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A bigger Lib Dem consolation prize if AV is lost

Michael Crick | 11:01 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

If the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum is lost then the Liberal Democrats have a fall back reform which could deliver them a far greater prize in the long term than the Alternative Vote. And that's reform of the House of Lords.

Most psephologists reckon that AV would have given the Lib Dems perhaps 15 or 20 extra seats at the 2010 election. And the Lib Dem gain from AV would be a lot lower if their support falls to the kind of levels currently suggested in the polls.

AV would be nothing like as rewarding as proper PR, under which the Liberal Democrats would have got around 140 seats in 2010. And contrary to what the No campaign have been suggesting, AV wouldn't give the Lib Dems a permanent place in government or mean that we will have coalition government for evermore. It only makes such outcomes a bit more likely.

In contrast, Lords reform could give the Lib Dems a lot more power in the long term - what might almost amount to a permanent veto on legislation.

The Coalition Agreement commits the parties to a new upper chamber that would be "wholly or mainly elected". That's now likely to mean 80% elected, but also, crucially, it is generally expected the new chamber would be elected under proportional representation (PR).

That would probably mean the Lib Dems held the balance of power in the new upper house on an almost permanent basis. So even if future governments had a majority in the Commons (thanks to First-Past-the-Post), they could only get legislation through the Lords with the approval of the Lib Dems.

OK, you can argue that neither this government, nor its Labour predecessor had a majority in the Lords, so they, too, have had to build consensuses among peers to get their bills through, and under Labour that usually meant Lib Dem support. But the Liberal Democrats' position would be far more powerful in a democratically reformed PR Lords.

First, in the current Lords the 93 Lib Dem peers have to compete for this balance-of-power role with a much larger group of 184 independent cross-bench peers. It depends on the detail of the reformed Lords, and presumably there will be some role for independents, but nonetheless the crossbenchers are likely to be a much smaller group in a chamber that is primarily elected.

Second, the elected nature of the second chamber will give it a greater legitimacy than now, and so it will be less likely to back down in disputes with the Commons (a reason many MPs are wary of making the Lords more democratic).

A draft bill on Lords reform is promised before the end of May. However, many in politics are sceptical that the Lords will ever be reformed during this Parliament, not least because any such plans will meet stiff opposition from the current upper house. But if the Lib Dems lose the AV referendum then they are likely to press more strongly for Lords reform. And David Cameron is more likely to agree, so as to keep the Coalition going.

But many Conservatives will be applying counter pressure. Many Tories are upset with Mr Cameron for twice making what they see as huge electoral concessions to the Lib Dems - in granting equal billing to Nick Clegg in the TV debates, and then the AV referendum.

If the Lib Dems achieve the prize of a PR Lords, and hence a permanent boost to their strength at Westminster, then all of the current grief of belonging to the Coalition could prove worthwhile.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Michael - that all assumes the Coalition will survive the bloodbath of May's elections. Expect a coup against Clegg and the Coalition's demise.

  • Comment number 2.

    Cameron granted equal billing to Clegg because the coalition deal had already been drafted. He wanted Clegg as a back up. He will push for Lords reform trying to seal a generation of Tory-led coalition government with LibDem. If Tories get overall majority he wins, but also if hung parliament he wins. Miliband trying to play same game by backing AV and not being villain. Very political but not very democratic ( for public that is )

  • Comment number 3.

    The likely minimising of the Crossbenchers is probably the main reason why I oppose a fully elected House of Lords...

  • Comment number 4.

    That 20% should be the cross benchers and shouldn't include any of the old guard hereditaries who are pretty much the direct descendants of the old Norman robber barons. I oppose 100% elections since that would remove the non-partisan nature of the cross-bench. Let the rest of them fight it out. One thing not mentioned was the Parliament Act, unless that is going to be repealed any post elected Lords political obstructionism will be overcome in the usual way. Let the reforms commence, I for one, long to see the back of criminal and unsackable peers.

  • Comment number 5.

    vote NO and Clegg is history....

  • Comment number 6.

    NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW

    When some celebrity MP sticks their head above the rim, and comes over all dedicated and honourable, gaining kudos, one is sometimes moved to contact them - democratically.

    However, our Mendacious Puppets have a little homespun convention: IF YOU ARE NOT A CONSTITUENT, YOU CAN WHISTLE. (You know how to whistle - don't you?)

    It gets better. The Lords are put forward as the place to go if YOUR member won't or isn't functioning.

    http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-a-lord/lord/

    However, if they don't like the look of the issue, THEY DON'T REPLY EITHER.

    Westminster regards us with contempt - jointly and severally.

    That's democracy folks.

  • Comment number 7.

    DONKEY FOUND DEAD BETWEEN TO PILES

    I cannot bring myself to vote NO, as it is being backed by the most vile, negative campaigning since the last vile negative campaign - with Vilemeister Dave falsely smiling down as usual.

    I cannot bring myself to vote YES as it is: HERE'S A REFERENDUM - NOW WILL YOU SHUT UP. Dave only let Nick have it, in the certainty it would fail. And the pathetic suggestion it will lead on to PR or Nirvana is - well - pathetic.

    Will there be an ABSTAIN option?

    Democracy isn't working.

  • Comment number 8.

    Barrie vote NO you know it makes sense....don't give horrid Nick a place to hide....

  • Comment number 9.

    A fascinating post Michael. Enjoyed that. However, I would point out that the LibDems are 10% in the polls! So they are not guaranteed to have much of a role in the upper house even if elected under PR! My personal view has always been that the LibDems would not gain significantly more seats under a PR system than First Past the Past simply because I think the Greens vote would rise (taking away votes from the LibDems) and I also see under PR the long-term emergence of a Libertarian/small state eurosceptic party which would prove attractive to some LibDem voters..... Interesting times

  • Comment number 10.

    MINISTRY OF FUNNY WALKS (#8)

    Watching Dave closely, I think Nick has already found a hiding (to nothing) place.

  • Comment number 11.

    Agree May will see Coalition falling apart as LibDems are more than decimated and I'll bet AV is rejected too as the votes they need to win will be cast against Clegg's duplicity, so exit stage left any LibDem hope of electoral reform for a generation.

    Full PR for the second chamber is a MUCH more interesting discussion and a proposition I'd probably support, with some caveats.

    Firstly a floor on % vote support to keep the Nazis etc. out of Parliament, secondly this might well prompt a complete realignment splitting the "broad churches" of left & right, plus allowing voting Green to count for something - UKIP would take the right-wing Tories away with them, plus a new grouping to the left of Labour would emerge and the centre could well fragment into 2,3 or even 4 groups - the fear is of religious based parties gaining traction.

    That doesn't sound like a LibDem balance-of-power left-right split to me - it would more likely result in a much more fluid situation with the Right having to buy off UKIP and the left making common cause with the Greens, whilst the Centre floundered around in wishy-washy compromise politics that has bedevilled us with the main parties courting 250 voters in "Middle England" to win FPTP seats in the Commons, all trying to be even more centrist than each other.

    We also need to disestablish the church of England and end the hard wired link between government and religion once and for all.

    Anyway, why virtually no politics blogging these days?

    Crick's missives seem to be the only ones for a week on the Beeb..

  • Comment number 12.

    WHY DOES COUNTRY-MANAGEMENT NEED PARTIES AND CHAMBERS? (#11)

    Other major enterprises are not run this way.

    And isn't it time to maximise contentment above domination - in various forms?

    Might the two be connected? I think so; but am I making myself clear?

    SPOILPARTYGAMES

  • Comment number 13.

    "A bigger Lib Dem consolation prize if AV lost"

    What? Clegg out on his ear. Now that would be a prize worth winning, especially for all the real LibDems who will take an electoral kicking up and down the country on May 5th.

    The biggest irony would be a win for AV at the same time as LibDem voting share potentially down to single figures.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Lib-Dems on the ground are already in revolt or voting with their feet. No amount of voting reform will help the party as it now is. Even under PR, parties can disappear: look at what's happening to the Free-Democrats in Germany.

    I will vote YES in June, because I live in a constituency (Carmarthen West and South Pembs) where there is usually a three or even four cornered fight. In 2005 the winner only got 30% of the vote. Voting decisions are often based on second guessing as to who the current top two are. Candidates do not campaign positively, but try to blackmail us into voting for X as the only way to keep Y out. If they then become the largest minority, they suggest of course that they have a mandate. AV will put an end to that nonsense and make it possible to vote positively and logical to have the possibility of recall ballots to keep incumbents on their toes.

    As for the second chamber, if we have a regional STV system, with say three to four member constituencies, then it would take power away from party machines and enable independents to get elected if they had enough support. We need to abolish the term "Lord", to reinforce the idea that these people are our servants and not our masters. Perhaps they should have an innocuous title like "State Councilor".

    If AV goes down the pan, and we get another party with absolute power on 35% of the vote, I will no longer accept the legitimacy of the government, and will be prepared to resist by all means necessary.

    BTW I also think the present incumbent should be the last Windsor Head of State. I would prefer a British title for her successor rather than "President". How does "Protector" (of the new "Commonwealth of Britain") sound?

  • Comment number 15.

    And for those who think that nothing will ever get better:

    "You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become?" - Terry Pratchett's 'Death' in 'The Hogfather'

  • Comment number 16.

    '11. At 17:48pm 13th Apr 2011, richard bunning

    Anyway, why virtually no politics blogging these days?

    Crick's missives seem to be the only ones for a week on the Beeb..'


    Well, there's holidays. Lots of those. Then there's watertight oversight. Broadcast only doesn't suffer from that problem of course. And if it did, there's always early closing.

    Also, I'm not terribly sure even what does scrape out really counts as billed.

    You'd probably get more politics, and certainly more attribution to what is usually just rampant gossip, in OK! magazine.

  • Comment number 17.

    I will vote YES because the current system is excluding so many voters from the process: vote YES not because it may give Lib Dems more seats, but because AV is a start in making the system fairer and more democratic. Those who vote NO seem to me to be doing so entirely out of self interest "I think we'll lose seats, so regardless of whether it is fairer or not, I will think of any argument to give me more chance of power." I believe the advent of more diversity in politics is the imperative for a fairer system. People expect to have more of a say in this on-line world and reforming the voting system is one way to start. Of course the Lib Dems may benefit, but the clue is in the name of the party and its fundamental values.

  • Comment number 18.

    The proposed AV v FPTP UK Referendum consists of a contrived, fabricated and simplistic bipolar choice of only two inadequate options set against unfit UK Electoral Law, unfit UK Electoral Registers and unfit UK Election Returning Officer negligible powers of cross-constituency scrutiny. Election Returning Officers will be unable to guarantee 'One Person-One Vote' nor to sign off ANY part of such a referendum as 'true', 'democratic', 'free' or 'fair'.

    Here are fundamental AV v FPTP BOGUS REFERENDUM flaws:

    1. UK Electoral Law - NOT 'fit for purpose'.
    2. UK Electoral Registers - NOT 'fit for purpose'.
    3. UK CERO powers - NOT 'fit for purpose'.

    A UK REFERENDUM MUST, ON PRINCIPLE, BE GUARANTEED TO BE VERIFIABLY AND GENUINELY 'ONE PERSON-ONE VOTE'.

    IF THIS AV v FPTP BOGUS REFERENDUM IS ATTEMPTED IT WILL NOT BE.

    BOGUS UK ELECTORAL REGISTERS = BOGUS REFERENDUM:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/second_home_voters_1.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/secret_ballots_and_second_home.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/worried_about_second_home_vote.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/kevins_too_busy_to_probe_secon.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/game_on.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2010/06/a_letter_to_the_chief.html

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/grahamsmith/2011/04/some_second_home_voters_purged.html

    In the face of such corrupt and non-democratic electoral foundations, these may be the only rational responses to the RUBBISH REFERENDUM:

    BOYCOTT THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CONSERVATIVE PARTY CAMERON CLEGG COALITION BOGUS AV v FPTP REFERENDUM.

    OR

    SPOIL YOUR BALLOT PAPER WITH A SUITABLY CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE BOGUS AV v FPTP UK REFERENDUM - A LIBDEMCON COALITION CON.

    NOTE: ALL SPOILED BALLOT PAPERS HAVE TO BE RECORDED AND NUMBERS PUBLISHED.

    ANYONE WHO VALUES GENUINE DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES AND WISHES TO SEE GENUINE 'ONE PERSON-ONE VOTE' DEMOCRACY IN THE UK WILL NOT ENDORSE THIS ABSURD, INFANTILE, UNSOUND, NON-CREDIBLE, SHALLOW, RESTRICTED AND INSULTING BOGUS REFERENDUM WITH THEIR VALUABLE VOTE.

    CONSIDER THIS:
    IF THE NUMBER OF SPOILED BALLOT PAPERS EXCEEDS THE 'YES's, THE 'NO's or BOTH - WHAT NEXT?

  • Comment number 19.

    By the way, why haven't THOSE FACTS OF FLAWED ELECTORAL CONDITIONS been raised by the Newsnight team when questioning politicians on the subject ?
    Isn't it high time you all do?

 

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