Support for electoral reform is strong at the Liberal Democrat’s 2023 conference

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 28th September 2023

Heading to the Liberal Democrats’ 2023 conference in Bournemouth to promote electoral reform is not the hardest task I’ve been handed in my working life! Saying that, our task was more to find out if they would make electoral reform a high priority if they ended up with a position of influence in the next parliament.

Electoral reform at Liberal Democrats conference

The conference started off well with a substantial segment of the opening rally dedicated to the need for electoral reform. As well as a speech on the stage from Daisy Cooper MP, there were pre-recorded videos from Carol Voderman and Steve Coogan calling for proportional representation that went down well in the hall.

We took part in two fringe events on Sunday, the first with our Chief Executive Darren Hughes in discussion with the founder of Fair Vote, Rob Richie. Fair Vote is an American nonpartisan organization that promotes the Alternative Vote and the Single Transferable Vote in the United States.

Rob was here to discuss ‘From New Zealand to America, what we can learn from successful campaigns to reform the electoral system?’

A New Zealander, Darren lived through the move from Westminster style first past the post to proportional representation in the 1990s. There has been a rough balance in terms of victories by the Labour Party and National Party since then. As Darren says, New Zealand shows how both sides of the political debate have a fair shot under proportional representation.

Rob explained that many states allow referendums proposed by voters, which campaigners have used to win reform. Maine and Alaska both use preferential ‘ranked-choice voting’ for all their major elections. Portland, Oregon moved to use the Single Transferable Vote for their city council. Forms of ranked-choice voting are the fastest-growing electoral reform in the United States.

Going back to New Zealand’s experience, once voters have tried fair elections, they like it. New Zealand had a confirmatory referendum after a few elections, which saw support grow for PR.

Later that day, we joined fellow campaigners from Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter and Compass, as well as Christine Jardine MP and the Institute for Government to discuss how proportional representation can help us clean up our politics.

Jess Sargeant from the Institute for Government presented her recent work on reviewing the UK Constitution. They are calling for a parliamentary committee on the constitution, a new category of constitutional acts and a greater role for the public with citizens’ assemblies.

Next up, Neal Lawson from Compass made an impassioned call that “if we want to change our country, we have to change how we choose our government” while Make Votes Matter’s Klina Jordan called on Liberal Democrats to bring the need to make seats match votes to the doorsteps.

Our Head of Communications Mike Wright spoke for the Society, making the case for how the electoral system doesn’t operate in a vacuum – from voter ID to the House of Lords, our democracy needs to be healed as a whole.

We were very pleased to have Christine Jardine MP as the main speaker. She made the case that people need to have ownership of constitutional reform for it to last, and citizens’ assemblies can play a role in that.

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform

As well as private meetings with figures in the party and fringe events, we also spent some time as guests on the Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform stall, chatting with members about why they support proportional representation and the finer details of how it operates. If you are a Liberal Democrat member and want to see the party raise the priority of electoral reform, you can join Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform on their website.

As we head off to Labour and Conservative conference in the coming weeks, you can support our work, by becoming a member of the Electoral Reform Society.

Join the Electoral Reform Society

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