ERS Quiz UKIP’s Leadership Candidates on Democratic Reform

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 6th September 2016

UKIP’s leadership election is in full swing, with the results announced on the 16thSeptember.  

At the ERS, we’re running Q&As with the leadership candidates for UKIP – as well as the Labour Party, which is also currently in the midst of a leadership election. Last month we quizzed the Green Party’s leadership candidates on democratic reform too – see the answers here.

We’ve asked UKIP’s candidates about voting systems, increasing voter registration, working with other parties to secure PR, and how to reform the House of Lords.

We used a randomiser script to ‘shuffle’ the names so it’s not always the same names first.

All of the five candidates responded – Diane James, Phillip Broughton (via a telephone interview), Bill Etheridge and Elizabeth Jones and Lisa Duffy.

Let us know what you think of their answers in the comments box below!

And, whether you’re a supporter, a member, or neither – please share this Q&A with any friends you have who support UKIP. If you are one of the party’s 40-odd thousand members though, make sure to vote. We hope this is useful!

And if you want to support our work for a better democracy, join us today!

Here we go:

1. UKIP supports a proportional voting system. Which system would you favour? Would you support the Single Transferable Vote, used for local elections in Scotland and all elections in Northern Ireland? Unlike the Additional Member System (and AV+), STV gets rid of closed lists – which take power away from voters and hands them to parties instead – and eradicates the safe seats we see in the First Past the Post element of AMS.

Phillip Broughton (PB): I think the Scottish system [for Holyrood] has some merit in that you do have some list candidates that can get in through proportional representation, and so does the Welsh system [again, the Additional Member System], but ideally my preferred system is a 50/50 system – I think we really need some real transformational things in politics and I think if you have 50% of the seats through FPTP and 50% through PR, then you’ll get a truly fair democracy and Parliamentary system.

Elizabeth Jones (EL): I support a more proportional system of voting but UKIP has not yet finalised a decision on which particular system would be best for parliamentary elections. UKIP very much wants to protect and nurture the constituency connection between elected MPs and the electors who vote for them through locality.

Furthermore, the closed list is open to rampant corruption, abuse and manipulation of power within political parties. Why else would it be as fervently encouraged by the European Union as that anti-democratic body’s preferred voting system? So whilst not yet ready to promote any one particular system of proportional representation, I will push our campaign in that direction and we will come up with an agreed position under my leadership.

Lisa Duffy (LD): My belief is that it is very important to maintain the direct relationship between councillors and the local community that they represent so am in favour of keeping the first past the post system in local government elections.

It is however becoming very clear that the presidential style of voting patterns emerging in Westminster elections and the nature of the first past the post system is causing a clear democratic gap between voter intention and results in Westminster elections. In the 2015 General Election UKIP achieved over 4 million votes and should have won around 80 seats in the Commons based on total national votes however the nature of the first past the post system meant that UKIP only achieved one MP. It is no wonder that Parliament feels so out of touch to most people in this country.

The first past the post system could be reformed to re-establish the connection between the individual Member of Parliament and the communities that they represent by removing the Party labels from the ballot paper (as was the case up to 1969). People would then be more inclined to vote for the best person to represent them in the Commons rather than following the emerging USA type ‘presidential style’ voting pattern that old party campaigns steer people towards.

Party policy is however to remove the democratic deficit in the existing Westminster voting system by introducing proportional representation and I believe that UKIP’s policy gets it right, we support the cross party campaign calling for seat allocation in parliament to more accurately reflect votes cast. UKIP policy is for a new voting system that delivers a Parliament truly reflective of votes cast, while retaining a constituency link, so every vote really does count.

Bill Etheridge (BE): It is easy for the opposition to call for a new voting system. Whilst I agree our current system does not reflect the complexity of the UK’s political makeup I believe our party needs to continue to win under first past the post. We must not look like sore losers. In Councils, across the country we have proven we can win in first past the post elections. We need to do this on a much bigger scale. Once we have done that, we can legitimately argue to change the system.

Diane James (DJ): There needs to be a new system devised for the UK. None of what is currently on offer addresses the issue of taking away tactical voting to ‘keep out’ candidates. I have been surprised at how effective, fair and democratic the EU voting D’Hondt system was – may be the UK can learn from that and devise something new.

2. What methods would you support to continue to increase voter registration?  Would you consider moves towards automatic registration, or a US-style ‘motor voter’ campaign where citizens are prompted with a simple tick-box to register to vote when interacting with public sector bodies – such as applying for a driving licence, for a tax return or for university?

EJ: I am not a fan of compulsory voting, but I believe that increasing voter participation will happen as a direct result of other UKIP reforms such as our agenda for local referenda on planning and environmental issues, and our initiative of triggering a referendum on an important national issue to bind parliament to debate and vote on such an issue, once every two years. These forms of direct democracy will naturally encourage people to register to vote so they can take advantage of them.

With our exciting provision for MP recall, and open primaries for party candidate selections, coupled with our clean-up of voting fraud by withdrawing postal votes on demand and scrapping all the existing postal voting registers, we will see a natural return to larger numbers of voters casting their ballots as they feel more engaged in a cleaner, fairer process to a body which actually does govern and make the laws of this country rather than rubber-stamp Brussels edicts.

UKIP is a libertarian party at heart. Therefore I do not like the idea of surreptitious registration, nor exploiting people’s private data.

LD: The newly introduced individual registration system has disenfranchised many people as well as causing significant strain and workload on returning officers and their teams.

I am opposed to forcing people to vote but feel that many of the reforms that UKIP is bringing forward will have a very positive impact on making people want to engage in the political process.

UKIP proposals for electoral reform will mean that every vote counts and will reduce the current disincentive to vote that many people currently feel which is that their vote does not matter. I am here to ensure that voters know their vote will matter, it matters very much.

It is no coincidence that the referenda on UK membership of the European Union, UKIP’s No1 Policy attracted more voters than have ever took part before in any UK vote or election. Voters recognised that every vote mattered, this led to swathes of new voter registrations, showing that referendums are a fantastic way to both get people to register to vote and to get them to come out to vote. We in UKIP have long argued that when people are given the real ability to change what is happening rather than being told what to do by a ‘we know best political class’ then they will engage in huge numbers in the decision making process. Brexit seems to have proven us correct.

The wider political reform that UKIP will introduce will, I believe also have the impact of making people feel that Parliament and society is working for ordinary voters, not against them and that voters are in the driving seat on decision making. You can read about many of these reforms in our excellent UKIP 2015 Manifesto which I will be implementing and putting wheels under as the next leader of UKIP. Reforms including the Citizens initiative, a new power for citizens to demand a national referendum on the issues that most matter to them, the outcome of which will be included in the queens speech therefore allowing the public to directly influence legislation, the introduction of “referenda in the planning system”,  the “Right to Recall” – giving voters the genuine power to sack their representatives if they are not performing, an “Open Primaries Bill’ to break down the “old boys club” that currently exists in the old political parties and “Confirmation Hearings” to stop the “old boys club” stitching up ministerial, senior civil service and senior diplomat positions and the introduction of “Expenditure Hearings” allowing back bench MPs via select committees the power to veto and to reduce government spending plans.

I also believe there must be a radical overhaul of the corruption that has emerged in the use of postal votes and will ensure that electoral fraud and postal vote fraud is stamped out. In order to stop fraud and abuse in the postal vote system, postal votes must only be issued where there is a valid and genuine reason to have one.

BE: As a libertarian I do not want to go down the route of forcing people to do things. However, we do need to make it easier for people to register to vote. A bigger priority though is election fraud. This should be our initial target.

DJ:  Support moves towards automatic registration based on NI numbers as an option or even UK passport number.

The issues will always be to guarantee personal security, stop voter registration fraud and facilitate traceability.

PB: I’d support a motor voter system where as soon as people engage with [government] they’re automatically being asked – I think that’s a good way to do it. Because I think a lot of people don’t realise or they have busy lives, they’re working a lot and they don’t have the time to do it – so anything that gets more people to vote and gets them interested in politics has got to be a good thing, but again I think it does come down to the system, because I do think that FPTP discourages a lot of people from voting when they’re in certain seats – and that’s why I think my system and various other systems would actually make voter engagement much better if we implemented them.

3. How will you work with other parties to secure democratic reform? More and more individual politicians, parties and organisations are getting behind a fair voting system. What will you do to build alliances to make it happen – i.e. what is your route to proportional representation?

LD: UKIP is already working closely with other parties and Independents to ensure that electoral reform and a fairer system which will ensure that seat allocation fairly and accurately reflects votes cast is achieved. It was not just UKIP voters who were let down by the current first past the post system in the 2015 General Election. UKIP’s 4 million voters should have returned around 80 UKIP MP’s and the Green Party’s 1 million voters should have meant there were more Green MPs elected too.

The old fashioned nature of our current voting systems heavily skews the results in favour of the old Parties, making it difficult for new parties to emerge and means that Independent candidates are unfairly disadvantaged.

Those voters who want to be represented by an Independent MP find it almost impossible to break through the current system. That is why as well as working closely with other Parties and organisations such as the ERS who are campaigning for electoral reform, I am also working closely with the Independent group of the Local Government Association who are working hard in the fight to achieve a political system that ensures that seat allocation in parliament more accurately reflects votes cast.

DJ: I am UKIP’s rep on the Proportional Representation Alliance [Make Votes Matter]. Spoke at their launch and also their London demo. I am totally committed to PR.

EJ: UKIP is always ready and willing to talk with other interested groups about matters of common interest. We have some work to do firstly, as I say above, in putting together our case for a particular system of proportional representation which neither removes the great qualities of our parliamentary democracy, our sovereignty, our constituencies, and the concept of representative democracy. What UKIP does not like is the whip system, limitless prime ministerial patronage, cronyism and nepotism, closed lists, buying influence, and ignoring democratically reached decisions like Brexit.

PB: I think what we have to do is all work together – when other parties and politicians agree with each other they should work together in the interests of the country and I would like to think that probably the Greens, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and a number of other parties would be able to – on something like electoral reform – work together. But the key thing is that we’ve got to get more MPs in Parliament to make it happen – we have to campaign as vigorously as we can – and obviously electoral reform is one of those issues that we need to campaign very strongly on.

BE: Taking seats off the other parties must be our first goal to achieve real change. When they start losing their jobs they will have no choice but to listen and adopt a new voting system.

4. Do you believe in a fully-elected House of Lords? The Lords is currently the largest upper chamber among any advanced country, and between February 2014 to January 2015, £21 million was spent on handouts to unelected Peers, with the average Lord receiving £25,826 tax-free – despite the chamber only sitting for about 130 days of the year. What would you do to ‘take back control’ and reform it?

BE: I believe the House of Lords should be abolished, an elected senate would be more fitting for a modern democracy and ensure real scrutiny.

EJ: [This answer was cut down as it was too long] At the moment the House of Lords consists of a huge pool of politically appointed sinecures, a handful of hereditary seats, senior bishops from the Church of England, and the Law Lords of the Supreme Court. It is all a bit ad hoc and reeks of abuse.

However, we have to be aware and careful if we simply try to engineer this current peculiar assemblage of legislators to become a clone of the House of Commons. I do not want to create something even worse than what we have already got.

I feel the upper house, the Lords if we do keep the name, should be partly elected and partly appointed, with appointees being agreed by a commission (membership itself of which is moot, it might initially have to be made up of current lords), from a pool of nominees put forward at agreed intervals by different recognised bodies such as professional regulatory bodies, trades unions, industrial groups, commercial interests, sports bodies, artistic and academic institutions, the Civil Service and local government, and yes, a people’s list, based on merit and genuine public service, so for instance, from amongst people who receive genuine honours each year, not political honours.

Most importantly I would want to listen to and gauge members’ views on this complex issue and steer our party towards putting together a coherent set of proposals using direct democracy internally as well.

PB: I think it’s absolutely disgusting the current system – it’s basically stuffed with Prime Ministers’ former advisers, friends, political allies – it’s an absolute shambles the whole thing, and the amount of money they get is disgraceful. I think we do need a second chamber to scrutinise government legislation, without a doubt, but certainly the House of Lords is becoming more undemocratic and unaccountable, and quite frankly a farce of a second chamber and it does need reforming. In my view I think we need absolutely huge reform of the House of Lords, and I would be hugely happy if we had a second chamber that was elected – whether it’s ever going to happen or not I don’t know, but I think certainly we should be one of the parties that’s arguing for more democracy not less, and that’s what I’ll be doing if I’m the next leader of UKIP.

DJ: No not until we can address the fault-lines in our current voting system. Unless we address those we will merely mimic or duplicate the problems already in existence in the HoC.

I do want to see an absolute limit on the HoL of 650 in line with the HoC currently. I want to see an age limit in place e.g. retirement at 70. Strict criteria in place as to someone being made a Peer not just a political ‘thank you’.

LD: I am a democrat and so instinctively dislike any power that is not accountable to the people. UKIP is naturally opposed to unelected politicians who are not accountable.

I am however also a pragmatist and can see just how useful the House of Lords is as a “Chamber of Experts” who do provide in-depth, thorough and expertly knowledgeable revisions to legislation – The House of Lords has evolved over time because it works and has a practical value in our “Mother of Parliaments” a value that we should not simply disregard based on our political ideology.

It is clear to me that the main problem with the House of Lords is not its role as an expert revising chamber that ensures Parliament produces legislation that is fit for purpose and well thought through (which is not always the case when Draft Legislation leaves the House of Commons and is sent to the Lords for amendment).

The critical flaw of the House of Lords is the process by which people are appointed to it. It is this appointments process based on political patronage and cronyism that must be stopped. Appointments being the gift of the Prime Minister and the ‘Old boys club’ has to end.

I do support calls for the second chamber of the UK to be elected but want the reform of the House of Lords to ensure that we do not entirely loose its value as a revising chamber made up of Experts.

Read more posts...