Tag Archives: proportional representation

Are tactical voting arrangements the key to Constitutional Reform?

Polls suggest that the coming general election will return a majority Labour government. While support for Constitutional Reform among the party rank-and-file has burgeoned (83% vote in favour at the 2022 Labour conference), and the major trades unions have come on board, the leadership is resolutely non-committal. Tony Blair’s New Labour took heed and included Constitutional Reform in its 1997 manifesto – only to ‘forget’ about it once the election result turned out to be a landslide. Thirty years on, and still the Labour leadership remains silent.

2024 presents arguably the best opportunity to introduce Constitutional Reform in decades. If only there were a way to contrive that the next parliament was hung, then the other progressive parties would have leverage – through Confidence and Supply arrangements – to require the minority administration to agree to introduce Constitutional Reform in the next parliament.

I suggest that a Tactical Voting arrangement could achieve just that result if only activists could swallow their pride and collaborate for the greater good. Many would undoubtedly find it difficult – even painful – to do what is necessary; but with such a prize to be won, would it really be so much of a sacrifice?

My proposal is to first develop a Campaign for Constitutional Reform; focusing on the PR‑Full element of Constitutional Reform (i.e. a fully-proportional representation process). All other issues relating to Constitutional Reform could then be developed in turn, once that electoral stranglehold was broken.

However, neither Conservative nor Labour would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement which they did not dominate, and none of the smaller parties would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement dominated by Conservative or Labour. Thus, in order to force a hung Commons, all parties other than Conservative or Labour must decline to stand in selected seats, and must encourage their voters to vote tactically.

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UBI and PR will work together

“UBI” (Universal Basic income) has staggered and lurched in Lib Dem Land. I  believe most of the arguments against it are the prejudices of ignorance or the handicaps of expertise.   I shall try to explain why and how UBI and PR must and can work in harness.  I shall not here consider the objections to it,  but I do hope others will.

UBI is not too expensive – it should be managed by the Inland Revenue, and subject to Income Tax – simply one more thing to add to each taxpayer’s Income Tax  total bill.   Everyone receiving UBI would pay Income Tax at the rate appropriate to his or her means.  Say 10%, perhaps, for those without any other Income at all?   Enough for everyone to recognise that everyone getting UBI is a payer of Income Tax – and well aware of the fact.

Clearly that would require much re-arranging of Income Tax rules and rates.  But that will happen anyway, since there can be no such change before we have elected the House of Commons by Proportional Representation.   That will be all the sooner thanks to Boris’s laying waste to the Conservatives.

The Labour Party has (timorously?) declined to endorse either idea, despite having commissioned a Paper on UBI from the distinguished academic, Prof Guy Standing.

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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.

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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.

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Red Line

Proportional Representation for Westminster as a red line in coalition negotiations with Labour has the overwhelming support of Lib Dem members.

But a Lab-Lib Dem coalition is an extremely unlikely outcome at the General Election. Based on May’s opinion polls, Baxter’s Electoral Calculus predicts an overall Labour majority of 190. We are on 20 seats. Adding tactical voting assumptions to the calculus raises our total to 25 and gives Labour a “wafer-thin” majority of 268. And even if by a combination of “socialist” scandal and Tory re-invention, Labour do fall short, they may well choose to govern with the support of other parties or as a minority.

Still, do we not need to think about and be prepared for all eventualities, even the roughly 5% chance (my estimate) of going into coalition? We do.  But that is precisely what we are NOT doing. In fact, all the attention about possible electoral outcomes has been focused on the wished for (and feared) scenario in which we hold the balance. The problem is that the red line we have custom-designed to protect ourselves in the unlikely scenario of coalition will damage our chances in ALL electoral scenarios.

I share fellow members’ anxieties (and hopes) about a coalition with Labour. Our electoral debacle in 2015 was a pointed lesson in what can happen to a junior partner post-coalition in a FPTP system. PR might mitigate such post-coalition damage; though if our share of the vote is as bad as in 2015, we would fall below the minimum quota for a seat in the vast majority of STV constituencies.

In any case, you may say, PR is not only a prophylactic to electoral damage, it’s also our most popular policy. It certainly is! Amongst Lib Dem members, it enjoys possibly unanimous support. But the election won’t be won by appealing to party members. It’s the rest of the country we have to appeal to. It’s not even that the electorate actively REJECTS PR. So it’s not a matter of persuading the unenlightened of the superiority of PR. Voters just have other much more pressing priorities:  the cost-of-living crisis, the state of the NHS and our rivers and other such mundane matters. PR comes far down their list.

From previous experience of General Elections, we know that the media loves to talk about our stance on coalition, who we will go in with, what we want from it etcetera. Such talk absorbs a disproportionate amount of our precious broadcasting time; particularly given how infrequently we do actually go into coalition. But if we choose PR as our red line, that is what the electorate will hear about us most. They will realise that we value PR above all else. They will understand their concerns are not our concerns. And it will affect their vote accordingly.

This is, of course, unfair. And fortunately, it’s an avoidable error, once we understand that a red line intended for negotiation with a potential coalition partner is possibly the key message in our positioning at the election itself.

We must have red lines, not just one red line, and those red lines must resonate with the electorate, not just garner an indifferent approval.

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Tell your MP why we need Equal Votes for Westminster

In a democracy, we expect the government to represent the will of the people. We believe that every citizen has an equal right to participate in the democratic process, and that every vote should count equally. But the reality is that Westminster’s distortive electoral system means our democracy is failing to live up to these fundamental principles.

Save Wednesday 24 May as a key date in the march to achieving equal votes for UK General Elections. That’s when Sort The System – your chance to meet and tell your MP why they should back voting reform – is taking place.

Sort The System is a national action day put together by reform ally organisations, including Make Votes Matter, the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy. Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform are backing it, as are pro-reform Labour groups and the Greens.

For us Liberal Democrats, it’s a huge opportunity – maybe our best before the next General Election – to put electoral reform firmly on the agenda.

A proportional system that empowers voters, delivers parliaments that are representative of the people, and keeps government in check is crucial to fixing our broken politics and underpins the positive change we need to see. As longstanding leaders in campaigning for electoral reform, PR must be part of our party’s overall promise to the British people. Part of what we stand for; what makes us different.

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Perfect balance: The Liberal Democrats’ ideal outcome at the next General Election

The 2023 local elections have finally passed. Many of us put a great deal of time and effort into leafleting and canvassing around our communities to get out the vote and even to sway some voters. At these elections, we won a net gain of over 400 councillors and control of the councils in:

  • Chichester
  • Horsham
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Dacorum
  • West Berkshire
  • South Oxfordshire
  • Guildford
  • Surrey Heath
  • Windsor and Maidenhead
  • Mid Devon
  • South Hams
  • Teignbridge
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Improving the quality of democracy is not just about proportional representation

Of all the major ‘-isms’ that pervade our politics in the UK, democracy (or ‘democratism’ if you prefer) is perhaps the least written about. That may at last be about to change.

It is perhaps mostly taken for granted in UK political discourse that democracy is ‘A Good Thing’. Today, only the very brave would argue publicly that democracy is ‘A Bad Thing’ per se.

Defenders of UK-style democracy however have to gloss over aspects of the political system. These include the constitutional monarchy and the broader role of the Royal Prerogative, the unelected House of Lords, and tight executive control of parliament. They do rather mute the UK’s moral high ground when promoting democracy abroad.

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How to achieve Electoral Reform in the light of Keir Starmer’s obstructionism

On Monday, members at Labour’s Annual Conference voted in favour of a motion to replace First Past the Post with Proportional Representation in general elections. This comes after Unison, Unite, and the GMB, three of Britain’s largest trade unions, came out in support of PR in the months following the 2021 Labour Conference, where the withholding of such resulted in the failure of a similar motion despite nearly eighty per cent of Constituency delegates supporting it.

However, it seems as though Labour’s National Executive Committee will ignore the motion, preventing such a promise from becoming part of their next manifesto. With Keir Starmer saying that ‘it’s not a priority’, he plans to ignore the wishes of the majority of his party’s members, the red wall voters he needs to win back, and indeed the wider British public, and reap the rewards of disproportionate, unstable FPTP and gross Conservative mismanagement to win an unwarranted parliamentary majority.

As the next general election is likely to be upwards of two years away, the Labour leadership could yield to popular demands and adopt PR as official policy if pressure on them is maintained. Nevertheless, moving forward, we Liberal Democrats must consider our strategy for how to abolish FPTP given official opposition to such by one of the major parties against the wishes of its own supporters and its own self-interests.

Whilst FPTP is favoured by the larger parties for supposedly providing strong single party governments, recent history has proven otherwise. Seven out of the ten years of the 2010s saw the election of hung Parliaments, with the Conservatives losing their majority in 2017 despite increasing their vote share to 42.3% up from 36.8% in 2015. It may be possible that FPTP delivers unto Labour a plurality or a razor-thin majority, rather than a working majority. If we manage to poach enough blue wall seats, we would be the most palatable option for Labour as a potential coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement partner.

We should learn from our party’s previous experience with negotiating with a major party in achieving electoral reform. In 2010, we entered into coalition with the Conservatives on condition that a referendum be held over replacing FPTP with Alternative Voting. With still-majoritarian AV being a dissatisfactory substitute to both FPTP and Single Transferable Voting, our party’s preference then and now, the Conservatives and Labour alike depicted it as scary, confusing, and distracting. The defeat of AV wrongly signified for some, most notably David Cameron, the defeat of PR, stymieing momentum for years afterwards.

If we find ourselves in the same position again but with Labour, we must be more determined. If the Conservatives were the only adamantly anti-PR party in Parliament, and all others were broadly in favour of it, we could insist that electoral reform be achieved via a simple Act of Parliament without a referendum. A broadly pro-PR supermajority in Parliament would have sufficient a mandate to do so.

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Labour backs PR? Don’t hold your breath

Yesterday, Labour’s conference a motion calling for its next manifesto to include a commitment to introduce Proportional representation for parliamentary elections.

On one hand, it’s good to see the Labour conference finally catch up with us. We have long supported giving voters the Parliament they ask for.

Labour have, of course, introduced proportional voting systems before, in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies. Directly elected mayors are also elected by supplementary voting.  However, they have stuck with first past the post for Westminster because why wouldn’t they when it benefitted them.

Yesterday’s vote is significant in that it shows that the voices calling for change are growing. However, Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership have basically made it clear that it has as much chance of appearing in the manifesto as handing out a free unicorn to every 7 year old.

From The Guardian:

Before the vote, a senior Labour source downplayed the prospect of electoral reform even if Starmer wins the next election. “Anyone who thinks this would be a priority for the first term of a Labour government is kidding themselves,” they said.

However, what happens if, after the next General Election, Labour is short of a majority in the House of Commons. Obviously it depends on the exact numbers, but it is something we and the Greens could demand as the price of our support. From the Times Red Box this morning:

But Lara Spirit hears that those behind yesterday’s vote are jubilant. They don’t care, one admitted to her, about PR being in the manifesto, where its likely omission is currently considered fatal.

They wager that, should Labour win without a majority or with a slim and unstable one, Liberal Democrats and/or Greens will demand support for PR. And Labour will be forced to give it. In the eyes of those she spoke to celebrating yesterday, it’s now official Labour policy. In that scenario, how could they not?

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To fix our politics, we need to fix our voting system  

These past twelve months have seen some of the worst assaults on trust in public life I have ever witnessed.

From the second jobs scandal, to Partygate, to an avalanche of allegations of sexual misconduct against MPs, hardly a week has gone by without a story dominating the headlines that our leaders are not using their power with our interests at heart.

We would be naive to assume that this is not having a long-term impact. Last December, trust in politicians reached its lowest level on record. Polling by Ipsos shows lack of faith in politics / politicians as the third most important issue to voters, after inflation and the economy.

This is not some second order issue, but an urgent priority facing us.

Writing a piece in Lib Dem Voice about the need for electoral reform is doubtless preaching to the converted. But what I urge today is that we take a much broader view of what’s wrong in our politics as stemming, at least in part, from our Victorian voting system.

MPs like Owen Paterson and Neil Parish were lords of the manor in all but name until the eye of national scandal turned on them. Boris Johnson possessed a near-regal authority with an eighty-seat majority, only able to be unseated by palace intrigue within his own party.

What’s more, First Past the Post enables feudal distribution of funding from the public purse, with the Chancellor even admitting to spending money in areas like Tunbridge Wells rather than where the money is needed most.

Even the numerous allegations of sexual impropriety against sitting MPs can be, in part, traced back to First Past the Post. While countries with PR are by no means guaranteed bastions of gender equality, Westminster culture cannot be helped by a male-dominated House of Commons. A record number of female MPs sit in the House of Commons, but even now 65 percent of MPs are male.

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Reforming the UK’s electoral system: The view from Labour

At the time of writing, Ukraine dominates the news, a shocking reminder of how precious and precarious democracy is. As Tom Brake of Unlock Democracy has written, “Whilst we feel enormous sadness at a moment like this, it also reminds us why the work we do matters.

The political battle to reform the UK’s electoral system is of course incomparable to the very real battle faced by the people in Ukraine. But the terrible events of recent days should motivate us all to defend and fight to extend with renewed vigour democracy in the UK. That aim is the essence of the Labour for a New Democracy (L4ND) campaign.

There are many well-evidenced reasons why, for Labour supporters, it makes sense to do away with First Past The Post (FPTP). In 19 of the last 20 elections the majority of the popular vote has been for parties to the left of the Conservatives yet we have had Conservative governments for two thirds of that time. The relative inefficiency of Labour’s vote means it repeatedly fails to do quite well enough to get over the line in many seats whilst in others its votes pile up to no effect. 34 of the 35 ‘safest’ seats in the UK are held by Labour.

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Britain’s party system under Proportional Representation: where should the Liberal Democrats be placed?

The Liberal Democrats and Labour have entered into an informal electoral agreement to prevent anti-Conservative opposition being split at the next election. Giving Labour a free hand to rebuilding their Red Wall, they will give us equal freedom to dismantle the Blue Wall. With major trade union opposition to Proportional Representation having been removed, it might be possible that the replacement of First Past The Post with PR will be adopted by Labour as party policy and enacted by the next government.

Change to the electoral system will inevitably result in behavioural changes amongst those operating within the political system. With PR, voters can vote as they wish and expect to get their desired representatives rather than having to vote tactically for the lesser of two evils. And, politicians would be required to be more conciliatory and cooperative in order to win votes and form governments, the negative campaigning typical of FPTP likely being a liability. PR will also change the party system.

A Conservative- and Labour-dominated two-party plus system has naturally resulted from FPTP, the British electorate’s desire for a true multiparty system being long frustrated with the seat shares of third parties being unfairly suppressed. With Single Transferable Voting being our party’s preference, and hopefully that of Labour in the future, the British party system under PR is likely retain two major parties but would grant greater (proportional) influence to smaller parties. STV would allow the Liberal Democrats to reclaim our rightful position as Britain’s third party, with a fair and considerable seat share (fifty-nine if STV had been used at the last election, based on votes cast under FPTP). Within such a system, we should consider the role our party should play.

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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.

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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.

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Electoral reform: It’s not enough to believe in it…

Why, as Lib Dems, we must campaign for proportional representation

As Liberal Democrats, electoral reform is in our DNA. That’s why we welcome the ongoing efforts of our ally organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Matter, and Unlock Democracy. After all, we know that we cannot  bring about the change we want to see by acting alone.

As Lib Dem members our involvement in cross-party campaign efforts is all to the good. I encourage any who are not yet active in these groups to sign up today!

But I believe that we also need to campaign for electoral reform as Liberal Democrats. Why?

First, because it is Party policy and it reflects our core values.

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Everybody included – why democracy and diversity are two sides of the same coin

At a recent event hosted by Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, I was asked to speak about two topics that I feel very passionately about: democracy and diversity. In terms of democracy, I have been actively involved with the campaign for Proportional Representation for many years because I believe that our current system of First-Past-The-Post means that all votes are not equal: a vote in a marginal seat has a much bigger impact than a vote in a safe seat. In terms of diversity, I believe that we should welcome people from many different backgrounds to the campaign for PR by making an effort to being inclusive and open.

With this in mind, it was great to have an opportunity to be a panel speaker with someone so experienced as Lord Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform in the House of Lords. Paul has given so much to the campaign for electoral reform, both as an MP and in the House of Lords.

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The government is levelling down democracy: we must redouble our electoral reform efforts

The UK government’s Elections Bill and the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act are part of a clear strategy to entrench Conservative dominance and weaken our democratic foundations.

Rather than merely oppose calls for positive change – such as perpetual Conservative opposition to Proportional Representation and begrudgingly working within the framework of fixed-term parliaments – this government is on the offensive. We must push back against these regressive changes with our positive vision of a fairer, more inclusive and truly representative democracy.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act isn’t perfect but fixing parliamentary term-lengths and election dates created an even playing field for elections. With fixed terms, all parties know when the next election will take place and can plan accordingly, while also allowing flexibility for early elections. The pre-coalition system gave an unfair advantage to the prime minister of the day. If presented with the opportunity, we must reverse this government’s decision to recreate that uneven playing field.

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Wera Hobhouse: Democracy is failing us – Day of Action Saturday 31 July

Attacks on our fragile democracy are ramping up. The evidence comes in a raft of recent Government proposals that include voter ID cards, curbs on peaceful protest and plans to introduce more elections by First Past the Post (FPTP).

Take the controversial plan to introduce voter ID cards, proposed as part of the Elections Bill. This would actually disenfranchise millions more voters. Ministers say asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against potential voter fraud in polling stations. They also claim that ‘showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day’. But I’m not convinced there is any evidence that voter fraud is even an issue. You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tactic put forward by a Tory Government fearful that its ‘blue wall’ will come crashing down at the next general election. Their crushing defeat at the Chesham and Amersham by-election certainly goes to show how a well-fought campaign at grassroots level can do so much to bring communities together.

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Co-operation for a better electoral system- and a better country. Part 2

In Part 1 I noted how the political atmosphere is changing in favour of Proportional Representation (PR) and cross party co-operation – but what about the potential benefits?

The Make Votes Matter website is a great resource, including details of the ways in which PR often leads to a reduction in inequality, better minority representation, greater political engagement and voter turnout and swifter and stronger action against climate change.  In short, -how PR leads to better government.

However, there are some recent and (perhaps) less well known studies which also highlight the value of PR.

In January 2020 the Cambridge University Centre for Future Democracy published its’ ‘Global Satisfaction with Democracy’ Report based on four million respondents from 3,500 country surveys. This covers a period of almost 50 years for Western Europe, and 25 years elsewhere. Whilst dissatisfaction has grown to an all time high globally since the mid 1990’s, the UK and the US (both still use FPTP) have registered extremely dramatic rises. By the end of 2019, dissatisfaction in the UK stood at over 55%, and at 50% in the US. When dissatisfaction is this high, it surely raises concerns that the polarising effects of FPTP make effective government unsustainable – witness armed militias on the streets in US cities.

The authors contrast this situation with another so-called Anglo-Saxon democracy, New Zealand, where dissatisfaction has decreased to just over 25% from an already relatively low level and make the point that this may well be linked to the switch from FPTP to PR in 1993. Other countries (e.g. Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany) using PR have high and increasing levels of contentment with their democracies. The evidence seems to point to a consensual balm that PR imposes on governments to make them more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.

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Co-operation for a better electoral system- and a better country. Part 1

Events of the last 12 months (think unlawful prorogation of Parliament, Covid-19 mismanagement, stalled Brexit talks, exams fiasco, threats to abolish the Electoral Commission and breaking International Law) demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that the Johnson-Cummings administration is surely the most inept, incompetent and fundamentally dishonest in living memory. But should we be surprised? I would say no, as this government is only in place as a result of the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system which is itself fundamentally dishonest.

  • How can it be right that one party gains 43.6% of the vote, but wins 56% of the seats in Parliament -and 100% of the power?
  • How can it be right that it takes 830,000 votes to elect just one Green MP? But 1.24 million votes (just 400,000 more than the Greens) give the SNP 48 MPs? Is an SNP vote really worth 32 times a Green vote?
  • How can it be right that just a few thousand votes in a small number of marginal constituencies are often the only ones that really matter?
  • Why have we LibDems only got 11 MPs when we should have 70 in a truly democratic, proportional system?

These democratic discrepancies are completely intolerable. We must act to make this a rallying point around which we work with all other progressive parties. Make Votes Matter is the key grassroots cross-party movement in the effort to get Proportional Representation (PR) for Westminster. They have already drawn together an alliance of organisations, trade unions, individuals, MPs and political parties. Almost all parties that is, except of course the Tories, for whom the system works wonders, and Labour who are a work in progress -see below.

Many commentators have lately been making the point that progressives need to work together on this as well as many other issues. So it has been heartening over the last few weeks to hear both Ed and Layla articulating their wish to work together with Labour for the common good. The key question is of course – ‘Are Labour ready to work with us?’ There are some promising signs.  At the very least, the electoral arithmetic, especially with the rise of the SNP, means that Labour need to think carefully about where their best option lies.

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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:


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.


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.

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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

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LibLink: Wera Hobhouse – Without proportional representation, there’s no future for moderate politics in Brexit Britain

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Over on the Independent, Wera Hobhouse MP argues that the whole EU referendum and ensuing mess came about due to the faults of the First Past the Post voting system, and has now left us with a government elected by 44% of voters which can deliver any Brexit it wants, despite 52% of voters voting for parties committed to a People’s Vote or revoking Article 50:

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Lord Paul Tyler writes… Voting tactically to end tactical voting

New polling for the ERS on #DemocracyDay today (Thursday 5th) shows that 80% of people feel they have little or no influence on how decisions are made, and 85% think our political institutions need significant improvement.

We now know that around a huge proportion of Labour supporters are likely to vote tactically (almost all for Liberal Democrat candidates) and a similar number of Liberal Democrats will do likewise (most for Labour candidates). These well-informed citizens are determined not to be cheated again by the absurdly anachronistic and unfair electoral system.

They wouldn’t have to vote tactically if a proportional system operated in this election. If we all enjoyed the STV preferential ballot which the Lab/Lib Dem Coalition introduced for local elections in Scotland almost every vote would count – there 95% of those who vote are represented by councillors they have helped to win. In England and Wales barely half can say that.

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Hope for a brighter future

In this election there is everything to play for. Traditional voter loyalties have completely broken down, and nearly half the electorate are now regarded to be floating voters.

When talking to voters on the doorsteps and asking their thoughts on the current state of politics, the responses are dominated by the words “mess” and “shambles”.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are not popular, and are not seen as being good options to lead our country. If we get smart we can easily present ourselves as the Stop Brexit, Liberal Democrat and None of the Above party, and hoover up enormous amounts of those floating voters.

It is fear that will deter people from voting Liberal Democrat. Not fear of our policies or any character flaws in our leader, but fear that voting for us lets in the populist or the revolutionary socialist, or fear that we will prop up Corbyn or Johnson in exchange for some scraps of power.

Saying we will support neither is not enough. We have to have an offering that shows our supporters that we have a path to power, and we have to have an offering that shows the floating voters that we can stop the cartoon villains that they so fear.

That offering is a proportional electoral system.

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Reject! Reject! Reject! We Demand Better

There is a lot of anger about in British politics today. But I believe we Liberal Democrats are not angry enough.

We write a whole pamphlet on Demanding Better, and pass an entire motion on what we want to Demand Better.

But we don’t condemn. We don’t say what we believe is rotten in the practice of government in Britain and the way it has allowed the decline in the state of our nation.

We won’t convince people about what we want until we say what we reject.

So what do we fiercely reject? These are what rouses most anger in me.

  1. The leaders of both main parties allowing the threat of leaving the EU to go on for nearly three years, and still choosing to risk a no-deal Brexit rather than unambiguously giving the people the final say in a People’s Vote.
  2. That so many top elected politicians appear to scheme for their own and their kind’s advancement instead of putting the needs of the country first.
  3. That the Government squanders the country’s resources on preparing for Brexit while ignoring the wish of ordinary people for secure lives without fear for the future, as well as the despair of industrialists facing continued uncertainty.
  4. The attitude of the Conservative Government in letting the weakest in society go to the wall. So ordering everybody regardless of circumstances to take any job they can find and look after themselves, and refusing adequate welfare benefits to those who struggle.
  5. The lack of response by this Government to the evidence of there being four million children now living in poverty here, and of the increasing necessity for poor families to use food banks, a disgrace in this rich country.
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D’Hondt complain afterwards if you d’Hondt understand it…

Not everyone in the country takes a lot of interest in the intricate details of electoral systems, and that probably includes most politicians including the new Chukkers on the block, and almost all the media.

A lot of people know that you can have “first past the post” (FPTP which in practice usually means the candidate who has got closest to the post when the whistle goes) and “proportional representation” which includes all the other systems ever invented. And that’s about it.

The thing is that the way the votes are counted is one of the two things (together with how people vote) that decides who gets elected. Stalin is supposed to have said that what matters is not how people vote but who counts the votes. In the Euro elections, the counting takes place by a system known as d’Hondt after one Victor of that ilk who is (possibly) one of the most famous Belgians to have lived.

FPTP is designed for a binary choice. It works perfectly when there are only two candidates – or in a for-and-against referendum. In elections when there are lots of parties, all standing for different things, it’s hopeless. On the other hand, d’Hondt is designed for just that – it will allocate seats more or less proportionately between lots of parties standing for different things (though it discriminates against the smallest ones). It is useless at making a binary choice.

Yet it has for a long time been as clear as daylight that if we have EU elections next month they will be proxy for a new referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It would work if there were just two parties standing (though I suppose we would have to let the Labour lot in to provide a third choice for the fence-sitters.) In practice, there are going to be more serious contenders than ever. And there is a huge danger that Farage’s Brexit party will sweep up the Leavers and “top the poll” in both votes and seats, while the People’s Voters and Remainers are split umpteen ways.

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Desperate times call for despairing PR measures

As the UK stares down the barrel of Brexit, and after a Liberal Democrat conference which didn’t inspire any anticipation of an impending poll surge, the Liberal Democrats need to present a truly radical offering.

The state of UK politics is desperate. The Conservatives are incompetently led, and with eccentric right-wingers lying in wait to add their own special layers of incompetence when May eventually falls.

The Labour party are likewise incompetently led, with no immediate prospect of that situation being resolved either.

What should fill us all with foreboding is that these parties’ internal democracies have evolved to a point where they …

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Voting reform is vital for a more diverse Parliament

When Sal Brinton and I did the Hungry for Democracy fast last week, we did it to raise awareness of why we need a different voting system for Westminster so that we can get the Parliament we ask for.

Also in our minds was the fact that proportional voting systems give much more potential for a more diverse Parliament. An article on the Electoral Reform Society’s blog this week shows how our First Past the Post system is a barrier to gender equality. Basically, the safest seats are mostly held by men.

When each constituency has just one seat, only one MP can be elected to represent that area. This in itself quells diversity and competition.

Secondly, the majority of seats rarely change hands between different parties. So once an MP is elected to represent a ‘safe seat’ there is little chance of them losing a subsequent election.

Combined with the fact that incumbent MPs are very rarely deselected, it means ‘safe seat’ MPs have unrivalled job security. And, as the new research shows, the longer an MP has held their seat, the more likely they are to be men.

This represents a constant drag on women’s representation – unless there are real structural changes.

proportional voting system with multi-member seats would end seat blocking by adding much-needed competition: constituencies would be represented by multiple MPs, meaning no one could secure a monopoly on local representation

Sal talks about how, at current rates of progress, her baby granddaughters, two this Summer, will be in their ninth decade before gender equality is achieved.

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