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.

But our diverse communities have different beliefs and interests that cannot be truly represented under FPTP. The policing bill before parliament jeopardizes our basic civil liberties and will significantly reduce our right to peacefully protest. The right to protest has driven positive change, time and time again. It is fundamental to any democracy; fundamental for communities to be heard. And yet there is a sense of powerlessness to stop it from becoming law because of the Government’s huge majority gifted to them thanks to FPTP.

And of course, there can be improvements made to the way our Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are elected. The supplementary voting system used in May’s elections is far from perfect but if Home Secretary Priti Patel has her way, future elections for these officials would move to FPTP. That kind of voting reform is the complete opposite to how Liberal Democrats view this important issue. I will certainly continue to oppose any attempt to change mayoral and PCC elections to First Past the Post.

To paint a picture of what good democracy looks like, there is only one place to start, and that’s with voting reform. A proportional voting system delivers a more consensus-based democracy in which no single party dominates. The complete antithesis of the way Westminster works. That is why, as Liberal Democrats, we believe that changing the voting system is key to unlocking fairness, where people can feel represented at the ballot box.

Better democracy would strengthen accountability and improve transparency.  We should keep ranked ballots for single winner elections like Mayors and PCCs. And moving to forms of Proportional Representation for UK general elections as well as all local councils is the change we so desperately need.

That’s why I’m lending my support to Make Votes Matter’s summer day of action on Saturday 31st July.  Make Noise for PR will bring together people from across the UK to condemn these attacks on our democracy, united in a common goal to win equal votes.

You should too. We must break the silence on our undemocratic voting system.

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat Leader of the House of Commons and the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Justice and Women and Equalities

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18 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 25th Jul '21 - 11:00am

    It’s a pity this article combines an attack on voter ID requirements with a critique of the failings of FPTP. While almost everyone reading this site will believe that voting should be as fair as possible, there will be very few who will agree that voting should be open to abuse. The fact that electoral fraud has not been an issue until now is not an argument to protect the integrity of our democracy in advance of electoral fraud becoming an issue. Is it really sensible to wait until we are faced with a very close election where it emerges that electoral fraud could have made the difference to the result? That is a foolproof way to undermine support and respect for our democratic system. So let us campaign against unfair voting systems but campaign for secure voting procedures.

  • Vera, You’ve missed the most dastardly attack on our freedoms; the freedom to hold those in power to account for the abuse of that power…”Legislation to counter state threats” is a blatant attempt to treat the media and their sources as traitors…

    As Nick Cohen (Guardian) writes,,, “it (the government)has decided there can be no public interest defence for an unauthorised disclosure. An official or reporter will not be able to escape jail by saying they had exposed an abuse of power. The requirement that the government has to prove that an unauthorised disclosure has caused damage will go, too. The leak may be in the public interest. It may not have harmed national security or interfered with an operation against organised crime. No matter. Both source and reporter are guilty.

    The government website states “This consultation sets out the government’s proposals and seeks input to inform the final policy and legislative proposals.” At their core the legislative proposals in the consultation seek to do 3 things:

    1.modernise existing counter espionage laws to reflect the modern threat and modern legislative standards
    2. create new offences, tools and powers to detect, deter and disrupt hostile activity in and targeted at the UK
    3. improve our ability to protect official data and ensure the associated offences reflect the greater ease at which significant harm can be done..

    Big Brother is watching you!

  • Brad Barrows 25th Jul ’21 – 11:00am….. The fact that electoral fraud has not been an issue until now is not an argument to protect the integrity of our democracy in advance of electoral fraud becoming an issue………….

    OMG, the language of the absolute dictator..”X, Y, Z, have never been a problem but let’s outlaw them ‘just in case’!”
    This government is rife with lies, cronyism and downright sleaze (even our supine media are exposing their shennanigans)..As my previous post points out, their latest response is a ‘consultation’that will be used to make public exposure a crime comparable with espionage.
    To rephrase your second sentence…”While almost everyone reading this site will believe that voting should be as fair as possible, there will be very few who will agree that voting should be made less fair under the umbrella of a problem that hasn’t and doesn’t exist.”.

  • Cj Williams 25th Jul '21 - 4:24pm

    “But our diverse communities have different beliefs and interests that cannot be truly represented under FPTP.” Where is the evidence for this statement. Are these communities unrepresented in the physical sense and you feel that this is the problem or are the specific needs and desires of the communities being ignored?
    “A proportional voting system delivers a more consensus-based democracy in which no single party dominates” Is this the fabled progressive alliance/majority that is so much talked about? Or is it simply a way to remove any chance of a conservative government.
    Could it be that the Liberal Democrats and what appears to be an increasing number of Labour members wish to change the voting system in order to change the result?
    Could it be that in a competition of ideas the Liberal Democrats simply failing to engage with the people?
    Democracy is a competition, a philosophical war, if you are losing the war then you must transform your ideas in a way that captivates the Great Britain that is and not the GB that you think it is.

  • George Thomas 25th Jul '21 - 6:23pm

    “The fact that electoral fraud has not been an issue until now is not an argument to protect the integrity of our democracy in advance of electoral fraud becoming an issue. Is it really sensible to wait until we are faced with a very close election where it emerges that electoral fraud could have made the difference to the result? ” (Brad Barrows 25th Jul ’21 – 11:00am)

    I agree that the LD’s are making a weak argument against ID cards based on this reasoning but I also agree it’s a move being made by Tories to advantage themselves rather than protect democracy, and that other forms of voting are more open to fraud than in-person voting but no action is being taken elsewhere.

    How likely is in-person fraud? How likely is it to work so changes result of an election or for it to be caught immediately? How likely is it that ID cards fixes this issue? What damage does it do in return? These questions are more important that whether it has happened historically.

  • CJW asks if it’s about ‘changing the result’ – well to a fairer one, yes. In 2019, it took 334,122 to elect each Liberal Democrat; 50,817 to elect each Labour MP; and just 38,300 votes to elect each Conservative MP. Meanwhile, Scotland and Wales have an element of PR, so why would it be so terrible to extend that to Westminster elections?

  • John Marriott 25th Jul '21 - 8:12pm

    I believe in PR because it’s fair to all parties; not because I think it will deliver a Lib Dem government. Provided that you get at least 5% of the popular vote, then if, say, you get 10% of the votes cast, you should get 10% of the MPs.

    As for proving who you are when you go to vote, why NOT a very simple photo ID card? If you’ve got nothing to hide….? In any case, there’s always the Polling Card.

  • Helen Dudden 25th Jul '21 - 9:41pm

    Our country is a total mess. That’s about all we can honestly say.

    Was Dawn Butler right to call the Prime Minister a li..?

    I thought that we needed human rights, freedom, to have justice. But justice should be just. It should serve all fairly.

  • Brad Barrows 25th Jul '21 - 9:55pm

    @expats
    I think it is well over the top to suggest that passing a law to make electoral fraud more difficult is something that you could expect from a dictator. The reality is that changing the law to require voters to produce some form of identification Merely brings us into line with most other democratic countries.

  • James Fowler 25th Jul '21 - 10:27pm

    Conservative attempts to extend FPTP are clearly a form of gerrymandering, though it could cost them dear in some scenarios as we saw in 97, 01 and 05. Voter ID is awkward as clearly electoral fraud needs to be taken seriously, yet measures to prevent it will inevitably bear more heavily on those less well resourced and integrated into the wider social fabric.

  • John Marriott 26th Jul '21 - 8:31am

    @Helen Duden
    Was Dawn Butler right to call Johnson a “liar”? Well, they used to say there are ‘white’ lies and perhaps, to use the other end of the colour spectrum, it could be argued there are ‘black’ lies as well. If you argue that ‘black lies matter’, then you should also conclude that ‘white lies matter’. So, ‘ALL lies matter’, surely. But do they?

  • Phil Wainewright 26th Jul '21 - 8:56am

    CJW writes “Democracy is a competition, a philosophical war.”

    Good grief. Democracy is how society reconciles different views to arrive at a mutually agreed course of action. When it becomes a battle for one side to dictate its views to the rest of us, we all lose.

  • Rif Winfield 26th Jul '21 - 9:40am

    CJW misses the point about the evils of FPTP. It isn’t simply about altering the numbers of MPs in order to give the parties the number of seats proportionate to their voters. It’s essentially about VOTER CHOICE. The present electoral system gives the elector a single choice – once every five years – to elect the representative of their choice; and usually that means choosing the least worse alternative. The elector has NO CHOICE for the rest of that Parliament, up to five years, and has to put up with a single nominal representative, who may be diametrically hostile to everything the elector believes in. Having multi-member constituencies gives the elector the CHOICE of having someone to represent their views (or at least picking someone closer to their views) THROUGHOUT the entire Parliament.

  • If we are so against Voter ID, are we campaigning to abolish it in Northern Ireland? Are we speaking up for those disenfranchised over there? If not, why not? Are Northern Irish voters somehow less important or less trustworthy than those in England and Wales?

    It’s a shame that the excellent points on FPTP are combined with the much weaker comments on Voter ID (as Brad Barrows has pointed out) as it dilutes the laser-like focus we need against FPTP.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jul '21 - 1:14pm

    @tpfkar
    “If we are so against Voter ID, are we campaigning to abolish it in Northern Ireland?”
    A fair question – but it might be worth thinking about why it was introduced there.

    https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/voter-fraud-endemic-since-the-foundation-of-northern-ireland-study-35835051.html

    I recall the phrase “Vote early vote often” being in use…

  • John Shoesmith 27th Jul '21 - 8:14pm

    While I could not agree more that the voting system in this country is flawed, it isn’t going to change soon for three reasons:

    1. Proportional Representation was heavily rejected in 2011.

    2. Many British people like the strong governments produced by the FPTP system.

    3. The parliamentary hiatus during 2016 to 2019 confirmed their belief that strong government is important. Many who voted for Johnson in 2019 didn’t support Brexit, they just wanted strong government.

    So for us the lesson is clear. Learn to win under FPTP.

    Taking the US example, Johnson equates to the Republicans – a broad coalition of the right.

    Labour, LibDems and Greens equates to the Democrats – but these parties don’t seem able to form a coalition, despite having broadly similar objectives. The result is that they split the vote, their voters are inadequately represented, and they lose out time after time.

    Sort it out, please, Johnson is blighting the futures of our children.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Jul '21 - 11:46am

    John Marriott. Of course, not telling the truth matters. To lie or not tell the truth, not state the situation, as it should be told.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Aug '21 - 3:49pm

    Well said Wera. If you add campaigning for a written constitution delivered by deliberative democracy and you have my vote. Voting reform is essential though sadly not the complete solutiion to our broken democracy.

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