Tim Farron writes… Fairer Votes: so close we can almost touch it

With just three weeks to go until the Scottish, Welsh and local elections as well as a little thing we like to call the most important referendum of our lives so far, this really is the final push to the finish line.

Let’s not pretend that our national poll ratings are going to give us a boost on the ground because they are not. Normally at this time of year we are preparing to buck national trends and create our own local success stories. Back in 1989, when the Lib Dems were on a poll rating of 0%, we’d just had the merger. I was out on the campaign trail with my local councillor Neva Orrel who was working her socks off to get re-elected. With national poll ratings at an all time low back then we thought we were facing defeat but Neva dug in, did everything right and staggered her opponents (and her 19 year old assistant) when she bucked the trend, winning her seat with a whopping 56% of the vote.

This year is no different, except that we are registering a towering 11% at the moment. In these last 20 days it is absolutely vital that you get out there and work harder than ever before because that is the only way we can buck the current national trend.
It has often been said that the best thing the national party can do in a local campaign is not to make things any worse! However, it is essential that we remain proud of what our party has achieved over the past year. We have from gone for near total wipeout 20 years ago to a party of Government, sitting in the hot seat for the first time in over 65 years with a real opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.

Last week we lifted 900,000 of the poorest paid people out of income tax altogether and a further 23 million people are now paying £200 less in income tax each year. We’ve also ensured there is a £2.5billion pupil premium to support children from the poorest backgrounds through their early education. These are the real differences we are making and these are the messages we should be proud of when we are on the doorstep.

Fairer Votes is another major ambition that is now so close we can almost touch it. In addition to the local, Welsh and Scottish elections May 5th will also see the country vote for the first time ever on how they would like to choose their MPs. For the first time in our lifetimes genuine electoral reform is within our grasps but if we don’t win, then it could be the last time in our lifetimes.

The Fairer Votes referendum is our big chance to ensure that decisions about the future of our country are made by politicians who have earned their votes and proved themselves worthy of their position by being elected by over 50% of voters.

But we will not win if we don’t get everyone involved in the fight to the finish line. There are so many ways you can get involved from a simple poster in your window to finding your local group and helping with delivery and street stalls. No matter what you choose to do, please just do something, because the prospect of Fairer Votes is one that is so exciting that I daren’t even discuss what it would be like if we lose.

So it’s time to take everything that you have been taught by ALDC, the campaigns department and your local party on board and be prepared to knock on twice as many doors, deliver 3 times as many leaflets and put up 4 times as many posters and stakeboards in order to win.

And while you’re at it, remember to tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter that you’ve been out campaigning – and encourage them to do the same! Get the new Campaigners’ Facebook app.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I’ll be voting yes but it’s a lost cause. It was obvious last May that AV was the wrong fight at the wrong time.

  • There appears to be a concerted attempt to keep saying that the pupil premium has delivered when there’s a lot of evidence that you have had the wool pulled over your collective eyes…


    Or worse you actually know that it has……….

  • I’ll be voting NO to AV. It is not a good system at all where BNP supporters can decide who the MP is.

    It will also be too costly to implement AV and it would mean that we wouldn’t be able to know results so soon after the election since we will have to go through many rounds of counting to know the result.

    I have a bad feeling that Yes will win due to high turnout in Scotland, where they are more pro-AV and low turnout in parts of England which seems to be more anti-AV

  • @Tim Farron

    Keep hoping. The latest YouGov poll shows: No to AV 44% Yes to AV 37%

    AV is not about fair votes it’s about more votes for Liberal Democrats


    You may be right about Scotland. The Scots loathe the Tories and will not want to give the Tories what they want. And, of course, the Tories want FPTP But will the English want to give Clegg what he wants?

  • Timber Wolf 15th Apr '11 - 5:08pm

    The Tory Press is mounting a massive anti-AV campaign. We shall have to see whether the majority of the people in the country, who did not see their vote going to elect an MP under FPTP, turn out to vote for AV.

  • @MacK

    So giving Tories and Labour seats they don’t deserve based on their share of the vote is a good thing, is it? What on earth are you talking about? FPTP is a failure and a total stitch up by the old duopoly and you know it. How fair is it that I’ve got a Labour MP when 65% of people in my seat voted against her?


    “It is not a good system at all where BNP supporters can decide who the MP is.” What about a system where a few thousand voters in swing seats get to decide who governs the country i.e. FPTP. Is that supposed to be a good system? What about the fact that under FPTP a few thousand voters voting for UKIP meant Tories didn’t get in. In many seats people who voted BNP instead of voting Labour will also have cost them their majority and meant a different MP got in. How many seats were decided as a result of that under FPTP? Basically your argument is a load of nonsense. The fact is that AV ensures that whoever gets in has the maximum backing from the voters, whereas FPTP doesn’t.
    By the way, the BNP opposes AV.
    As regards the cost, how much are the No camp saying it will cost this week, exactly?

  • @chigsee

    And BNP supporters don’t have their say in an FPTP election precisely because … ?

  • I’ll be voting no to AV too, I’m sorry but it’s not a big enough improvement on FPTP to make it worthwhile and all this talk of giving seats to people who don’t get 50% of the vote isn’t going to change under AV, plenty of people will be considered to have not voted when that 50% under AV is reached, even though they did vote.

    AV remains a miserable little compromise.

  • @RC

    FPTP produces strong government. That means that a political party which attains a parliamentary majority can do exactly what it says on the tin. That is, enact its manifesto. AV will produce more coalitions which means that parties will dump their manifestos and produce stitched up agreements in closed rooms which nobody voted for. I have the example of this present shower in mind as I write. This lot aren’t even enacting their coalition agreement. There was nothing in it about abolishing PCTs for example. That’s not democratic.

  • Paul McKeown 15th Apr '11 - 9:01pm


    Pretending two thirds of the electorate does not exist under FPTP is certainly a very poor pretence of democracy.

  • @MacK What produces coalitions is people voting for parties other than the main two – that’s a trend that is unstoppable. Even FPTP can’t fight that.

  • AV does not do away with tactical voting at all, there will be plenty of circumstances where people vote tactically, if anything it increases tactical voting.

  • @Paul McKeown

    “Pretending two thirds of the electorate does not exist under FPTP is certainly a very poor pretence of democracy.”

    Of course I’m not pretending they don’t exist. They’re the ones who LOST. Everyone wants to come first but unfortunately there can only be one winner so everyone else has to lose. Most people are mature enough to accept that. But not the Liberal Democrats it seems.

  • @MacK

    A “strong government” would be one that forces policies the majority don’t want down their throats, only to be reversed through massive swings of policy five years later, would it? I think that’s the kind of “strong government” you are talking about. Are you saying Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland etc suffer because they don’t have our brilliant system of “strong governments”?

    The more I hear from MacK, the more I despair of the level of debate about the AV referendum.

  • @MacK

    “Of course I’m not pretending they don’t exist. They’re the ones who LOST.”

    Your attitude encapsulates everything that is wrong with FPTP and a profound ignorance of what modern democracy is supposed to be.

  • conservative 15th Apr '11 - 11:04pm

    if AV is so good why does both Australia and Fiji want to get rid of it?

    why is a someone else’s third or fourth preference vote worth what your first preference vote is worth in some cases?

    why do we want to make the liberal democrats kingmakers at every election (because let’s face it all the other small parties are going to see no change in the number of seats they gte under AV as projections have shown)?

    Why do we want more coalitions when this one has shown how easy it is (both Tory and Lib Dem) to break promises and pledges on the basis of compromise?

    Why do you say MPs will get 50% of the vote when that includes 2nd, 3rd and fourth preferences in the tally which clearly aren’t as good as a first preference?

    Why do you say MPs will require 50% of the vote when it is perfectly possible for MPs to be elected with less than that because not everyone will use their preferences?

    Why do you suddenly agree with a voting system that you have had prominent members of your party dismiss (I won’t bother quoting Nick again)…?

    Why do you say the BNP want FPTP when we all know the reason they are against AV is because they want STV like you the liberal democrats?

    Why do you say that AV will get rid of safe seats when it catergorically will not affect seats where the incumbent has more than 50% of the vote already – ie a safe seat?

    Why do you think that the least unpopular candidate is better than the most popular?

    Why do you say that there is a trend of fewer people voting for the two largest parties when current polls have them up considerably on the last election purely because lib dem support has dropped like a rock?

    If you can explain these I will vote yes on 5th May…:)

  • @ consrvative “Why do you say MPs will require 50% of the vote when it is perfectly possible for MPs to be elected with less than that because not everyone will use their preferences?”

    Exactly! The level of debate on both sides has been poor, I am in favour of a more representative voting system, but AV isn’t it.

  • @Robert C
    AV would allow parasitic parties like the Liberal Democrats to remain in a state of permanent symbiosis. Out-Torying the Tories in one term of coalition and then joining with Labour in the next term of coalition to roll back all the policies that they (the Lib Dems) introduced when they were in coalition with the Tories. That’s why AV is anathema to all those who want strong, principled government and not a vehicle for carpet baggers.

  • @Mark Johnston there are a number of ways you can vote tactically under AV.

    You can vote for a candidate other than your preferred candidate in the belief that this will help eliminate the party who are the strongest threat to your preferred candidate, for examplue under FPTP

    Conservative 16,000
    Lib Dem 9,000
    Labour 8,000

    A couple of thousand Tories give first preference to Labour, eliminating the Lib Dems under the assumption that enough Lib Dems will give second preference to the Tories to give them a comfortable victory over Labour in the next round.

    The more likely scenario though for tactical voting is exactly the same as we have now for FPTP, where people don’t feel their preferred candidate will win, they will vote for another candidate in the hope of preventing the candidate they most dislike from winning.

    The order of preferences is very tactical.

  • conservative 16th Apr '11 - 11:55am

    @ Mark

    well at least we can agree to disagree then – and your spelling of disingenuous was I think spot on (although I am not sure fair given that Clegg and Huhne have turned on a six-pence to support AV)…

    Can I just ask then one question which is why it is right to have the lib dems as kingmakers at each election because (and I really hope you agree) we have seen manifesto promises and pledges forgotten as a result of coalition – doesn’t this make politicians less accountable?

  • richard heathcote 16th Apr '11 - 2:44pm

    one of the things about AV people harp on about is that it will require over 50% of the people who vote to win the seat but what if this is a low turnout with say 50% voting, and then from a low turnout imagine if it required of the 50% put the eventual winner as 1st preference leaving 50% of the vote coming from 2nd 3rd 4th or 5th selections is it really any better? if my 5th option won for instance in a vote where only half of the electorate voted i still wouldnt feel that much happier then if it was someone id not voted for. It is still hardly an endorsement of the person selected in that seat. we will end up with people in parliament who potentially are the first choice candidate for 25% of the voters. that doesnt seem any better than the current system.

    I think the system is poor it doesnt offer any more than FPTP does really.

  • The reason that this country has never elected a government of the BNP or other extremists is because of the First Past the Post system. AV could produce a situation where these people hold the balance of power. I don’t call that democracy. I call it frightening!

  • conservative 16th Apr '11 - 6:45pm

    @ Mark

    ‘not having enough MPs to out vote both the Tories and Labour on increasing fees?’

    I think you will agree that even not having enough MPs to vote out a policy isn’t an excuse to vote for it – take for examble the notorious Tory vote against the repeal of section 28 – saying that the vote (because Labour had a majority) was lost doesn’t make that Conservative vote any less terrible so if the Liberals has really wanted to keep their principles they could have voted against.

    ‘not thinking through the reality of university funding?’

    Again why do you say this when your party was the only one to have actually been shown not to have thought this through.

    But when i say broken manifesto pledges I am not even just talking about the ‘soundbites’ like tuition fees, what about NHS reform, nuclear power, inheritance tax…different people across the country voted for these or had them thrust upon them by the coalition when they didn’t know they were coming – as a Conservative I was surprised to see these NHS reforms, as a student I was surprised by the Lib Dem loss of principle.

    I think AV makes coalitions more likely; I think coalitions break promises even more than majority govts.

  • @MacK AV won’t give the BNP any balance of power, the biggest argument against AV is that it is in all reality, absolutlely no better than FPTP when it comes to representing views, once we get into second, thrid, and fourth preference, we’re into tactical voting and people going for the candidate they like more than the other one.

    There is no point in a change to AV, it’s not fairer voting, it’s just trying to tick a box to say someone liked this guy more than another guy.

  • Where does ‘Conservative’ get this notion that Australia wishes to dispense with AV and return to FPTP? One opinion poll perhaps? I live in Australia and he is simply WRONG. Stick to UK politics, Conservative! Don’t discuss subjects you no nothing about-you just make yourself look foolish.

  • @Anthony

    I hope you’re right Anthony. But remember that an English Democrat Mayor was elected in Doncaster under AV. The candidate came second in the poll but won on the second preferences. And of course, Yorkshire has two BNP MEPs who were elected on a Party List PR system. It seems that once you stray from FPTP the extreme parties get the advantage of the thin end of the wedge.

  • A further thought Anthony: if you were the BNP would you admit that AV was good for you? It would put people off voting for it. I think that’s why they ostensibly support FPTP. But I think they, like UKIP and all the smaller parties, are hoping for AV.

  • @MacK Two points really, the BNP prefer the party list system, and as you point out, it’s not hard to see why. The other point is that as unpalatable as it is, people do vote for them and therefore there’s an argument that if they get enough votes, then democratically they should get representation.

    AV nationally won’t do anything for the BNP, local elections it probably will give them a small boost.

  • @Anthony.

    “The other point is that as unpalatable as it is, people do vote for them and therefore there’s an argument that if they get enough votes, then democratically they should get representation.”

    Well, as a democrat I can’t disagree with that. But I’m not going to make it more easy for them so I’m voting to retain FPTP.

  • john harrison 18th Apr '11 - 10:49pm

    I run a charitable group the members of which are suffering because of the cuts made, not by the local authority, but by Mr Cameron and his Coalition. So although I have a postal vote I will abstain in the vote for AV, only because with jobs and all sorts services being at risk I object to any amount of money being spent on a referendum which is an exercise that is totally unnecessary at this moment in time

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