Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 7 May 2010

PR is a red line for me in any coalition

Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to learn that as far as I am concerned, a referendum on electoral reform to a more proportional system is a red line for me in any coalition negotiations now we are in a balanced parliament situation. The fact that we increased our vote share by 1% to 23% yesterday but our number of seats fell by nearly 10% just underlines (yet again) how broken our electoral system is.

The Labour Party are already offering such a referendum. However there are a number of problems in considering joining with them. For example, whilst Brown is still leader I would not countenance any deal with Labour whatsoever and I know many Lib Dems feel the same. Also, Lib Dem and Labour combined will not quite have enough seats to form a majority government.

None of the problems with that though are insurmountable in my view and if a deal cannot be reached with David Cameron then I think it would be a valid option to pursue with Labour however I think Nick Clegg is right to say that Cameron has the first shot at trying to agree a deal.

I know that many Conservatives are opposed to electoral reform to a proportional system (with the odd exception such as Douglas Carswell). However I think that rather than the messy idea Cameron has come up with thus far of yet another committee to look into it (i.e. kick it into the long grass) he needs to do much better. He needs to offer a referendum.

I would not expect the Conservative Party to campaign for a yes vote. Indeed I would expect them to do the exact opposite. But the public should be given the chance to decide. Their attention has been starkly drawn to what I think are the deficiencies of the existing system during this election campaign. The Conservatives think that despite these, FPTP is the best system. They have a number of arguments that they think back this up. I don't agree with them but it is fair enough for them to think this. They need to have the courage of their convictions and to be willing to argue their case in front of the electorate. Who knows, maybe they will be able to convince the public that they are correct and we should stick with the status quo.

If Cameron cannot or will not offer this then there is another party who despite the difficulties mentioned above is offering it. Hopefully this will focus Mr Cameron's mind.

On many other policies I am more willing to compromise and from what I have seen of Cameron's suggestions I think there is ample scope for agreement. PR is a red line for me though.

So that's what I think. If you are a Lib Dem member, the Federal Executive of the party wants to know your views too. Have a look at this post on Lib Dem Voice for details of how to make sure your view is represented to them. You need to do it before they meet at 2pm tomorrow.

Rest assured I will be sending them my thoughts imminently.

UPDATE: When I posted this yesterday I was very tired not having slept for more than 36 hours and I realise now I did not mention a specific PR system. To be clear, I favour Single Transferable Vote with multi-member constituencies.


Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

If Clegg is not too dismayed by what full media exposure of Lib Dem policies has done to the electorate's opinion of his party, he should keep in mind that his real strategic aim is replacing New Labour. That party has no reason to exist if the Lib Dems can seem a credible prospective government in fact.

Coalition (in a joint and therefore uncertain minority) with New Labour (even without the appalling Brown) is unlikely to further that strategic aim: with the Conservatives it might have more chance, but that is far from clear.

Nice though that our opinions no longer count: smoke-filled room decision making by the political classes ftw!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark,

I've sent them my opinion. Here's what I've said:

I'd just like to offer my opinion as a member of the Gedling Liberal Democrats in Nottingham. I believe you are seeking opinions for the federal executive committee on the situation, on the hung parliament.

I see a few options, which have obviously been explored already in the party and the media. I think I should mention some advantages a disadvantages that occur to me:

1) Coalition with the Tories. This ensures we are backing the winning party. I can't see any other advantages though - I do not think that the Tories will be honest with us. If they support a referendum on PR, they will spend millions fighting a campaign to get the public to vote against it. If they give policy concessions, they won't be big ones, and any cabinet positions for the Lib Dems are likely to lead us to be marginalised and ignored. In addition, many members will be very, very alienated by this move. I would have a difficult choice continuing my party membership if I found that we had not got a fair deal from this. If we were exploited by the Tories, it really would do us a lot of damage as a party. It has the impression of making us look less independent as a party, and damming our chances of picking up any of the voters from Labour, that we might in the future.

2) Coalition with Labour (without Gordon Brown). This has many problems. The good things are that we will have a progressive alliance. Most of the party would be comfortable with this I believe. From Nick's point of view, so long as he is seen to attempt to negotiate with the Tories, then it is an option. However, it might very well anger Tory voters. It would have to be a short, fixed term government, specifically targeted to voting reform, stability and another election. It could backfire, but if it got us electoral reform, then the additional votes from the left, and the increased choice for voters could be worth it. It's almost like a potential suicide mission - but in a lot of ways, a noble one. On the other hand, it could really alienate voters, and make Nick look dishonest.

3) Neither. Just step aside and abstain on the queen's speech vote. Keep an arms distance between Lib Dems and the other parties. Negotiate with Labour and the minor parties on passing bills. Let the Tories flounder on some things, but support them on areas where we agree. This would give us a great deal of power in parliament, but would show that no one could buy our help. That could also do a lot of good bringing Labour around to our cause at the grassroots - they would need our votes, as would the tories. Agreeing to support basic principles of certain economic issues (to ensure a stable government) would be enough concessions to give, without sullying ourselves in the way that a formal coalition does. It would also allow a role for the other minor parties, which could be a democratising force. We could in fact, act as moderators between the Tories and Labour.

I hope the temptation of power doesn't sway the shadow cabinet too much. We really need to be careful about this - we can't trust either party for sticking to their promises. The Tories have much more to lose than they have to gain by supporting PR, and other major policy changes, and Labour are too desperate to have thought through the party consequences of supporting the coalition, and might well go back on any promises too when their party gets involved.

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

I agree PR is a red line that must not be crossed. It must never be conceded.

For example the Free Democrats stayed permanently in Government in Germany by swapping partnership between the Christian and Social Democrats.

Or in Italy it was impossible to get rid of corrupt politicians at the top of party lists.

And which system? STV? Why should someones second or third choice be as important as my first choice? Why should someones trivial fifth choice cancel my first choice?

Unknown said...

I am in total agreement with you. Electoral reform is the single most important thing on the table. I do not want Clegg to back down on this.

I have sent my opinion in.

Dan said...

I think that to say that referendum must be guaranteed is wrong.

as it is you have conservative reform is little more than just equalising constituency boundaries (i.e no longer will my vote only be worth 1/6th the vote of my neighbours down the road)

Labour calling for an AV which will do little more than continue the current tactical vote shenanigans of lets vote to keep people out.

(which as a lib dem you arguably can't support? how many lib votes to the torys have been lost in the lets vote for who we don't want mentality? how could you support this?).

and then the lib dem favourite of PR every person has a vote, all votes are the same and we'll have an elected government of the people by the people that's truly representative.

but where will the MP's come from? will we still have constituencies? how will the lists be generated? will we know the list content before the election, will we have only list MPs?

I can see pro's and con's for different answers for all of those questions.

it's be no more fair or democratic for libs to force their method of electoral reform onto the public than to just accept the tory boundary changes, or the labour STV.

whilst I appreciate what you're saying, and completely agree with what you are saying this decision should most definitely not be kicked into the long grass.

but with all parties having different ideas it should definitely undergo a cross party review to decide what parliament consider to be the best system, then that system should be taken to the people for a yes/no referendum.

I voted Lib Dem because I liked the policies, and I liked the idea of PR, I hate the first past the post system, I hate that majority governments can draft loose legislation and push it through with a whipped majority of their own party.

As a lib dem supporter I'd be seriously disappointed to see anyone try to force through PR based on the fact that a hung parliament has made Nick more powerful. If nothing else abusing that position of power to force something through would make the idea no better, than any of the other poorly forced through acts that we've seen over the past hundred years (nearly).

Proper consideration, proper deliberation, should lead to a free and fair properly proportionally representative government for this country.

Anonymous said...

Nick Clegg is in a difficult position. The Lib Dems have actually lost seats, the 30 percent in the polls disappearing overnight it seems. Nick still has the kingmaker position, but he has lost any authority on a 'new politics' having done so badly at the polls compared to expectations.

David Cameron can negotiate a tough deal as the Lib Dems now forming a government with Gordon Brown is so unappealing.

I am still shocked that the Lib Dem voted melted so drastically, and still waiting for a commentator to try to convincingly explain why.

I'm based in Islington, one of the few places for Labour to do well at the expense of Lib Dems, and the Lib Dem position on immigration has been mentioned as a weak point amongst voters.

Anonymous said...


I think that the electorate in your area the people don't pay enough attention to the news then.

I'm surprised that no grass roots campaigners from any party didn't make more of this on the question of immigration.