It’s an odd experience being on a panel and not being able to see your audience, but earlier this month I joined former party leader Vince Cable and Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, to talk with the University of York Liberal Democrats about fair votes, under the heading ‘Does your vote really matter’?
Despite the fact the students were invisible and we could only see each other (this wasn’t Zoom!), it was clear they were very engaged by the number and quality of questions we were asked.
Vince Cable, born in York and happy to connect with the university, talked about the importance of young people getting involved in the democratic process and how he believed a change in our voting system to PR would help young people feel more enfranchised. “Young people need to be involved otherwise the biases in our system towards older voters are just going to be reinforced,” he said.
Young people need to be involved otherwise the biases in our system towards older voters are just going to be reinforced
He reminded the audience that whatever happens, Conservatives will always go out and vote and that those of us who oppose the Tories must be just as committed.
Darren is from New Zealand and spoke about his country’s journey to PR, giving examples of where their electoral system had been found wanting to the point that the call for a change had become too loud for politicians to ignore. A mixed-member proportional system was introduced for the 1996 election after two referenda and the country is about to hold its ninth parliamentary elections under the process.
Darren spoke passionately about the changes needed to improve and strengthen UK democracy, from a PR system to widening the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and changing the way political parties are funded. We didn’t even get on to the subject of the unelected second chamber!
He also spoke of the difference PR would make to our politics between elections – which is as important as what happens at the ballot box.
While it would have been great to see the students we were talking to, it was encouraging to know they were engaged and interested in the debate, and we urged them all to get involved – either with the party or with cross-party efforts to push for electoral reform.
We need a groundswell of campaigning now to pick up the pace across the country.
I believe we need a groundswell of campaigning now to pick up the pace across the country, across parties and across generations so that like in New Zealand even Labour politicians will find it hard to ignore the call for a system that represents everyone equally.
I was invited to speak as part of the Make Votes Matter speaker programme which I volunteered for during lockdown. People from all parties, and none, attend meetings to give information about the campaign for electoral change. I talked about some of the horrors of our existing First Past the Post system – majority governments on less than half the votes, wasted votes, safe seats – and compared it to what we could expect under PR.
I also spoke about how the European Parliament works, what it was like working there as an MEP with groups and other parties, building consensus across the house and how, even if they are elected under PR, the extremists on both right and left very rarely build that support and backing for their policies, so ultimately their politics fail and all they can do is make speeches. I have to admit they add a bit of colour, and can be quite entertaining!
And we talked about geography – as in the geography of the antiquated House of Commons compared to the parliaments of Edinburgh, Europe or the German Bundestag. Even the physical make up of the space provides for less combative, more collaborative politics.
But for me the crucial thing about having a PR system is that people are likely to vote differently.
I was elected last year along with 15 Lib Dem colleagues in an election that saw our party beat both the Conservatives and Labour for the first time in 100 years. Green MEPs were elected across the country too. Just imagine how different our politics, and our government could be if we all believed our vote would really count and we didn’t have to choose the least worst option.
If you’d like to support our campaign for PR please join LDER (Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform), a growing organisation within the party to put PR high on our agenda.
Changing our electoral system is key to bringing about a fairer democracy for all.
If you are interested in hosting a speaker at one of your local party’s meetings, either online or in person once face-to-face meetings resume, then please sign up here: https://www.makevotesmatter.org.uk/invite-an-mvm-speaker. (Please note that Vince Cable and Darren Hughes are not part of the speaker programme and were contacted separately by the York University Lib Dems.)
Make Votes Matter have an experienced team of cross-party speakers who attended speaker training sessions throughout the summer and are now ready to reach out to local groups. They all passionately believe that changing our electoral system is key to bringing about a fairer democracy for all.
The speaker will cover the impact PR will have on UK Politics and society and how members of your PR-supporting organisation can get involved in campaigning alongside MVM to make it a reality.
This could be your local Lib Dem party – or it could be any other group who you think would benefit from hearing from an MVM speaker. Let’s widen this discussion to the Women’s Institute, your community association, even your golf club…