Tag Archives: political reform

Referendums: Getting it right next time

No one needs any help demonstrating the problems with the current ad–hoc manner in which the UK conducts referendums.

But while it might be tempting to argue that the best solution is simply to stop having them, there are problems with that approach. 

First, I’m not at all sure it is politically sensible, or intellectually honest, to say that since lies, fraud, and gross misconduct constituted the bulk of the Brexit campaign the solution is simply to have no more referendums. There have been lies, fraud, and misconduct in political campaigns since electoral politics began. The solution has always been to find better ways to conduct the campaigns, not to scrap the practice.

The Liberal Democrats are a party fundamentally committed to opening up political discourse, and to doing so responsibly. Referendums are fraught with peril and, ironically, run the risk of being distinctly undemocratic, but that does not mean there cannot be a role for them as part of a broader expansion of legitimate political expression.

And as recent votes in Ireland have shown, to take one example, referendums can play a crucial role in securing progressive social gains.

As another example, here in Massachusetts, where I now live, voters last November defeated by an overwhelming majority an attempt by fundamentalist Christian groups to repeal a law designed to protect transgender people by allowing them to use the restroom of their choice in any building open to the public.

By permitting the question and conducting the referendum, voters had the opportunity to affirm the actions of their legislature and governor and stop in its tracks the type of hate and fear that festers when it can pretend to a legitimacy it does not possess.

Wary of referendums as I am, I’m not proposing a radical overhaul of the UK political system to allow for the types of confirmatory votes we hold here in Massachusetts, where we can also vote by referendum to instruct the legislature to introduce legislation.

Massachusetts, incidentally, makes it much harder to initiate a referendum question than do many U.S. states and, in many cases, and wisely so as the government problems caused in referendum-happy states such as California help demonstrate.

Referendums shouldn’t happen often.

They should only happen with good reason.

But there are times when they might well be appropriate.

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Does German History Hold the Answer to Our Current Brexit Impasse?

Britain is still a world power with significant international obligations and a major player on the European scene – irrespective of whether she considers herself part of it or not. A clarification of how “European” Great Britain considers itself would be paramount for future relations with her neighbours. The British are often confused as to whether they are geographically part of Europe or not.

A possible way out could be found when one looks at the scenario in post-war Germany in 1948/49. Germany in its bid for world power status had been decisively defeated, its territory reduced, divided and destroyed. The three Western Allies decided to combine the three military zones and create West Germany in the face of Russian non-cooperation. That led to the Berlin blockade of 1948/49.

A parliamentary commission was set up consisting of law professors and newly elected regional representatives such as Konrad Adenauer. They met in Bavaria and wrote the “Grundgesetz” (basic law) in nine months! The situation in the country could not have been more dire, with millions of the dispossessed, refugees and returning prisoners of war! Their work also had to be approved by the House of Commons, the US Congress and the L’Assemblée Nationale in Paris. The need to establish a new democratic system of government was overwhelming!

The brief was fulfilled and approved by all three occupying powers. The foundation of the Socialist German Democratic Republic in the Russian zone followed a few months later. The commission’s clear goals were the following: the need to prevent another dictatorship, the desire to incorporate the best aspects of British and American democracy, and to pay homage to Germany’s own democratic traditions going back to the revolution of  1848.

It has become evident that our unwritten constitution is no longer able to serve the interests of the people. A written constitution with a true devolved structure and a supreme court, which makes sure that rules are kept and constitutional conflicts avoided, are necessary! The exercise of codifying the responsibilities and decision-making powers at different levels of government (local, national and international) would reduce the confusion and conflict substantially.

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How do we respond to the Labour split?

The news yesterday morning that there is to be a new breakaway group inside the House of Commons, the ‘Independent Group,’ is an historic moment. That may seem hyperbolic, but the anger and resentment displayed by those seven who have left the Labour Party was as damning as it was dramatic. It showed once again why Jeremy Corbyn is, and always has been, the wrong person to lead the Labour Party, let alone be Prime Minister. 

Talks of electoral alliances have of course led to discussions about how the UK’s main centrist party reacts. Echoes of the days of the SDP seem a bit early as the movement has not yet morphed into a political party yet, but if more join the group it could become both a serious challenge for Corbyn to overcome and also a friendly group for the Lib Dems to cooperate with in the Commons, with similar positions on Brexit. 

So far, there seem to be few plans to create another alliance. I think this may well be sensible. The new group define themselves as heavily on the social democratic wing of the spectrum, potentially in opposition to many of the more centrist-leaning principles of the Lib Dems. There is of course the danger that an alliance could damage the independence of our party, as going further to the the left would alienate many potential voters looking for a centrist alternative. It may well be a risk to hard to take for many inside the party, and the failure of the SDP to really change the political landscape still hangs in the mind. 

Vince Cable tweeted yesterday that he was ‘open’ to working with the new group and announcing that there will be discussion between the two sides over how to stop Brexit, which both the Lib Dems and the Independents see as a national disaster. We should welcome discussion over Parliamentary cooperation, but whether there is a public appetite from members and the wider electorate to see a merge remains to be seen. But any moves should definitely be treated with caution at this stage, I think.

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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: 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.

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Charles Kennedy MP writes…Our challenge for 2015 is to make positive case for UK political reform

 

As the BBC Radio Scotland self-promotional message has been reminding us at regular intervals throughout the holiday period 2014 certainly was “Scotland’s Year.” The best of times, the worst of times. From the sporting triumphs of the outstandingly successful Commonwealth Games and the hosting of the victorious Ryder Cup through to the referendum and ending on the tragedy of the Glasgow bin lorry crash we have never been out of the news.

The ever-perceptive journalist and commentator Iain MacWhirter (like myself, essentially, a federalist – unlike myself a Yes voter) reckons that the referendum represented the moment at which Scotland became “psychologically independent.” It is an interesting reflection and one which will be further tested as soon as May in the looming Westminster general election.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…A fairer way of redrawing constituency boundaries

Boundary - Some rights reserved by ank0kuIn those heady 5 Days in May back in 2010, our negotiators agreed with the Conservative Party that there should be “fewer, more equal” constituencies returning MPs to the House of Commons.  It formed part of a package, coupled with the referendum on Alternative Vote, and placed alongside fixed-term Parliaments (delivered), greater localism (partially delivered), and House of Lords reform (not delivered).

Whatever your views on whether there should be fewer MPs, more, or just the same as now, the principle that parliamentary constituencies should contain …

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John Leech MP writes…My Voice, My Vote

Ballot paperBritain is suffering from a crisis of alienation. Despite a wave of democratic reforms since 1997, including the rebirth of localism in 2010, the UK remains one of the most centralised European States. Even after devolution to Scotland and Wales, the majority of power is still concentrated in London and held by a narrow class of professional politicians most of whose lives seem increasingly detached from the people they represent. Local councils struggle to make an impact on their communities, and in vast swathes of the country voter turnout continues to sink as the electorate loses faith in the system’s ability to deliver the services they need.

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Caroline Pidgeon writes… Power to the people – why conference paper has my backing

Last July I wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice about devolving powers to London and other large cities. My article was drawing attention to a report published last summer called Raising the Capital (pdf). This report had been produced by the London Finance Commission, an authoritative and wide ranging group of experts from both inside and outside politics, and crucially including experts from Birmingham and Manchester and chaired by the highly respected Professor Travers of the London School of Economics.

The report highlighted that barely seven per cent of all the tax paid by …

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Opinion: A real answer to the ‘English Question’

One of the more interesting policy papers to be debated at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in York is ‘Power to the People’ which sets out with the aim of providing a blueprint for a federal UK. In almost all areas it is a brilliant paper which offers a clear, radical, liberal vision of the future of our country.

However, there is one flaw in this paper. And that is the embarrassing fudge which it offers when it comes to English Devolution.

It proposes that England use Single Transferable Vote proportional representation for local elections – so far so good – but then …

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Farron: “No excuse for David Cameron to block recall of MPs but he has done”

The Guardian reports that the proposal to recall MPs who have committed serious wrongdoing has been blocked by David Cameron against the wishes of Nick Clegg.

A Lib Dem source said news that the legislation had been dropped was broken to the party’s MPs at a meeting on Tuesday. “Tom Brake, the deputy leader of the house, stood up and told MPs it was off the agenda. It seems that the Tories have argued that there is too much to deal with and something had to give. But it didn’t wash: they are pandering to their backbenchers,” he said.

Under the plans,

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Lobbying bill is a major and unexpected advance

Today, the Government published its Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration BillIt marks a major and rather unexpected advance on the position only a couple of months ago.

As the Bill goes through Parliament, we will be arguing that the new information it brings into the public domain must be coupled with much better access to the information which the Coalition has already published.  This Government is the first to proactively publish information on who ministers meet.  Yet at the moment the information is too difficult to find, and not much use when you find …

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Lord (Paul) Tyler writes: Political reform has been lost along the way by the Coalition

Houses of ParliamentI first spoke in a Queen’s Speech debate in March 1974. I recall being mystified by that vital penultimate sentence heard again in this year’s speech: “other measures will be laid before you”. It is these innocent, innocuous words which turn out to be quite important. And they give hope that there will be other vital measures excluded at present from the text of the Speech itself.

There are two commitments in the party manifestos and the Coalition Agreement that seem to have been lost along the …

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Opinion: Why I am a royalist

There’s nothing democratic about the royal family. They are the descendants of a thug who defeated another thug to become the despot of these Isles. If that was all there was to them, I would be the first in the queue to get rid of them.

The greatest invention in the history of the world is not the wheel, or fire, or the scientific method: it’s democracy and the rule of law. What’s wonderful about democracy is he principle it establishes, that everyone, no matter their colour or creed, is of equal worth. That each person has the same number of …

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  • User AvatarInnocent Bystander 9th Dec - 9:49am
    @frankie, Keep it coming. I think Churchill defined a fanatic as someone who won't change his mind and won't change the subject. I have no...
  • User Avatarnvelope2003 9th Dec - 9:39am
    Peter Hirst: The Liberal Democrats and Greens would both benefit from PR and so would Plaid Cymru. The SNP would not at the moment but...
  • User AvatarNonconformistradical 9th Dec - 9:29am
    @Peter Martin and @Joseph Bourke Why don't the two of you take your discussion/argument/whatever to email?
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 9th Dec - 9:15am
    @frankie Your loyalty to the cause is exemplary. However, Brexit is a bit like Trump. No matter what you say or how badly it might...
  • User AvatarTom Harney 9th Dec - 8:58am
    As far as the USSR was concerned, they were in reality the European country which suffered most from the war. The occupation by Germany of...
  • User AvatarIan Sanderson (RM3) 9th Dec - 8:56am
    I don't think Brexit voters and LibDem voters are necessarily mutual exclusive. At the end of the twentieth century we picked up quite a few...
Tue 10th Dec 2019