Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Sue Garden on Constitutional Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st August, 2012

The mainstream media in Britain like to poke fun at the Liberal Democrats, saying they are obsessive about constitutional reform. This is meant to be an insult, but should be regarded as a compliment; the other two main parties are happy to live with the corrupt old system we have at present in England as well as in the UK Parliament, because each of them will normally come out a winner every few years almost by Buggins’ turn. The Liberal Democrats — and Liberals before them — have indeed been dogged in trying to drag our political system into the 20th, let alone the 21st, century; for over 100 years they have been trying to reform the House of Lords. Tory backwoodsmen killed that off recently (though Labour didn’t exactly rally round strongly to say they would work hard to get it through in a tripartite agreement between LibDems, Labour and progressive Tories). And of course the AV referendum was a catastrophe. Nonetheless, it is a tribute to the LibDems’ genuine attachment to the issue that the Camden local party was able to attract an impressive turnout on a balmy summer’s evening like this evening for a discussion on constitutional reform led by their local life peer, Baroness (Sue) Garden of Frognal. Sue is now a government whip, but nonetheless recognises that the current situation with the Lords is a total anomaly. Alas, it is unlikely that any significant change in that Chamber will come for some considerable time. However, I, along with some others, stressed how the LibDems really ought to be pressing for fairer votes at the local level — something already enjoyed by the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, notably. It is grotesque that we have such a warped first-the-post voting system that we can end up with local authorities that are one party states, like North Korea. There are two in East London where I live: Newham and Barking & Dagenham; both 100% Labour. No wonder few people in those boroughs bother to vote. This is something the Party should consider pressing as part of its next election manifesto. And unlike AV for Westminster, which was a real dogs’ dinner anyway, STV for local elections is something everyone can understand. And it would mean that everyone should get at least one local representative who is not beholden to the ruling group’s line.

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