Ed Davey MP: Westminster needs comprehensive reform – including proportional representation for voters

Guest Author, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Electoral Reform Society.

Posted on the 4th August 2020

The Electoral Reform Society offers a space to party leadership candidates to put forward their visions for democracy during internal elections.

This is a piece from Ed Davey MP, who is running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats. Layla Moran MP has also written a piece here.

“The time has come” has been the mantra for electoral reform at each election held in my lifetime and no doubt many before it – yet our fight is not yet won.

Getting results will require placing reform into a wider context – a necessary part of a wider agenda that engages more people. When pursued alone, political reform falls into the reeds of inertia, the preserve of too few debating highly technical details which have too often led to debates that are long in length and short in influencing actual change.

The Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront of many campaigns to make our democracy better – from the introduction of Freedom of Information Laws, the Human Rights Act and proportional representation in European Elections to campaigns we are still fighting for like an elected House of Lords

If elected leader of the Liberal Democrats I will proudly continue campaigning for our democracy to be made fit for purpose, with electoral reform at the heart. I want to work with those in other parties who also believe we should be competing on a fair playing field, where all votes count and our politics works for people.

There are two main areas of focus for where changes are needed – around elections and voting, and around Parliament itself.

In respect of elections it is shameful that the United Kingdom continues to use the antiquated, First Past the Post System. I believe we should look to introduce a proportional system to both Westminster and local elections, at the earliest possible moment.

This is not just because the system is needed for both, but because the problem in some local areas is acute. There are areas which have become almost ‘one party states’ with votes for all mainstream parties being ignored and authorities left with little or no opposition scrutiny.

I am passionate about devolving power – all the more reason to make sure the scrutiny of these bodies is representative and effective. I believe there is an appetite to devolve powers from some in other parties and think making common cause on reforming our electoral process as we pursue this is a way to secure the changes we need.

Other areas around how we run elections are ripe for reform – we should introduce automatic voter registration to make it easier for people to vote and scrap the ridiculous plans to require voter ID at polling stations. The Conservatives’ desire to require ID creates another barrier and ends up with more people – likely from minority communities – not exercising their democratic right: it is indefensible.

I believe that we need to look at what works to improve diversity in politics. The use of All Women Shortlists led to the start of a breakthrough process in improving gender representation in the House of Commons. I want to explore BAME and all LGBT+ shortlists to push for change in those areas as well.

The second area for change is around how Parliament operates. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, I want to see an elected second chamber delivered as soon as possible.

Second, I want to reform how Parliament scrutinises Government spending – especially draft budgets. For over a century our Parliament’s sovereignty over spending has been one of the weakest of any modern democracy, and that must change.

There is also a huge amount still to do to improve the culture and working practices of parliament; whilst the new independent complaints process is welcome we have to make sure it is properly resourced and given the muscle it needs to deliver justice.

We need to be honest, with a government majority it is harder than any progressive would like to deliver these changes, but that isn’t cause for defeatism. I believe by starting to work on a cross party basis on issues around the powers of parliament that we can build a coalition of voices that can get the ball rolling on wider reform.

I believe a progressive majority in the Commons could deliver wholesale political reform if the Labour Party backed it. But until we get a progressive majority there are still plenty of campaigns to be fought, to improve how parliament works, to get more powers to local and national governments whilst increasing accountability and making it easier for people to vote.

The case for reform in the context for more powers being pushed out from Westminster is a compelling one where less traditional allies for reform can be found – we need to seize on that opportunity.

Ed Davey MP is running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The views presented do not necessarily represent the view of the ERS, but are put forward as part of the political debate. 

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