but a single seat. The SNP might have benefited hugely from the system, but they are now looking at their seats being rendered powerless by EVEL, and also support reform

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The Independent View: Benefit the nation and the voters

If the Liberal Democrats get about half UKIP’s votes (8% against 14%) but about 10 times as many MPs 20 – 30 against 2 – 3), will the Liberal Democrats stand by their principals and demand electoral reform?  In particular, will they insist on the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which they have always recognized as the best voting system for voters?

The Liberal Democrats have had five years now to learn the hard way what some of us warned in 2010, based on our observations of continental Europe where coalitions are normal; the senior partner takes the credit for popular decisions and blames the junior partner for unpopular ones.

If the Liberal Democrats had got STV for this election as a condition of entering into coalition in 2010, they could now be looking at winning about 52 seats for about 8% of the vote.  Admittedly, UKIP might be expecting about 91 seats but, if that is what voters want, so be it.

The real point of electoral reform is not to benefit this or that party but to benefit the nation and the voters.

With electoral reform for this election, the SNP could expect about half the Scottish seats (30) for about half the Scottish votes instead of all the seats (59) for half the votes and not be in pole position now to hold the UK to ransom.  Please see David Green’s excellent exposition on for more on this.

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Opinion: Opportunities for electoral reform in a hung parliament

As Simon Kelner says in today’s i newspaper, electoral reform has “played absolutely zero part in this election campaign”, though it “goes to the very essence of our democracy”.

In what has been described as a lottery election, we need to be prepared for any of the diverse opportunities for electoral reform that may open up.  One thing that does seem almost certain is that the result itself will provide strong evidence of the need for change, with hugely varying seat/vote ratios.  Current polls suggest the following: Conservatives and Labour each with only a third of the votes but over 40% of seats; Liberal Democrats with 4% of seats from 8% of the votes while the SNP have the reverse; and UKIP and the Greens with a combined vote of 15-20%, yet less than 1% of seats between them.

What type of negotiations might there be?  A key distinction is between any possible long term agreement – that is, for the duration of the parliament – such as a formal coalition, and a short term agreement that allows a minority government to take office, winning the vote on a Queen’s Speech and any ensuing vote of confidence.

For any formal agreement, STV for local government in England and Wales should be a Liberal Democrat red line.  With the Conservatives, we could agree on further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales, but their other constitutional manifesto aims, “English Votes for English Laws” and “reduce and equalise constituencies”, are much more problematic because we have very different ideas on both issues.  A formal agreement on constitutional reform with Labour should be easier: their constitutional manifesto aims are all ones we can agree with: more devolved powers, a constitutional convention, replacing the House of Lords with an elected senate, and votes for 16 and 17-year olds.

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Opinion: Getting things out of proportion

Finding things to complain about in The Guardian is hardly difficult, but here are two little blemishes that bleed deep:

First we have a quote from editor Alan Rusbridger in 2013, touching on the AV referendum:

They came up with such a weak version of proportional representation that they could not get anyone excited or enthused.

And second, a report from earlier this year on a Guardian staff ballot:

Staff of the Guardian and Observer have voted in favour of Katharine Viner… using the single transferable vote system… he successful candidate is guaranteed a place on the shortlist of three that will go forward to the next round of interviews conducted by the Scott Trust.

Claiming that AV is a form of PR, or that you used STV for what turns out to be a single-winner election, is incongruous at best, and probably just plain wrong. And, of course, the article doesn’t mention that Labour was the party that “came up with” AV as a 2010 election commitment.

If you want to get technical, it is true that AV is essentially STV-1 (STV electing a single member).  But the two names are used distinctly with good reason. STV-1 is a degenerate case, with less complexity and none of the proportionality of its multi-winner siblings. Important connotations of “the single transferable vote system” do not apply to AV, and vice versa. Even if this kind of equivalence was intended, the bold passages still needed qualification in order to make sense to the Guardian’s general readership. It seems far more likely the editorial process just got it wrong.

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The Independent View: Let’s make 2015 the last ever lottery election

Who could have predicted it? Who would have thought that four years after the Alternative Vote was firmly rejected by voters in a national referendum, we would be approaching the 2015 general election with First Past the Post at Westminster under serious scrutiny? Or that local electoral reform could be a realistic outcome of power-sharing talks between Liberal Democrats and one or other of the major parties (provided Lib Dems make it a ‘red-line’ issue)?

What are the game-changers? Firstly, FPTP’s supposed ability to deliver clear majority government was justification enough for many to put up with the obvious lack of proportionality.  That no longer applies. As The Economist says: “Unaccustomed and ill-adapted to multi-party politics, Britain is more likely to get weak, unstable governments. That will only fuel the dissatisfaction with career politicians in the main parties. And if the parliamentary system comes to be seen as both unfair and ineffectual, then it is in for a crisis of legitimacy.”

With FPTP stripped of its main justification, other arguments are also coming to the fore. In The Lottery Election, published last month by the Electoral Reform Society, Professor John Curtice argues that relatively small shifts in opinion could have massive effects at the Westminster level. Meanwhile, UKIP could come 6th in seats but 3rd in votes, and SNP could come 6th in votes but 3rd in seats. So far, so unfair.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged and | 25 Comments

Opinion: Rotherham would be an ideal place to hold England’s first STV elections

The problems caused by one-party states are many, but the behaviour of Rotherham Labour in failing to their residents by running a council that was simply “not fit for purpose” shows one of the worst possible examples.

The lack of political challenge to Rotherham Labour resulted in a council that lacked even the basic ability to serve local people. It stands as one of the clearest examples of the failure of the current English council elections system.

Eric Pickles has already announced that Rotherham will move to all-up elections from 2016, but this is insufficient to change the underlying problem of the lack of political challenge in Rotherham.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 36 Comments
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    I’m glad you mentioned the sixties Joe because otherwise I would have had to point out that not everyone over the age of 55 voted...
  • User AvatarMichael 1 18th Dec - 1:50pm
    @John Marriott Thanks (I think!) for your comment and I appreciate the sentiment although this IS a site were we discuss things and disagree. I...
  • User AvatarDJ 18th Dec - 1:46pm
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    Thank you for your post Geoff. The main lesson I’m taking away from this is that you and two other Lib Dem councillors represent a...
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  • User AvatarDavid Evans 18th Dec - 12:56pm
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