The case for a pro-active campaign to force Constitutional reform

A BMG Research report published as-of 2019-11-29 (immediately prior to the 2019-12-12 UK Election) presented the results of a poll which interviewed a representative sample of 1,630 GB adults online.

The two main questions (and responses) were:

How much influence, if any, do you feel you have over decision-making in the country as a whole?
The responses were:

  1. A great deal of influence … 2%
  2. Some influence … 13%
  3. Not very much influence … 40%
  4. No influence at all … 40%
  5. I don’t know … 5%

Which of these statements best describes your opinion of how politics is working in the UK?
The responses were:

  • It is working extremely well and could not be improved … 2%
  • It could be improved in small ways but is generally working well … 14%
  • It could be improved quite a lot … 35%
  • It needs a great deal of improvement … 50%
  • I don’t know … 0%

Clearly, there was an appetite for reform. It is reasonable to assume that that appetite has grown since then. However, the supposedly-sovereign electors have never been offered a realistic opportunity to ‘indulge’ that appetite.

The responses to those two questions surely define a pivotal role for Liberal Democrats for the indefinite future. In a world in which respect for democracy itself is collapsing around us, the party should present itself as a beacon of:

  1. Proportional respect for the opinions and rights of all individual sovereign citizens (i.e. not just those wishing to nominate Liberal Democrats as their proxy in the UK Commons).
  2. Proportional respect for the politicians and policies of all parties (i.e. not just of Liberal Democrats).
  3. True-democracy, consensus-governance, honour, honesty, decency, and openness (i.e. as opposed to elected autocracy and alternating-hegemony for two self-serving covert-coalition parties).
  4. Take back control:
    • From the big beasts of covert-coalition parties.
    • To individual sovereign citizens (via proportional proxy-parties in the UK Commons).
    • Through constitutional reform.

However, there is no point in just standing for these principles, or even in just claiming to stand for these principles, or in offering a manifesto of worthy policy proposals for four-years of executive power built-on these principles, or in offering the leader of the Liberal Democrats as a candidate for Political Chief Executive of the UK (i.e. the UK Prime Minister). All such posturing was/is/would-be (rightly) interpreted as pure hubris. With the current (unfair and dysfunctional) UK electoral processes, everyone knows that Liberal Democrats stand no chance of forming the Political Executive of the UK, and therefore no chance of delivering on any such posturing.

Indeed, without constitutional reform (including, but not limited to, proportional representation in the Commons), it is reasonable to assume that there is a substantial level of resigned ad-hoc tactical-voting (i.e. away from wasted vote Parties such as the Liberal Democrats, to the least-bad of the two dominant covert-coalition parties).

However, a cross-party Campaign for Reform could offer a realistic opportunity to indulge the appetite for reform; based on a combination of:

  1. A pre-election Tactical-Voting arrangement to force a hung Commons (i.e. by unilaterally ‘gifting’ marginal seats from the stronger of Con and Lab to the weaker of Con and Lab, without any ‘whiff’ of the beneficiary Party ‘returning the favour’). The Liberal Democrats are uniquely-positioned with the elector-power to lead such an arrangement (i.e. leading the Green, SNP, Reform, and PC parties).
  2. A post-election Confidence-and-Supply arrangement (i.e. not a standing Alliance arrangement or a standing Coalition arrangement) with the least-obstructive of Con or Lab in a hung Commons; with control over the agenda for constitutional reform as the sole red line. The Scottish National Party is uniquely-positioned with the seat-power to lead such an arrangement (i.e. leading the Liberal Democrats, Green, Reform, and PC parties).

The most recent projections by Electoral Calculus (i.e. as-of 2022-02-01) suggests a default outlook of Con with 238 seats and Lab with 317 seats.

Optimized tactical voting (as above) in 40 marginal seats could reset this to Con with 278 seats and Lab with 277 seats.

However, electoral-reality is extremely volatile. Polling immediately prior to the next (final-FPTP) UK election may well suggest a default outlook anywhere between a Con ‘elected dictatorship’ and a LAB ‘elected dictatorship’.

However, an appropriate tactical-voting arrangement (i.e. as above) could easily ‘neutralize-to-hung’ any outlook between and including those extremes.

I would like to suggest, as follow-up to the Liberal Democrat PolicyLab process and/or as part of a Liberal Democrat Policy Working Group process, a series of moderated Zoom-type workshops (i.e. based on pre-distributed papers such as an extended version of this one) to develop this kind of proposal.

* Tim Knight is a LibDem member for 40 or so years and is a one-term member of the ERS Council. He is retired process engineer, with a long-term passionate interest in democratic governance (including, but not limited to electoral and governance processes).

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4 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 11th Feb '22 - 2:33pm

    Interesting read. You rightly identify that while the Liberal Democrats have more votes than any other party outside the big two, you also rightly identify that it is the SNP that is likely to be the largest party in the House of Commons other than the big two, and therefore the party most able to negotiate in an hung parliament situation. However, the SNP priority will be securing a legally recognised independence referendum rather than constitutional reform, so it is unlikely the SNP will use is seat-power in the way you hope. That said, the SNP believes in STV for elections and may be willing to be part of any campaign that seeks to raise the issue of the need for fairer votes at elections.

  • An ‘Agenda for Constitutional Reform’ could/should/would include the option/obligation for the Commons to include advisory/mandatory poll/referendum propositions in each election. This would be attractive option for the SNP.

  • I suggest that the party look towards new ways of enabling people to feel part of decision making. This could start by asking the questions given in Tim Knight’s paper, but asking them of party members about the party.
    The answers could inform work on how we can devise ways of actually using the kills we have in our country.

  • Most people are only interested in constitutional reform when the present arrangement effects them adversely. There are moments however when national issues raise awareness of the need for reform. The challenge is to use these moments to build sufficient momentun for meaningful change.

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