Q1. But we lost the 2011 referendum on electoral reform
A1. The referendum on the alternative vote (AV) was not about proportional representation or equal votes. AV has some merits but simply is not a proportional system. AV has never been Liberal Democrat policy. You could say we got stuck with it under the 2010 Coalition Agreement - a tactical mistake for which we paid a heavy price. But that is history and we have learned. We are campaigning on our long held belief in PR with our preferred system of STV.
Q2. Surely we need broader constitutional and political reform. Changing the voting system is only a drop in the bucket.
A2. Voting reform is not on its own sufficient: comprehensive political and constitutional reform is needed. LDER supports the party's package of political and constitutional reform. However, voting reform is the essential first step to the change in our politics we all want to see. There is good reason to continue to campaign for proportional representation for local government elections in England and Wales; and for a reformed House of Lords; not to mention wider reforms such as taking the dirty money out of politics. But Westminster electoral reform must come first.
Q3. Under proportional representation, losers can win. First Past The Post gives a nice clear result and a winner.
A3. Losers win all the time under FPTP. Every Government since WWII has been elected on a minority of the popular vote! More people vote against than for the 'winning' party. We saw this in 2019 when Boris Johnson's Conservatives 'won' on just over four out of every ten votes cast. It can be even worse than that - in 2005 (Blair's Labour) and 2015 (Cameron's Conservatives) the 'winning' party got only about 35% of votes cast. Where's the winner; and where's the democracy in that?
Q4. First Past The Post leads to strong and stable governments, whereas coalition governments formed as a result of other voting systems never get anything done.
A4. The fact that in 2022 the UK had three different Prime Ministers refutes this claim! The chaos and broken politics of recent years makes a mockery of such hollow assertions. There are plenty of PR-using countries where there is stability, continuity and things get done - eg the Nordic countries; Germany
It is also worth noting that the only other country in Europe that uses First Past The Post is Belarus.
Q5. Proportional systems let in extremists.
A5. We have seen in the US and the UK how extremists, frustrated at the ballot box, infiltrate a major party to get their policies adopted by stealth. In 2015 UKiP won 13% of the vote but only one MP. However their perceived threat to the Conservative party’s votes meant that that party adopted much of UKIP’s policies. In contrast, under Germany’s PR system, the populist AfD’s 13% in 2017 got it 13% of seats but no similar influence over the mainstream CDP’s policies.
If an `extremist’ party wins a significant proportion of votes, It is better for democracy to allow it its fair share of representatives, and for them to have to participate in parliament, where their policies and leaders can be exposed..
The next questions relate mainly to LDER and the Liberal Democrats.
Q6. Why do the Liberal Democrats support electoral reform?
A6. A proportional voting system, where seats in Parliament match votes, and where voters have equal voice and choice, has been a core belief of our party since we were formed.
Our present voting system simply isn't democratic. Yes, over 18 year olds have a vote but election results distort, not reflect, how the people as a whole voted.
In 2019 alone:
- The Conservatives got well under half the votes - 43% - but 56% of the seats in Parliament; which in this country means pretty much 100% of the power. The minority ruling over the majority is not democracy.
- The Conservatives won a parliamentary seat for only every 32,000 votes cast. At another extreme, the Greens got just one seat for 865,000 votes cast. Liberal Democrat voters were also cheated - 300,000 votes for each seat won.
This inequality makes a nonsense of 'one person, one vote’.
The people of this country deserve an inclusive political system where the majority, not the minority, has power; and where votes are equal. We need to make seats match votes; and ensure equal votes for equal citizens.
We support the Single Transferable Vote as the system which delivers maximum choice and power to the voter, as well as party proportionality, though we recognize there needs to be a negotiated agreement (see the ‘Case for Change’).
Q7. The average voter doesn't care about electoral reform. It's a nerdy sideshow from what's important. We Lib Dems need to relate to what people care about.
A7. We believe that to change our democracy and society for the better, we need to change the way we elect our MPs. So, while we shouldn’t make voting reform our top priority, we should include it in our policy package. By all means we need to focus on the costs of living crisis, the state of the NHS, climate change – voting reform underpins the changes our poltics and our society needs. Including it the right way won’t harm our chances of being elected!
There is evidence of ever- increasing voter dissatisfaction with the way things work.
a) In the run up to the 2019 General Election research showed:
61% of voters were dissatisfied with the state of UK democracy
32% of voters felt obliged to vote tactically (negatively) in the 2019 General Election
Only 25% of voters felt they lived in a constituency that could possibly change party and therefore influence/affect the election result.
Sources: BBC and Electoral Reform Society
That level of disillusion has to be our call to action. It is broadly true that voters do not demand voting reform as a priority - but they know the problem if not always the solution. It's up to us to make that link.
b) In 2021, Electoral Reform Society-sponsored polling found that just 5% of people feel they have a lot of opportunities to influence decisions in Westminster - a damning critique of the UK's centralised political system.
The same poll found that 57% of people feel their counties or boroughs are either not represented, or represented only a little, in national decision making at Westminster - a figure that rises to 62% when people think about how their local neighbourhoods are represented.
Polled by Savanta ComRes: 2,092 UK adults aged 18+ online from 12-14 March 2021. Data was weighted to be demographically representative.
Q8. If the party already supports electoral reform, why do we need LDER? Why should I join?
A8. Our role is to inform and motivate as many party members as we possibly can to get active in the campaign for electoral reform. We support local activities in support of Make Votes Matter action days, for example.
We also work to ensure electoral reform has the right level of priority within the party's strategy. Importantly, there is now a strong recognition that we need to have electoral reform as part of the party's narrative. For instance, we're delighted that Wendy Chamberlain MP has served as LDER President since 2021.
By joining Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, you will strengthen our influence in the Party. As a member you will be able to help decide our policies and priorities. Your support will help us promote our message inside and beyond the party throughout the year.
Go to lder.org/join us to become an LDER member. Or, if you prefer, you can become a non-paying supporter and receive our regular newsletters.
Q9. Do you work with other parties who also support reform?
A9. Yes we do, sometimes directly and also through non-party, all-party reform organisations like Make Votes Matter, the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy. We welcome other parties to share platforms with us - Labour party members and also Greens have recently joined our Conference fringe meetings We can be leaders in this but we cannot do it on our own - and nor should we try to. We want a more collaborative, cooperative politics, not the destructive tribalism we suffer from today.
Q10. British people don't know about proportional systems. How are we going to persuade them?
A10. PR is in use in the UK - throughout Northern Ireland snd Scotland ; in Wales and for many elections such as the Greater London Assembly in England. As well of course as most democracies around the world.
Q11. The Liberal Democrats only want PR because they can't win under the present system. You want to be the power 'kingmakers' like in the hung Parliament after the the 2010 General Election.
A11. A proportional system, where seats match votes and where all votes are equal, has been in this party's DNA for a century. It's essential to a liberal society for all voters to have a meaningful voice in our politics. As for being third party 'kingmakers', the country was in serious financial and economic crisis in 2010 and we stepped up to the plate. It was the appropriate action based on how the electorate had voted. As we now know, we suffered heavily for that in the 2015 election and have been recovering and fighting back ever since. But that too was the verdict of the electorate. In a democracy it's the electorate that decides and we want a system that reflects, not distorts, those decisions.
Q12. Under PR, losers can win. FPTP gives a nice clear result and a winner.
A12. Losers win all the time under FPTP. Every Government since WWII has been elected on a minority of the popular vote! More people vote against than for the 'winning' party. We saw this in 2019 when Boris Johnson's Conservatives 'won' on just over four out of ten votes cast. It can be even worse than that - in 2005 (Blair's Labour) and 2015 (Cameron's Conservatives) the 'winning' party got only about 35% of votes cast. Where's the winner and where's the democracy in that?
Please also go to the FAQs of key allies: