Tag Archives: electoral reform

Is the Netherlands election the end for PR?

This week saw general elections in the Netherlands which led to the nationalist Partij voor die Vriejheid (PVV) or Party For Freedom as the largest party in the country’s House of Representatives for the first time in its history.

The PVV is led by Geert Wilders, who has called for, among other things, a ban on mosques and Qurans, and “Constitutional protection of the dominance of the Judeo-Christian and humanistic culture of the Netherlands”. While coalition talks could take months and there are a number of mathematically viable options, Wilders looks set to be the country’s next prime minister, in a rapid departure from the Dutch stereotypes of being liberal, tolerant Europhiles.

Wilders has managed to do this despite the Netherlands using a proportionally representative electoral system where all votes are weighted equally and parties are returned to parliament fully in proportion to the number of votes they received. So I think it is pertinent to point out that proportional representation is not a silver bullet; it does not stop far-right parties from reaching the levers of power. Indeed, in 2015, had we used proportional representation in this country and had voters voted the same way as they did in reality, a Conservative-UKIP coalition would’ve been the only viable option, with 49.4% of the vote between them.

I don’t think comparisons to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump are necessarily helpful and I don’t think lamentations about why the Dutch public voted PVV are particularly instructive to a British audience. I’ll leave that for the psephologists and the experts in Dutch politics, of which I am emphatically neither.

Rather, I want to tackle the sentiment that, because proportional representation does not fully prevent governments like this from forming, it is useless. I want to tackle the idea that we should abandon winning over a majority of the public and instead focus on winning over a majority of parliament.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 35 Comments

Don’t call it proportional representation

Most Liberal Democrats care passionately about electoral reform.  Most voters don’t begin to understand what it’s all about.  So how do we catch their attention, let alone their support?

Let me make some suggestions about how to gain public attention.  First, don’t talk about ‘proportional representation’ or ‘electoral reform’.  Say ‘fair votes’, and ‘a more democratic system’.  If we mention the choice between STV (the Single Transferable Vote) and the Additional Member System (AMS) eyes will glaze over.  Tell them that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic use more democratic systems.  The choice for fairer voting lies between the Irish and the Scottish systems; both are already in use and easy to understand.  Putting it this way makes it harder for Conservatives to argue, as ministers did when removing the Supplementary Vote system for electing mayors in the Elections Act in 2022 that even that half-baked form of the Alternative Vote (proportional when there is only one person to be elected) was ’too complicated for voters to understand’.  If Scots, Irish and Welsh voters can manage this, it’s absurd to argue that English voters can’t.

Second, link it to the broader issues of Westminster’s toxic culture and popular disillusion with the style of our national politics.  Both Sunak and Starmer attacked the close world of the UK’s over-centralised Westminster politics in their conference speeches this year – though neither suggested they were going to do anything much to change it. Ask your Tory and Labour counterparts if they are happy about the way Westminster has worked in recent Parliaments (Sunak said it’s been awful for 30 years) and how they propose to improve the way government and Parliament operate.  Changing the way politicians are recruited and elected is central to opening Westminster up.

Third, recognise that changing the way our political leaders are recruited is only a part of the reforms that are needed to open up UK democracy and regain public trust.  Tighter controls on party finance, loosening the government’s control of parliamentary business, reinvigorating local democratic authorities, reconstituting the second chamber, would all contribute to transforming British government and politics for the better.  The strongest case for electoral reform is as part of a broader programme of constitutional reform, not as a project on its own – as it was presented in the Alternative Vote Referendum in 2012.  Not all of those changes can be introduced within a short timescale, of course, nor without carrying a disengaged public with them.  If we want electoral reform to last longer than the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act has done (enacted in 2011, repealed in 2022), we need to build a groundswell of public support.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 37 Comments

Electoral reform has momentum: 2024 is our best opportunity

The campaign for fair, equal votes is bread and butter politics for most Lib Dems. The idea that governments can win power on a minority of votes while other parties go significantly under-represented weakens the claim that the UK is a representative democracy. This is seen time and time again, with 2019 a particularly brutal example where the Conservatives gained a majority on just 43% of the vote while our own party gained over a million votes but fell back in the Commons.

First Past the Post leads to unrepresentative parliaments and unrepresentative governments – frequently resulting in policies that most voters are unhappy with, but which appeal to marginal seat voters. We know what the solution is: Proportional Representation, with STV as our preferred model.

PR treats voters equally, shown by countless fair elections around the world, but for decades our cause has been dismissed and ignored. The system is stacked against us of course. The current model deters those in power from implementing real change, but reform is possible. Just look at New Zealand where the country is going to the polls in October safe in the knowledge that the party political distribution of seats will by and large reflect votes won across the country.

The UK could very well be on the cusp of a New Zealand moment of its own where First Past the Post is rejected in favour of a system of Proportional Representation. For the first time in a long time, there’s a real sense that change could very well come to Westminster.

There was some sense of that in 2010 but the odds were even more stacked against us back then. Being in power with a party so opposed to reform limited our options from the outset. Many of the challenges then still persist but there are some major differences.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 9 Comments

Achieving electoral reform – the common good comes before personal ambition

Anyone who has stood as a paper candidate knows that this is a selfless task that normally has nothing to do with personal ambition. This is the basis on which I stood in three General Elections. I was regarded as a good candidate for hopeless northern seats – and endorsed as such by Richard Wainwright MP! In October 1974, when the Liberals stood in every seat for the first time, the Region told me that there was nobody else for Rother Valley. As the first candidate since 1918, I saved my deposit after we managed to address folded leaflets (by hand) to the 93,000 electors. I suppose that was the fulfilment of a very modest ambition.

I do see myself as achieving a few things in my time but that is different from fulfilling personal ambition. I still hold the percentage vote share record for Barnsley Central, where I stood in 1983, but, as Yorkshire and the Humber Region know full well, that’s nowt to boast about. My final outing in Eccles in 1992 was utterly unmemorable!

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 22 Comments

Virtual rally for electoral reform this Tuesday

Before we start,  we know that many of our readers will be way too busy to do anything other than campaigning on Tuesday or any other nights ahead of the local elections. We assume that this event will be recorded and if we see it online, we’ll post a link so that you can listen at your leisure  while stuffing blue letters, responding to casework emails or doing data entry.

Anyway, you may be aware that a load of pro electoral reform organisations, co-ordinated by Make Votes Matter, are running a mass lobby of Parliament to call for proportional representation on 24 May. You can find out more about the Sort the System event here.

This Tuesday at 6:30 pm, there is a virtual rally with speakers including our own Layla Moran and Unlock Democracy’s director, former Lib Dem MP Tom Brake. You can sign up to attend here.

Posted in News | Also tagged | Leave a comment

How do we win the arguments for Proportional Representation?

Labour’s National Executive effectively vetoed a motion passed by an overwhelming majority of party delegates at its Annual Conference to replace First Past The Post with Proportional Representation for British general elections. Doubtless this decision was influenced by recent opinion polling and seat projections which, if accurate, suggest that Labour are on course to win a majority in excess of three hundred seats. Who knows, perhaps such a disproportionate result may be the catalyst for electoral reform.

Before the next general election, whilst Labour grassroots members continue to pressure its leadership into supporting PR, we Liberal Democrats should change the terms of debate over electoral reform, and to that end educate the public about what PR entails.

In Britain, when electoral reform is debated, FPTP and PR are horrifically misrepresented. FPTP is portrayed as a standalone voting system, rather than just one of many majoritarian systems such as Alternative Voting or Two-round System. Meanwhile, PR systems are homogenised to the extent that majoritarian systems other than FPTP, namely AV, are misrepresented as forms of PR. Public miseducation about PR has allowed its opponents to craft horror stories of unworkable fragmented Parliaments and headache-inducing means of calculating results, patronisingly presenting FPTP as the safer, simpler system. If we hope to ever replace FPTP, debate over electoral reform should be about how we adopt PR rather than whether we should. This requires us to inform the public how the different systems work, not Single Transferable Voting, particularly in countering common anti-PR arguments.

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

Tom Brake writes: The route to Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation is in the Liberal Democrats’ DNA.

It might not always, or indeed ever (the party’s historians will correct me if I am wrong) have featured on the front page of the Lib Dem manifesto.  But it has always been a main plank of the party’s package of modernising democratic reforms.

If this were ever in doubt, Alistair Carmichael MP, the party’s Spokesperson for Home Affairs, Political & Constitutional Reform nailed the party’s colours to the PR mast by adding a new clause to the Elections Bill on the 17th January.  He was supported by MPs from 3 other political parties.

Its purpose: to abolish First Past The Post for UK general elections and require the Government to take all reasonable steps to introduce proportional representation.  In his speech, Alistair made the case for PR declaring, ‘we must have a system that gets rid of safe seats so that everybody’s vote, no matter where they live, is of equal value.’

Unfortunately, House of Commons’ support for PR wasn’t tested.  The FPTP system guarantees that voters who support parties like the Lib Dems never secure fair representation in Parliament. This in turn deprives Lib Dem MPs of the parliamentary numbers that would require the Speaker to grant them frequent voting opportunities.  So, no vote was granted or held on the PR amendment.

In contrast, at the last Labour conference, a vote was held on the subject of PR.

This followed a concerted and well-organised campaign by Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND) with around 150 constituency labour parties submitting PR motions.

The PR motion debated at their conference had the overwhelming support of local party delegates.  80% supported the call for reform.  However, the motion was narrowly defeated after block votes cast by a number of the trade unions.

The campaign continues, with a renewed focus on the trade union movement.  L4ND is confident of securing sufficient union support to win any future vote at the Labour conference on PR.

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

A proposal for Single Member Proportional Representation

The history of reform is replete with proposals for change, so it is with some trepidation that I propose yet another system: single-member proportional representation (SMPR).

All electoral systems have merits, and I did not set out to make (nor could I!) the academically ‘best’ system. Instead, I used only one criterion: maximum feasibility. I sought to design a system that would have a fighting chance of gaining a majority both in Parliament and with the people in a referendum, while also delivering true PR. The well-studied failure of the AV referendum (and general apathy to reform in general) indicated that complicated systems will suffer at the polls; AV, after all, is the first and easy step on the road to STV. SMPR is intended for: delivering truly proportional representation and being palatable.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 98 Comments

Take back control through electoral reform

This government is the worst in my living memory – and I have lived under quite a few bad ones. Most people, even Conservative diehards, would empathise, especially given the latest ‘stench’.

We will no doubt continue to debate the questions of ‘austerity’ and other failings, but undoubtedly the most ‘strong and stable’ government in recent times was, for all its faults, the coalition administration from 2010-2015. This, by chance, resulted from a General Election conducted under First Past the Post. But given a proportional system of voting, coalition government is almost inevitable – and is to be welcomed.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 126 Comments

WATCH: Wendy and Ed take part in cross party Make Votes Matter video

Wendy Chamberlain and Ed Davey represent the Liberal Democrats in a new video for the Make Votes Matter campaign:

Posted in News | Also tagged , and | 1 Comment

Union delegates block electoral reform motion – despite 79.5% support from Labour members

The Independent reports:

Trade unions have blocked Labour from campaigning for proportional representation after a tight vote at the party’s conference in Brighton.

Delegates sent by members to the gathering overwhelmingly backed a motion in favour of electoral reform by 79.5 per cent to 20.49 per cent.

But the vast majority of delegates sent by trade unions voted against the plan, meaning the motion was lost by a total of 42 per cent to 57 per cent.

Ed Davey commented:

Posted in News | 44 Comments

Affirmed None of the Above Options

The Liberal Democrats and others endorse Proportional Representation as a panacea to the problems inherent with First-Past-The-Post. FPTP is designed to discourage electoral participation, whether due to the spoiler effect of voting for minor parties, the adoption by major parties of fringe policies simply to win votes, smear campaigning supplanting positive campaign promises, or the disconnect between vote and seat shares. Is it any wonder that at the last five general elections, more than thirty per cent of eligible voters abstained from voting, not wanting to make unsavoury compromises or believing that their votes did not matter?

Our current electoral reform platform of adopting PR, and improving ballot access and voter participation, may not go far enough to repair the damage done by FPTP to public trust in politics, already materialising as depressed electoral turnout. The endorsement of any additional precedented reform measures, such as compulsory voting or holding Election Day at the weekend or on a bank holiday, would fail to take this into account.

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

Alistair Carmichael MP writes…Electoral reform can happen, but it will take concerted action

When I joined the Liberal Party in the 1980s, I was optimistic that the UK would replace its unrepresentative voting system in the not too distant future. Fast forward to 2021 and we remain stuck with First Past the Post and, at first glance, little reason for optimism.

The current set-up has never been ideal for the UK or indeed any modern democratic society. First Past the Post results in governments elected by a minority of voters, with policies supported by a minority of the electorate being imposed on the majority. This leaves far too many people feeling excluded and unrepresented. With a distorted link between voters and MPs, how can the UK call itself a representative democracy>

The answer, as we know, is Proportional Representation (PR). Replacing First Past the Post with a fair alternative will make our democracy truly representative. Pluralism is a key tenet of democracy. As a liberal and a democrat, I recognise the need for a voting system that allows multi-party politics to show itself rather than be hidden by the illusion of First Past the Post. Proportional Representation provides a framework for multi-party politics to flourish and voters to be represented.

We have all heard the tiresome arguments against PR, all the more worn-out considering that the UK is now the only democracy in Europe to use the outdated First Past the Post system for its main elections. The myth that reform would end the constituency link is nonsensical, considering the range of systems that can preserve and even strengthen it by improving voter choice both at the ballot box and in between elections. Those resistant to change also argue that a switch to PR would be a risky, unnecessary experiment. Considering that Proportional Representation is used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is well established across Europe, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

All major opposition parties apart from Labour support Proportional Representation for UK-wide elections and groups like Make Votes Matter are pushing the debate in the right direction. The establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform is the latest boost in the campaign, ensuring a strong coordinated voice in parliament to champion the need for change.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 52 Comments

Wendy Chamberlain MP becomes LDER President

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform have a new President – Wendy Chamberlain, our MP for North East Fife.

Since entering Parliament in 2019, Wendy has made her mark as an articulate, vivid advocate of electoral reform. Through most of 2020, as our Political and Constitutional Reform front bench spokesperson, she led the campaign both inside and outside Parliament. Last June, she initiated an adjournment debate on the need for reform. In August, she urged party members to join a Make Votes Matter (MVM) nationwide ‘virtual’ Action Day, which saw hundreds of Liberal Democrats get involved.

A strong believer in linking reform to improving peoples’ everyday lives, also last June, Wendy spoke alongside Klina Jordan of MVM at a Green Liberal Democrats’ conference session on Electoral Reform and the Environment. In September, she led LDER’s virtual fringe meeting, along with the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Matter and Unite to Reform.

Our Parliamentary Chief Whip and Work and Pensions spokesperson, Wendy, has maintained her commitment to electoral reform. In February, she became a Vice-Chair of the newly-formed All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Reform. (Alistair Carmichael, Wera Hobhouse and Lord Paul Tyler are also APPG members). Wendy is also a member of the APPG on Deliberative Democracy.

Wendy said:

In an era of increasing identity politics, the place has increasing importance to many. With Covid-19, however, the straining of centralised decision making at Westminster, and better recognition of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, could mean electoral reform’s time has come. It’s increasingly clear that the fundamental change required to ensure the future of the UK and a representative democracy starts with electoral reform.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 14 Comments

An outgoing Regional Party President reflects…

As I come to the end of my six years as President of the Party in South East England I have been reflecting on lessons to be learnt from a time that has been particularly significant both for our Country and our Party. When I began we were in Government and as I leave the final arrangements for departing the EU are being confirmed. We have had four leaders during this period.

It has been a tumultuous time dominated by our relationship with the EU. As a committed European I now realise that people like me have to take a lot of responsibility for how the referendum turned out as I adopted the approach like many others of keeping my head down, not offering the strong reasons for remaining and hoping that the issue would go away. It is though worth noting that as the Supreme Court ruled the referendum result was non-binding and twenty nine million people either voted to remain or did not express an opinion. It would nevertheless, because of the way the referendum was presented, have been very difficult immediately after the vote for parliamentarians to reject the outcome.

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments

Scots need hope for a progressive United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has clearly demonstrated this week that he is a severe threat to Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrats need to consider any strategy which can give Scots a vision of a progressive United Kingdom freed from Boris Johnson’s “leadership”.

This is a speech I intended to deliver at Scottish conference last month, and I dearly hope this course can be seriously considered and deployed in good time to positively affect our performance in elections next May.

“I am deeply worried about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. I see polls showing support for Independence at 58%. I see within those polls that younger generations support Independence at a rate close to 4 to 1.

Posted in Op-eds and Speeches | Also tagged , , and | 34 Comments

We MUST stop using the language of votes “not counting” and “wasted votes”

As Liberal Democrats we all care about electoral reform. Nevertheless, we really don’t make a strong case for it by saying that people’s votes in safe seats “don’t count” or that we have untold “wasted votes“. That is of course one way to look at it, but completely ignores the reality that any electoral system will have people who vote for candidates or parties which aren’t then represented – even with Proportional Representation (PR), such as those voting for parties which achieve less than 5%.

More fundamentally, even under the current First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system every vote counts (and I’d be the first to take to the streets if it didn’t) since every vote is literally counted to see which candidate has the most (such an act is, of necessity, a comparison and involves weighing every pile of votes against every other). By talking about wasted votes we are conflating voting at all with voting for the winner – a specious argument since the very idea of electing someone (again, of necessity) means choosing between competing candidates and therefore having both winners and losers.

That is not to say that FPTP is a good system, it isn’t! Outside the United States (which is an exclusively two party polity in a way the UK hasn’t been for decades, a presidential system, and otherwise not a democracy we should wish to emulate for a whole host of reasons) almost no liberal democracy in the world still uses FPTP – certainly no other in Europe. But in making the case for reform we should rely on and encourage voters’ innate sense of fairness when presented with the facts of the result, rather than a present a questionable interpretation of their role in democracy as it stands.

As such, it would be far better to focus on the HUGE disparity between the numbers of votes cast for different parties and the MPs these actually elected (i.e. in 2019 ~26,000 for an SNP MP vs ~51,000 for a Labour MP and a staggering ~335,000 for a Lib Dem MP). Add this point to the threat to democracy manifested by any party which gains only a MINORITY of votes thereby acquiring absolute power by having a MAJORITY of MPs, with no checks on that power save a weak House of Lords (presenting examples such as Blair taking us to war in Iraq despite the public being overwhelmingly against it, or Thatcher introducing the poll tax, or Boris delivering a devastating no deal Brexit, if that goes on to happen) and you have a very powerful argument for reform.

Posted in Op-eds | 24 Comments

Enough talk about pacts, let’s make votes matter!

Last year, I participated in an experiment. After more than a year of solid campaigning in anticipation of a general election, I stood aside in favour of a formal electoral alliance of different parties devised in order to maximise their number of seats and try to stop Brexit. Whilst the success and tactical merits of the Unite to Remain alliance can be debated at length, it at least saw parties band together in common purpose and try to play the first-past-the-post system against itself.

This controversial proposal was consistently met by claims from anti-reform politicians, including the Labour MP in whose constituency I stood aside and tried to unseat, that we were being anti-democratic, denying voters their right to vote for the candidate or party they most believed in, and for trying to rig elections for our own political ends. There may well be some merit to these claims, but what these politicians have to confront is that the same criticism they had could be applied directly to FPTP.

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments

Ed and Layla set out electoral reform hopes

It wouldn’t be a leadership election if we didn’t talk about PR at some point.

Layla and Ed have both written for the Electoral Reform Society setting out what they want to see in terms of changing our rubbish voting system.

Here are some highlights:

Layla

Under my leadership, the Liberal Democrats would therefore look to establish a common cross-party statement of support for legislation for PR ahead of the next elections.

The aim would be to establish a firm pre-election commitment to PR with support from across different parties. Keir Starmer has voiced his support for a fairer, proportional voting system, and it’s becoming clear that Labour is being increasingly disadvantaged by First Past the Post. This means there is an important opportunity for all those who believe in electoral reform to deliver on it.

I believe that under my leadership, the Liberal Democrats would be better placed to have these discussions with Labour and other political parties, and to help build a cross-party consensus for electoral reform.

Electing me as leader would send a strong signal that the Liberal Democrats are refreshed as a party and have put coalition behind us. That is why I am urging all those who believe strongly in electoral reform to support me at this election, so we can move forward together as a country and build a voting system in which everyone has a voice.

Ed

In respect of elections it is shameful that the United Kingdom continues to use the antiquated, First Past the Post System. I believe we should look to introduce a proportional system to both Westminster and local elections, at the earliest possible moment.

This is not just because the system is needed for both, but because the problem in some local areas is acute. There are areas which have become almost ‘one party states’ with votes for all mainstream parties being ignored and authorities left with little or no opposition scrutiny.

I am passionate about devolving power – all the more reason to make sure the scrutiny of these bodies is representative and effective. I believe there is an appetite to devolve powers from some in other parties and think making common cause on reforming our electoral process as we pursue this is a way to secure the changes we need.

Other areas around how we run elections are ripe for reform – we should introduce automatic voter registration to make it easier for people to vote and scrap the ridiculous plans to require voter ID at polling stations. The Conservatives’ desire to require ID creates another barrier and ends up with more people – likely from minority communities – not exercising their democratic right: it is indefensible.

Posted in News | Also tagged , , and | 9 Comments

Wendy Chamberlain leads parliamentary debate on electoral reform

Every night, House of Commons business closes with an adjournment debate for half an hour. It’s a half hour in which an MP raises an issue and a Government minister has to respond.

It was worth staying up last Monday night to watch Wendy Chamberlain lead a debate calling for electoral reform. She made a brilliant case both for PR and votes at 16. She was supported by Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine and Layla Moran.

You can watch the whole thing here – and it is worth doing so to see how well they make the case – and how the Government Minister responding is all over the place, presumably because she knows fine that they were right.

Here are some key highlights thanks to Make Votes Matter:

 

You can read the debate in Hansard here and Wendy’s speech in full is below:

Posted in News and Parliament | Also tagged , , and | 9 Comments

8 June 2020 – the overnight press releases

  • Lib Dems to use emergency debate to warn Rees-Mogg is threatening public health
  • Covid-19 has exposed politics as not fit for purpose, Lib Dems warn

Lib Dems to use emergency debate to warn Rees-Mogg is threatening public health

The Liberal Democrats will today use an emergency debate in Parliament to warn Jacob Rees-Mogg that if an MP falls ill to COVID-19 or there is a spike in cases because of travel to and from London then he must take personal responsibility and resign.

The debate, secured by Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael MP, was agreed following alarm at Business Secretary Alok Sharma becoming …

Posted in News and Press releases | Also tagged , and | 2 Comments

First Past the Post Wins!

Many argue that our political system is broken but why? – is it simply sour grapes from candidates who didn’t win?

There is plenty of evidence to show that in the UK a political party can win a majority of seats in government without gaining a majority of votes cast.  In the 2005 election for example Tony Blair’s government won 355 seats with only 35% of the total votes cast. In contrast the Conservatives won 198 seats having polled 32% of total votes cast.

This imbalance of the “first past the post” election system is further compounded if results of the ballot box and allocation of parliamentary seats are compared to the total number of people who were registered to vote, regardless of whether they did or not.  In 2015 for example the Conservatives gained a majority with 36.8 per cent of the votes cast, but ….

… If the measure is then broadened to consider the proportion of support that the party received from the electorate as a whole, the figure plummets to 24.4 per cent. This means that three-quarters of those who were registered to vote did not support the government.

Matthew Bevington: Unrepresentative democracy and how to fix it: the case for a mixed electoral system

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 15 Comments

Reasons To Be Cheerful

I am absolutely not feeling cheerful. I am gutted that my party has once again been drubbed at the ballot box, and the loss of Jo just 5 months into her leadership feels like a kick in the teeth. Watching her in this campaign I always felt that although it wasn’t her moment just yet, her moment would undoubtedly come. Now I just despair at the senselessness of it.

And Boris Johnson! There is a woman in an Iranian gaol because of his carelessness! What is it about this man and his continuous affairs and in-numerate children that the British …

Posted in Op-eds | 20 Comments

The 200-year quest for fairer voting

The first use of the Single Transferable Vote was on 17th December 1819, so the bicentenary will fall on the day when our new parliament assembles.

It couldn’t really be more ironic, with a Prime Minister claiming a “powerful new mandate” on 43.6% of the vote, and where a majority of votes were cast for parties opposing the Brexit deal that was the key policy on which he fought the election.

A meeting tomorrow at the Royal Statistical Society will celebrate the anniversary, and give an opportunity to discuss the prospects for electoral reform. Klina Jordan of

Posted in News | 12 Comments

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:

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 14 Comments

The opportunity for electoral reform

In the present political turmoil, there is increasing recognition that our present electoral system should carry much of the blame, Amber Rudd being the latest convert to this point of view.  If the opportunity to replace it suddenly opens up, we need to be ready to seize it.

Fortunately, the kind of proportional system for Parliamentary elections that the Liberal Democrats have long believed in has the added advantage that it could be implemented quickly. Constituencies for elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) can be based on local authority areas, mostly electing 3 to 6 MPs, as the attached map illustrates.

Aligning constituencies with community boundaries in this way helps maintain a strong local connection: it is good for both voters and representatives, avoiding division of responsibility and duplication over local issues.  And while some will regret the loss of having a single local MP, there will be many others who rejoice in at last having at least one MP they actually voted for, and a choice of whom to approach over any specific issue.

Another advantage is that boundaries would need to be changed only very rarely; changes in the number of voters can instead be accommodated by changing the number of MPs for the constituency.  And the scheme is very easy to keep up-to-date, using the current year’s electoral register.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 27 Comments

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

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 31 Comments

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 29 Comments

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? 

Posted in Op-eds | 28 Comments

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

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Also tagged , and | 5 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • David Allen
    "Pointless article"? Why is Paul Barker so scared of talking about coalition? Well, I suppose that question answers itself, when we look back at disastrous Li...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Paul Barker, There may only be a very small chance but that's literally infinitely greater than "no chance"! There would be an even greater chance if th...
  • Paul Barker
    Again, a pointless article - perhaps The Voice Team could think about rejecting pieces that are just nonsense ? Short of War, there is no chance of any result ...
  • David Allen
    "Unfair to say we ‘re saying nothing" Up to a point, yes. However, being against sewage dumping isn 't exactly sticking your head above the parapet and br...
  • Ruth Bright
    Caron, sorry to display my ignorance here but could you tell members like me outside Scotland more about the National care service stuff? Genuinely interested....