We need to look forward. Let’s start with electoral reform

This is not a great day, the referendum is over. Remain lost. We can put away our posters, our hyperbole and our support for George, Dave and Jeremy. There is work to be done.

Perhaps more clear than a desire to leave the European Union. The result and accompanying commentary illuminates the stark divisions in our society. This was not just a no to the EU, its rules, and its immigration policy, it was a slap in the face of the political establishment. Yet the decision will not be an easy one to reverse, if possible at all. The recurring position of the EU was that out is out, to conspire through political back channels to return us to the union would be undemocratic and illiberal. Perhaps the only situation where this is possible would be if an election was called by the new Conservative leader before the activation of article 50, and the winning party stood on a manifesto on returning. Even still it is unlikely and our efforts would be better spent on working for a liberal, outward looking Britain moving forward than undermining the British public. 52% of such a large turnout is a mandate greater than that of most sitting governments.

The words narrow-minded and bigoted have been thrown around but that is an unfair assessment. This was a case where large parts of Britain, rightly or wrongly, felt disenfranchised from the state, that the elites at Brussels and by proxy Westminster were not acting in their interest. Healing these wounds will not be an easy task and our political system is the first hurdle. We need an electoral system which engages rather than divides and disenfranchises voters. Our present system is not fit for purpose in such fragmented times, forcing people into a two party system based on fear of the alternative. This has resulted in our present predicament where neither the Conservatives or Labour represented their membership and anti-institution movements such as Vote Leave can thrive.

A central element of the Eurosceptic position in the debate was the lack of democracy in the Brussels system. Whilst in the referendum this sentiment favoured Vote Leave, the momentum from the campaign on this front could provide dividends in a push for democratic reform. If we are going to go it on our own, we should at least have a fairer, more engaging electoral system when doing so. The European Commission has been a particular target throughout this referendum, yet It can comfortably be said that our own House of Lords is hardly a beacon for democracy and transparency. As a first major change to make sure our country survives Brexit, we need a truly democratic system to keep the sitting government in check.

Our fast growth of membership today has shown people are drawn to a vision of an open, optimistic and internationalist Britain. We can still be outward looking. We can still work with Europe. We can still fight for liberty, freedom and fairness. But we have to face the coming challenges head on, and have the systems in place to do this.

* Connair Russell is a Lib Dem member and Social and Cultural Psychology MSc student at the London School of Economics

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  • “our present predicament where neither the Conservatives or Labour represented their membership”

    Judging by the results, a large majority of Conservatives voted Leave, and an even larger majority of Labour voted Remain, suggesting that, in fact, Labour did represent their membership and the Tories did not. 65% of the leave vote consisted of Tories and UKIP. 51% of the Remain vote consisted of Labour and Liberal Democrats.

    That said, it’s clear that a large minority of Labour voters and an even larger minority of Conservatives are simply in the wrong party.

  • Peter Davies 25th Jun '16 - 3:01pm

    The key democratic deficit that this campaign identified is not disproportionality but centralisation. The North, Midlands and South West believed rightly that their laws were being made by out of touch politicians in a city far to the South East which they incorrectly identified as Brussels.

  • Boris, Gove etc. challenged the weakness of an EU democratic decision process so now they must back opening up democracy in the UK, right? They surely can’t march on imposing contracts, cutting short money, changing boundaries, restricting rights, creating a larger and larger House of Lords, refusing debates and using negative campaigning tactics.

  • I agree with everything you’ve said. Lib Dems for Electoral Reform are submitting a motion to conference, you can view it here and e-mail if you would like to support it: http://lder.org/conference-motion-prioritising-proportional-representation

    I think we ‘re going to have to work cross-party to get electoral reform, and really we will likely need the support of the Labour party. I think our own attempts to change the House of Lords while in coalition shows how difficult this is going to be (and the less said about the AV referendum the better), and we have to keep campaigning for it.

  • Electoral reform by itself will fail – we need a charter of political reform to address the problems of a broken political system and an electoral pact with a commitment to another general election within a year after the reforms have been implemented.

  • We’ve already got PR in Scotland for non-Westminster elections.

    Don ‘t be too surprised if it’s a case of, “No thanks, and goodbye England” in a year or two. There might even be – heaven forbid – a move for a joint Ulster/Scotland realignment.

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