Do Lib Dems have the nerve to win STV for local government?

Posted by Editor

What do you think will be the most important political document in the UK for the next couple of years? The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for the 2015General Election?

Well, that was the view of the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, in the “Today” programme on Radio 4 today (16 September 2013). The present signs are that neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party is likely to secure an overall majority in 2015 and one of them will need Liberal Democrat support to form a Government.

The Liberal Democrats could negotiate, or even hold out for all sorts of policies. A problem with most is that a policy that might attract Labour support would probably alienate the Conservatives and vice versa.

Neither of them might like the idea of changing the way we elect local Councillors but we see no strong reason for either of them to refuse it if they really want power, which they will.

We believe the most important and obtainable policy concession from either of the other two parties is electoral reform for local government in England and Wales and the reform has to be in the form of the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

It is important for local government, democracy and the public. Liberal Democrats should not be embarrassed by the fact that it could also be good for their party. Unfortunately, some of them feel too embarrassed to campaign for electoral reform. Others would simply settle with any electoral reform that would give their party more Councillors. Both are wrong.

The point about STV is that, unlike all other voting systems, it offers voters a genuine choice of candidates not only from different parties but even within parties. It can provide proportionality, not only of political parties but of any other political views that matter to voters. For example, if a local party is split between supporting and opposing a town bypass, STV allows voters to elect Councillors in proportion to their own views on the subject. If voters want, say, more women Councillors, STV uniquely allows them to elect more women.

In some ways, electoral reform for local government is even more important than it is for the Commons. Unlike the Commons, some local authorities have been controlled by the same party for years, decades and even generations; one-party local states! If local voters had really been supporting the dominant local party for all that time, it might be acceptable but the party has often retained power even though most local voters have voted against it.

But why should either the Labour or Conservative Party accept STV for local government? Don’t they both oppose electoral reform? Well, yes, but they oppose many Liberal Democrat policies and yet one of the two biggest parties will probably have to accept some Liberal Democrat policies in order to form a Government in 2015, so why not this one as part of a larger package?

Some Conservative and Labour MPs may oppose electoral reform for the Commons mainly because they worry about losing their own seats under a different voting system. That would not apply to changing the system for local government. Also, there must be many Labour politicians who would like to see more Labour Councillors in the South of England and many Conservatives who would welcome more Conservative Councillors in the North of England.

We have little doubt that, if the Liberal Democrats hold out hard enough, they will be able to improve the way we elect Councillors in England and Wales.

But it is not enough merely to hold out for Proportional Representation (PR) and then accept whatever kind of PR one of the other parties concedes. Liberal Democrats must demand STV or nothing. This opportunity may will not occur again for at least another five years and may not come again for several generations.

PR for parties (Party Representation) is not good enough. We need PR for people (People Representation) and only STV can provide it.

Do Lib Dems have the nerve to win STV for local government?

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