During the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum one of the points of dispute amongst electoral reform campaigners was whether or not to welcome the support of Ukip.
It’s a classic cross-party campaign dilemma: how far do you go in welcoming the support of, and even appearing alongside, those who agree with you on one issue but very much disagree with on others?
For me, the willingness to work with others should be broader for those issues which by their nature require cross-party support, such as the rules under which our elections are run.
So on balance, it is good news that:
The Brexit Party has formed an unlikely alliance with the Liberal Democrats to demand an overhaul of Westminster’s “abysmal” first-past-the-post voting system…
A new effort to ditch the system has been launched by campaign group Make Votes Matter and has also won support from Conservative, Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green Party MPs…
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable… said the current electoral system left “millions of people feeling powerless and excluded”.
He added: “Government is much more likely to act for the common good when politicians and parties are responsive to all the people, not just a few swing-voters in a handful of marginal seats.
“Liberal Democrats have always campaigned for fairer and more democratic elections. I’m delighted members of other parties are working with us in the Make Votes Matter alliance to set out the principles that should shape a new proportional system for the House of Commons.” [Politics Home]
More details of what the parties, along with MPs from other parties, are agreeing to support are on the Make Vote Matters website:
The signatories believe the best way to choose a new voting system for the UK is through a citizen-led, deliberative process – such as a citizens’ assembly.
A citizens’ assembly is a large group of ordinary people selected in a similar way to a jury, but with care taken to ensure it is representative of the population at large. They are given the opportunity to hear from and cross-examine experts, to deliberate and reach recommendations.
Internationally, citizens’ assemblies have been used successfully to make sensible and popular recommendations on a host of complex and controversial issues. As an example, the video below explains how a recent citizens’ assembly successfully broke the longstanding deadlock over reproductive rights in Ireland.
Alternatively, a broader constitutional convention could serve the same purpose, provided it: 1) has a specific focus on electoral reform; 2) has a short, fixed time-frame for recommending a new voting system within the next parliament; and, 3) is genuinely led by citizens rather than a experts, politicians or party appointees.
Crucial to winning the battle over political reform is to remember that the public responds better to talking about outcomes rather than processes.