Why we need to Demand Democracy…

Today, Make Votes Matter have held Demand Democracy events around the country and Liberal Democrats have been out there campaigning for a fairer voting system.

Vince has been supporting the event on social media:

Our whole democracy really is a mess at the moment. Our key decisions may have been influenced by foreign powers in their own interests. Let’s face it, who gains from destabilising the EU – step forward one V Putin.

We don’t get the Parliament we asked for. If we did, we wouldn’t be in this mess. David Cameron wouldn’t have got a majority in 2015 and the EU referendum would never have been called. Holding binary referenda to decide complex issues is a tool of the despot. But it’s not just about the EU referendum. PR at Westminster would have meant that we wouldn’t have had the massive Thatcher and Blair majorities which, frankly, gave their governments way too much power to do what they liked without proper scrutiny. The quality of our government’s decisions would have been a lot better.

In Scotland, where we have PR, I think our legislative process is better and more thoughtful. I know, we have our moments and it is becoming more of a bunfight between cybernats and cybertories, but the political atmosphere is a lot better and there is less scapegoating of marginalised groups. There is more acceptance of the need for public services to treat people with dignity and respect and there is a much greater potential for consensus. The recent Social Security Bill is a case in point. The Government was not initially minded to include in the legislation a provision split payments to ensure that women had financial independence, but the consensus across the opposition parties (well, all except the Tories) won them round.

16 and 17 year olds can now vote in every election in Scotland except for Westminster – and it shows. They are engaged and interested and after it’s worked so well in the independence referendum, council elections and Holyrood elections, it should be extended to everyone across the UK.

People need to understand that a different voting system gives them more power. It pains me that 35 years after I first got involved in politics, we are still struggling by on an ancient relic of a voting system that has no place in the modern world, a system that suits the two most powerful political parties but lets the majority of the people down.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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17 Comments

  • John Marriott 1st Jul '18 - 10:07am

    Caron, I agree with you 110%! HOWEVER… the last (and possibly only) time we had a chance of changing the system, WE BLEW IT! The ‘Yes to AV’ campaign (which wasn’t even about PR) was frankly shedded by the Elliott/Cummins led ‘No’ campaign (remember them from the EU referendum?), which shamelessly peddled the kind of misstruths that were featured in 2016, using the image of Clegg on the doorstep of No 10 on several leaflets. By the way, why did the ‘Yes’ people rely almost exclusively on electronic media and ‘roadshows’ (whatever these are)? What was wrong with paper?

    Quite frankly, trying to get people excited about changing the voting system is like wrestling with treacle (or ploughing with dogs, as my wife’s late aunt used to say). However, I wish you luck!

  • What Dave said

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Jul '18 - 11:03am

    @john: Don’t get me started on the AV campaign. We should NEVER have signed up to that. We didn’t even love the system because it wasn’t proportional.

    @Dave, @Andrew and @Jennie Yes, we have STV for local government in Scotland and it works. but it’s not STV for Holyrood and it’s still better. Donald Gorrie was really pushing for STV at Holyrood. It would be much better but nobody is really making that argument at the moment.

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Jul '18 - 11:08am

    Caron,
    I would not have thought this a couple of years ago but you may, just may, be onto something with PR. The nation has never, in my lifetime (which is quite long) been more fed up with the political status quo than it is now.
    I wish the LibDems would stop wasting all their energy and eloquence trying to get the spilt milk of Brexit back in the bottle and take up this crusade and depict a future for the British not the endless refighting of the referendum.
    I would also offer that if this was combined with the abolition of the House of Lords ( a body with no legitimacy and widely despised) the LibDems could attract the nation’s attention. The public is looking for radical change.

  • @Innocent Bystander, I don’t think we should have only one House of Parliament, because it makes it too easy for them to make a mistake on the details of legislation.

    What we should do instead is to have two elected chambers. Whether you call one of them the “House of Lords” or not, I really don’t much care – if you want to call it a “Senate” instead, then I’d be fine with that – if you want to abolish the Lords in the sense of “… and replace it with a Senate”, then I’m with you entirely.

    We did try, during coalition, to elect the House of Lords (well, 80% of it; couldn’t talk the Tories out of the other 20%), but Labour and the Tory backbenchers blocked it.

  • Edward Allison 1st Jul '18 - 11:18am

    Dave is spot on

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Jul '18 - 11:38am

    Richard,
    I am with you on two houses but not both elected as they will argue over democratic primacy.
    My proposal is for a “House of the Voices”. It would be the same numbers as the HoC but not appointed by politicians. I would invite a list of organisations prominent in national life (all the Royal societies, the Professional Institutions, the religious faiths, the major charities) to second, at their selection, appointees for five years, at an MP’s salary and expenses. For example the Royal College of Nurses might get two seats. A Royal Commission would decide how many seats each organisation was offered (probably one seat or two). No overtly political organisation to be included and there would be a ‘chosen by ballot’ reservation of 25 or 50 seats from the myriad of small community groups and tiny charities (who wanted to enter the ballot).
    I see this as a way of getting real experts to come together but who bring no party allegiance baggage with them.

  • @Innocent Bystander: The Irish Senate works like you suggest, and what happens is that the political parties organise their supporters within those organisations to vote for a party candidate (so, farmers who support Fianna Fáil vote for a Fianna Fáil farmer, and then once elected they take the FF whip and don’t really represent farming at all). I’ve seen this suggested many times, but I can’t see how you stop party candidates from existing and (usually) winning.

    I suppose you could have the executive committee / board of directors / whatever of those organisations select someone rather than have an election of the wider membership – but then you’d get someone who represented the institution, so the Royal Society member would be there for the interests of the Royal Society, not for the interests of science, the RCN rep wouldn’t represent nursing, but the RCN as an organisation.

    If you could work out a system that addressed both of these concerns, then I might be interested – but I don’t know of one, and I used to support this idea until I looked into the way the Irish Senate works.

    As for your concern about two elected houses arguing over democratic primacy … I’m intrigued as to why you think that’s a problem.

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Jul '18 - 1:12pm

    Richard,
    I would be equally intrigued why you would think two democratically elected bodies would not disagree over which had the greater mandate.
    My proposal was certainly to have the leaderships of those bodies select the appointee. It was intended to include as much non-aligned talent as possible from the subject matter experts which those bodies contain.
    I accept that all trace of political alignment can not be removed from all representatives and of course the rep from the Chartered Accountancy could be a devout Marxist but I I believe the design of a second chamber should be to remove as much partisan politics as possible while including as much of our national reservoir of learning and expertise.
    Those who are skilled in political manoeuvring are probably the opposite in type to those who would be good at scrutiny and listening to other opinions.
    I also believe that a limited term element is essential. Looking at the list of Royal Societies and Professional bodies I can not but see a huge resource of talent and expert knowledge.

  • John Marriott 1st Jul '18 - 1:37pm

    Come on guys. If you are serious about PR, which, incidentally doesn’t mean an automatic Lib Dem government (but could mean a Lib Dem influenced government), stop agonising about what kind of system you want or any other nuances and potential structures ( which the regular LDV contributors seem to get off on) and concentrate on explaining to Joe Public (that, quite frankly, has other more pressing things on its mind at the moment) how it would work and, even more importantly, WHY it would be a whole lot better than the lottery we have at the moment. If we can’t do that, then, in Dave Page’s immortal words, we should “butt out”!

  • William Fowler 1st Jul '18 - 3:24pm

    Rule one should be to reduce the number of politicians and their cadre.
    Rule two should be take as much power as possible away from politicians and councils.
    Rule three should be much expanded referendum via online and smart phone voting with some small fiscal incentive for the voters to put in the time via the tax system.

  • I think besides civil liberties, proportional representation is just about the only thing that the Lib Dems are known for consistently supporting. Otherwise the party ranges from “too left for labour” types to “privatise the NHS” orange bookers. I agree there should be more clarity on which form of PR.

    The party has waffled on so many other things – for example, now it claims the EU referendum was a mistake, but around 2008/2009 it was a core Clegg-supported policy.

    Anyone else enjoy the dig at BJ and the Lib Dems by Hands? “It’s also a debate about being true to your word and to your election pledges.”

  • @William Fowler I disagree with you on all three points!

    > Rule one should be to reduce the number of politicians and their cadre.

    Disagree. I think one of the strengths of the UK system is that MPs have relatively small constituencies, so they are in touch with local issues.

    > Rule two should be take as much power as possible away from politicians and councils.

    And give it to who?

    > Rule three should be much expanded referendum via online and smart phone voting with some small fiscal incentive for the voters to put in the time via the tax system.

    Not sure about referenda, but online voting seems too wide open to abuse and fraud.

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