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AV: Liberal Democrats should not panic

By Simon Goldie
April 19th, 2011 at 9:02 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Members of the Liberal Democrat party have electoral reform in their DNA. No doubt, for some their first words were not mummy or daddy but single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. So winning the AV referendum matters. Fellow Liberal Vision blogger, Andy Mayer set out clearly why he thinks people should vote yes. I have speculated in another place about the alternative vote and whether it will lead to a more liberal society.

Right now the polls don’t look that encouraging for the supporters of change. Polls can be wrong and there is still time to make the case but what if AV is rejected by the voters?

My fingers are hovering over the keyboard as I feel that what I am about to suggest is heretical. I should state clearly I am not arguing for a no vote by writing that members of the Liberal Democrats should not panic if the voters reject AV. In fact, it could turn out to deliver proportional representation in the future.

On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Norman Lamb argued that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the voting system. Some though believe that by adopting AV now Britain will eventually get STV. If Norman is right and the vote goes the Lib Dems way, our electoral system is likely to be set for a very long time.

Liberal Democrats believe our current system of first past the post (FPTP) is discredited. As far as they are concerned it won’t stop being discredited if AV is rejected. There is a belief that the Prime Minister will have to make concessions to Nick Clegg if the vote goes Cameron’s way. One concession might be reform of the House of Lords elected under STV. This will give voters a chance to become comfortable with a different system. If they like it they will be able to compare it to FPTP and make up their own minds about which system better reflects the wishes of voters.  In that situation, could we be looking at another referendum in 10 years or so on STV?

This time period gives the party a chance to prove itself in government, develop policies for future government and perhaps move from the third party to one of the main parties. Right now that may seem fanciful but this sort of thing has happened before.



BBC ban on term “electoral reform” even more preposterous

By Angela Harbutt
February 20th, 2011 at 7:35 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

As recently noted, the BBC powers-that-be have decided to ban the term “electoral reform” being used by its correspondents because the word “reform” sounds too positive (see previous post on why this in itself is preposterous).

But now it looks even more absurd!

The Prime Minister – who is standing with the NO campaign is still using that self-same term.  In his speech on Friday (and i will say this again!), arguing against AV, David Cameron himself uses the term “electoral reform” again and actually defines AV as a type of reform …quoted on the BBC website…

“(David Cameron) said he believed the Alternative Vote was “completely the wrong reform” and would be “bad for our democracy” – leading to unfair results and an unaccountable political system” (source bbc website)

If AV is -according to the PM – the “wrong sort of reform” ..then definition-ally it is “reform”. Any reason why we can ALL agree that this vote is about ELECTORAL REFORM – except the BBC? 

Surely there is something very odd going on…The Prime Minister of this country can make a speech against electoral reform in which he uses – once again –  the term “electoral reform” … and in that speech define  AV as a type of reform (if the wrong one). That the BBC can report that speech, quoting the PM using the term “electoral reform” and showing the highlights of the speech in its website. BUT the BBC journalists are banned from using the term themselves? 

The dictat looks more preposterous and untenable with every day that passes. 

On a related issue – any reason why the main BBC News political story on AV runs with the title “Votes referendum: Cameron rejects Clegg AV call” . Is that really fair? to headline the story with reference to Cameron’s view (what’s wrong with “Clegg and Cameron go head to head over…..”) …. is it really impartial to list the PMs objections extensively at the top of the article and drop in Nick ‘s arguments much further down the piece?  Maybe it doesn’t matter – but for a BBC that appears obsessive about impartiality this seems a tad..oh how can I say this…biased?

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So why has the BBC banned the term “electoral reform” ?

By Angela Harbutt
February 7th, 2011 at 8:58 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

About a fortnight a story emerged that BBC journalists had been sent an internal document from the top brass demanding that their staff stop describing “electoral reform” as “electoral reform”.

I raise it now (late) because having missed the revelation at the time I assumed “word had got out there” about it, so I let it pass. I am however surprised to find how few people who are usually “in the know” – don’t know. Here are the basics….

In an internal BBC memo leaked to The Independent, Ric Bailey, the corporation’s chief political adviser, said: “Please can we make sure that we don’t describe this – in our own scripts, headlines, etc – as the referendum on ‘electoral reform’. When the [BBC’s] Guidance is published ahead of the referendum period, it will make clear that, in the context of the referendum, that is not an impartial term – ‘reform’ explicitly contains a definition of ‘improvement’.”

 So if “reform” is “not an impartial term” why is it that changes to the public services and laws of this country can be described in terms of “reform” by the Government – and parroted by the BBC…. NHS reform plans will strenthen NHS,says Government. BBC October 1st 2010. Welfare benefit reforms unveiled by Government. BBC October 2010. Government to press ahead with radical NHS reform plans. BBC December 15th 2010.  “When ministers drew up their plans for radical reform of the NHS, schools and the welfare system..” Norman Smith Chief Political Correspondent, BBC Radio 4 , February 2nd 2011. and so on……

Why is it that a term such as “electoral reform” causes such offence to the BBC but all other Government reform is OK?

You could argue I suppose that the reason why”electoral reform” is on the forboten list and “NHS reform” isn’t, is because there is to be a vote on electoral reform. But then surely that must mean that the BBC is openly admitting that it frankly doesn’t give a toss about the language it uses day-today, but does care when it comes to a vote.

Slack, lazy reporting on a day to day basis BBC? Maybe. But I suspect that it is not that. Could it be that the BBC is running scared of the Government? Could it be that the BBC has been got at by the highly influential No campaigners with their slick suits, armed with promises of who-knows what  post election by those in the corridors of power?  So BBC,  are you incompetent, lazy,or just plain “got at”. It doesn’t look good any way you look at it.

And here is why this is oh so puzzling.. “electoral reform” is a term that has been around longer than the BBC. It is part of the language of politics. Of democracy indeed. We all know what it means.

Significantly it was this Government  that made a pledge to introduce a vote on electoral reform. Not “electoral change”. Not “electoral alteration”.. It is there in black and white. A vote on electoral reform.. We will bring forward a referendum on electoral reform” … (Coalition Agreement)… Next May, there’ll be a referendum on electoral reform”; (David Cameron speech to Conservative Party) ..

And so, The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010-11 has thus been called, ever since, as the “electoral reform bill” by all the main news sources in the UK – including the  BBC….. “Lord Falconer and Lord McNally debate whether the house of Lords should pass the electoral reform bill”  (source BBC)….  “Peers’ threat to AV voting reform referendum defeated” (source BBC)…

 So if the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government can and have promised this country a vote on electoral reform -and  the newspapers and broadcasters of this land have thus described it, and the bill that will enable it, as “electoral reform” / “electoral reform bill”, for the last 12 months, why has the BBC decided in its infinite wisdom to ban the term now?  On whose say so?

The BBC should not be allowed to rewrite history, or skew the debate. Nor should any shiny suited boys, with an eye to their own future prospects, be allowed to threaten or cajole the BBC into actions that suit them now.

 Yes to Fairer Votes are writing a letter to the BBC condemning this action, which you can sign here: Reform” isn’t a dirty word: Cosign our letter to the BBC.  It is a start but it is almost certainly not enough if what we get in May is a free and fair vote. We need more questions raised in every public place, and to the BBC at every opportunity. And frankly, a lot more answers…

Oh…. and if any BBC employee  out there is willing to spill the beans and tell us what is really going on – please email me – I will happily publish your post – anonymously if necessary. Surely one of you cares more about journalism than just plain self interest?

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Greg Dyke gets it…so should we…

By Angela Harbutt
September 25th, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Comments Off on Greg Dyke gets it…so should we… | Posted in UK Politics

greg-dykeBack from Bournemouth, and having caught up on my much-needed sleep and given myself time to reflect on the events of the week, my first offering (hopefully not my last, but we’ll see)  is this.

 Get Greg Dyke involved in Lib Dem policy on constitutional and democratic reform NOW !

If not spokesman then roving ambassador/tzar /advisor …something… Please.

Having listened to him speak at the Liberal Vision Fringe meeting “Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem” he is clearly not only one of the most eloquent speakers on the subject – but one of the most passionate. HE JUST GETS IT. ….

“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming…yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system, the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one, are the groups most in denial about what is really happening”

He not only “gets it” – HE SAYS IT STRAIGHT. ….

“…most MPs can’t do their jobs…. When I was director-general of the BBC I regularly appeared before select committees and often had quite dumb people coming and giving me tough questions….How can those people question you now? How can someone who’s flipped their mortgage possibly sit there and start asking me about expenditure at the BBC? Because you just come back at them. I think some (MP’s) are completely undermined by this. They should go because they can’t do the job”


You see, his speech was not just an analysis of what is so wrong with the current system – but a damn compelling recipe for putting it right… “…halving the number of MPs….electoral reform (some form of Proportional reform)…an elected House of Lords…the abolition of the whips system…moving parliament out of Westminster into a building fit for 21st century politics ” etc..

On Sunday’s London Politics Show  Mark Littlewood suggested that one area that the Lib Dems could and should do more is on the area of democratic and constitutional reform. I think he is spot on. This is not the same old moan about how unfair the current “first past the post” system is ( that no one cares about).

This is bang-on topical. That chimes with people’s anger and frustration with Westminster politics.The expenses scandal exposed all the flaws of the current political system. And the frustration and anger with all politicians and the whole political system can still be felt on every door step, every day. People have not forgotten about it , even if the media dont talk about it anymore.

Nick Clegg showed his understanding of the public mood when he “broke with tradition” to be the first party leader to call for the Speaker Michael Martin to go and when he made the suggestion that Parliament should abandon summer recess to sort out the mess left in the expensesgate wake.

But, we seem to have stopped there….

I may be wrong but I did not hear any promise to clean up politics, reinstate the balance of power in favour of the people, bring the political system kicking and screaming into the 21st century, in the Leaders speech on Wednesday. Perhaps it was there – but if so it was buried.

My suggestion to Nick is this. Let us be the party of constitutional and democratic reform. Build this in as a fundamental plank of our election strategy. People should know that we hear the country’s demand  for a fundamental wholesale change to our democratic system – and spell out WHAT we would change and WHEN.  

And Greg Dyke is quite simply the best advocate of democratic and constitutional reform that there is.

Nick, please, take up this fight. And get on that phone to Greg. Persuade him to take up the Lib Dem banner on this. He may well, of course say no. BUT. If you can get him to say yes..the nation will thank you for it. And so will the party.

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If we had FPTP for the Speaker’s position

By Julian Harris
June 22nd, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Comments Off on If we had FPTP for the Speaker’s position | Posted in Uncategorized


A brief observation for our passing Tories:

If we had First Past The Post for this election, Bercow would have already won (!)


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