The Labour Split – Time for British Proportional Representation

A British Proportional Representation ballot paper.
British Proportional Representation – as easy as 1, 2, 3

Today’s big political news is that seven MPs have resigned the Labour whip and party membership, and are standing together as “The Independent Group”. It’s too early to say what this might mean in the long term. However there’s been lots of talk about “splitting the vote” and whether standing for re-election will help or harm the causes they’re fighting for.

These arguments come down to the flawed way we elect MPs. We use a system known as “First Past The Post” or, more correctly, plurality voting – whoever gets the most votes (a plurality) wins. There is no post.

The Liberal Democrats believe that we should use British Proportional Representation, also known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV). It has three properties which make it fairer and more transparent:

  1. Firstly, it is preferential. This means that rather than voting for one candidate, you list the candidates in order of preference. This means that you can safely vote for the candidate you actually want to win, rather than the “least worst” option of the likely candidates. This was the key property of the Alternative Vote system proposed as a compromise by the Coalition in 2011.
  2. Secondly, it is proportional. This means that the result of the election actually reflects the votes cast. It is very odd to realise that this is not the case currently!
  3. Thirdly, it is open. This means that you vote for a candidate not a party, and the parties can’t choose who “wins” their seats. This means that you can prefer one candidate over another within the same party – perhaps a pro-EU candidate from your party of choice, over a pro-Brexit one. It also means that politicians rejected at the ballot box can’t end up representing the people who rejected them through “top up” lists.

One of the key effects of these properties is that there will be far fewer “safe seats”. MPs and political parties will have to work harder across the country for their constituents.

The obvious attack is that the Lib Dems only support this system because it would benefit us electorally. And overall it probably would – historically, we do worse in terms of election results than the votes cast would suggest. But there’s nothing in these three properties which are inherently biased towards one party over another. It’s just fairer and gives more of a say to voters.

Given the state of politics these days, there’s an urgent need for a movement calling for British Proportional Representation. I believe that this movement needs to be distinct from any political party to avoid accusations of self-interest. Unfortunately, we don’t have one.

There’s the Electoral Reform Society who mostly lobby Parliament. MPs who’ve been elected under the current system generally quite like the current system and don’t want to reform it and make their jobs harder. There’s also Make Votes Matter, who are organising along party-political lines, and calling for a generic “Proportional Representation”. This allows them to build a wide base of support, but that base will collapse when any specific reform is proposed.

So at the moment I’m a bit stuck. I’d love there to be a grass-roots organisation spreading the message about British Proportional Representation, getting voters to decide it’s important and lobbying MPs, candidates and parties to support it. But this organisation doesn’t exist and I don’t have the time or money to start it. The need for this reform is critical, but there’s nobody driving it.

How Do We Win a Peoples’ Vote?

Manchester for Europe calling for a People’s Vote in Longsight

Just before Christmas, I was in Longsight with Manchester for Europe, talking to people about how Brexit was going.

The Leave campaign broke electoral law during the Referendum. There is no democratic mandate for Brexit, and particularly not for the hard Brexit that Theresa May’s deal entails – let alone the disaster that a No-Deal Brexit crash-out would entail. This is not the will of the people. It is the will of Theresa May trying to save her own skin from the far-right of the Tory party.

I believe that Parliament should act in the best interests of the country, rescind the invocation of Article 50, and work on healing the divide in the country without self-imposed misery on top. But it seems that the most plausible way out of this mess is a Peoples’ Vote, a choice between either the Prime Minister’s Deal or Remaining in the European Union – a clearer choice with more facts on the table, now we know the “Brexit Dividend” of £350 million per week for the NHS was nonsense, now we know that Nigel Farage “never promised Brexit would be a huge success”.

However, I don’t believe that a Peoples’ Vote will necessarily go the way I want it to. Very little has been done to close the loopholes exploited by Leave campaigners during the last referendum, and the Internet is still full of fake news. The Labour Party, and in particular Jeremy Corbyn, have been particularly disappointing – they know full well that any form of Brexit would be devastating, but are still trying to sit on the fence. Some Labour supporters seem to want the chaos of Brexit to deliver a Labour Government, without realising it will be unable to deliver its programme from the post-Brexit economic and political wasteland.

Dave Page standing in front of an In Together street stall / gazebo.
On a street stall on 23rd June 2016. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep at this point…

Most importantly, the Brexit vote came from somewhere – it came from peoples’ dissatisfaction with the way things are. As a Liberal Democrat, I share a lot of that dissatisfaction. People do worry about the NHS, about affordable housing, about jobs and communities. People worry about not having a say in their lives.

The Leave campaign was wrong to blame the EU, and immigration more widely, for these problems. They are fixable – and the Liberal Democrats have the solutions. We have plans to increase funding for the NHS, and build more social housing. And these plans start with keeping us in the EU where we retain our economic and political power on the world stage as part of a huge trading bloc, giving the country more resources.

Under Labour and Conservative Governments alike we’ve seen too much of the wealth and power go to people at the top. In Coalition we managed to start closing tax loopholes by raising capital gains tax, cut income tax for low earners, and put more funding into schools. We passed a Localism Act which gave councils more powers to build housing. And without the Conservatives or Labour holding us back, we’d be able to go much further.

But most important is peoples’ sense of powerlessness. In Manchester’s one-party state, it is particularly acute. The Liberal Democrats, above all things, believe in power coming from the people – whether it’s more money in low earners’ pockets, or electoral reform so you can vote for who you want to win and have that mean something.

If we achieve a Peoples’ Vote on the path back from the cliff-edge of Brexit, we need to go further than just pointing out the lies and illegal cheating of the Leave campaign. We need to convince people that we can fix the problems they see around them – and I believe the Liberal Democrats have the best ideas to do this.

Expanding Heathrow… to Manchester?

A few weeks ago, the Government approved the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London, with support from the Labour and Conservative Parties. This has been a controversial plan ever since it was first suggested in 2006 – increased air traffic will lead to more air and noise pollution, and the disruption to local communities will be significant. However, Heathrow is at 99% capacity, meaning disruptions can be severe.

A map of the planned Manchester Interchange Station at Manchester Airport
The planned Manchester Interchange station at Manchester Airport

There is, I think, a better solution to this. We already have trains which exist “beyond” UK passport control – you can get on a Channel Tunnel train at Kings Cross International, and you’re not allowed to get off at Ashford International because you’ve already left the country. With Old Oak Common providing a Crossrail and HS2 station near Heathrow, we have the opportunity to run “air side” trains along HS2 to Birmingham and Manchester Airports. This means passengers don’t need to go through passport control “into” the UK, travel to another airport, then go back “out” and check their luggage again at the far end.

Continue reading Expanding Heathrow… to Manchester?

One Year On from the Arena Bombing

Cover of the Manchester Evening News, 22/05/2018 - a black cover, a heart made of bees, and the names of the 22 victimsA year ago today, at 10:31pm, 22 people lost their lives. Young lives, full of potential, enjoying Ariana Grande. In the days that followed, I attended the big Albert Square vigil, I shared in the grief. My city, my home, had been attacked. More than that – I’ve been to the Arena to see Bill Bailey and Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails and other acts, with friends and loved ones. This felt personal.

The One Love Manchester concert a fortnight later was another opportunity for us to come together, around the world, to start to rebuild. Plus will.i.am shouting “What’s up London?” at Old Trafford, which was a cringe-inducing, hilarious gaffe.

In the year that’s passed, I’ve been proud that we’ve not forgotten the attack, but we’ve not let it define us either. Today’s commemorations have shown the city at its best, and the complete failure of the Football Lads Alliance protest last Saturday shows that we won’t let the tragedy be co-opted by hatred.

Just as Manchester is bigger than the IRA bomb in 1996, we’re bigger than this. We’re the greatest city in the world. And we mourn the dead and we don’t forget and we take pride in ourselves and each other and our city. And tomorrow, just like last year’s tomorrow, we get up and we get on with it. One Love.

Your Liberal Britain: Work/Life Balance

Around the country, Your Liberal Britain events are giving people a chance to discuss what they want to see in a fair, free and open society. I was recently invited to speak at an event organised by Richard Flowers and the Cheadle Liberal Democrats, on something I’d like to see in a Liberal Britain.

I could have picked an obvious Lib Dem topic such as mental health, electoral reform, or social equality. But I decided to pick a topic that isn’t covered so much – work/life balance. I gave a short (3.5 minute) speech, followed by a Q&A. You can see a video of the speech below, followed by my notes as a rough transcript.

The discussion that followed touched on the value of work, dignity in the work place, employment standards and other topics. It was a great evening, and the other talks (Holly on how we treat immigrants, and Louise Bowe on diversity) are also well worth a watch.

For my Liberal Future, I’m going to look to the past. About a hundred and fifty years ago, to the Industrial Revolution. It was a time of great political upheaval, with the Chartists calling for access to democracy for the working class.

Working days of 10-15 hours were common, including Saturdays. As machines and steam supplanted manual and repetitive labour, people were working harder than ever. A popular slogan was “8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours leisure” – along with half-day Saturdays a balance which led to longer life, better health, the Football Association and more involvement in civic society and politics.

Since then, there has been another radical change in technology. Microelectronics and computers have automated repetitive thinking as well as repetitive labour. There has been no matching radical look at our work/life balance. Improvements have been made – proper rest breaks for shift workers, for example. There was the EU Working Time Directive. But even before Brexit, we had an opt out from that. It’s time for a new movement for worker’s rights.

These days we are working longer and harder than for decades. We’re spending more time commuting. And according to research by the New Economics Foundation and others, we’re not achieving more. We value hours at work more than work achieved. We are putting our people under unnecessary strain, damaging our health and mental health. And it is counter-productive. Most people in most jobs working more than 30 hours week are not achieving more than they would at 30 hours.

My vision of a Liberal Britain is one that puts people first, which strikes a new fair balance between work, rest and leisure. A 30 hour week as the standard – five days of six hours, or four of seven and a half.

What would this look like? An increase in the minimum wage because we expect people to work, improved access to public transport to cut the time and stress of commuting. Better access to flexible working, whether that’s working from home or flexible hours. Perhaps it’s no longer assuming that shops open 9 to 5.

Some of this will introduce costs. But it will also provide benefits – people will have more time, and importantly energy, to spend with friends and family. More time for civic society, from Neighbourhood Watch to the Liberal Democrats. More time to understand and appreciate the world around us. Better mental health, better transport for leisure,

As Liberals, when society has taken a path which is counter-productive, we shouldn’t be afraid to make the case for better way. This is my vision of a Liberal Britain for the future.

First Thoughts from Post-Referendum England

sadeuCameron has done the right thing by resigning, but he should have gone straight away. We need a Brexit figurehead as PM to take responsibility for what’s going to happen over the next few months. In under 12 hours, Leave have said (a) there won’t be £350m/week for the NHS (b) we’re not going to invoke Article 50 (the process for leaving the EU) any time soon and (c) we will probably keep freedom of movement. They spent months plugging these lies to the people, and dropped them as soon as the polls closed.

Corbyn must go. He’s been as weak on this referendum as he has been on everything else. Never mind Labour’s culpability for trying so hard to destroy the Lib Dems that they let the Tories get a majority in 2015. We need a Leader of the Opposition who will stand there in PMQs every week asking the new pro-Brexit Prime Minister where this week’s £350m has gone, and act surprised when the PM cannot answer.

We must be kind to each other, and keep spreading love and truth and decency and equality and diversity. Of course we must. My friend Rhona is correct that we have every right to be angry at those who chose to vote Leave – they had all the facts at their fingertips, and chose to ignore the “so-called experts” and put their prejudices ahead of reason.

But if we’re ever going to win our country back from the rich establishment figures who’ve run a xenophobic campaign, we need to make sure we’re addressing peoples’ concerns. We need to make the positive case for migration providing extra resources which could be invested in housing, the NHS and public services if we voted for a Government to do that. The Greater Manchester mayoral election next year is a good place to start.

Lots of people are talking about organising in various ways as a result of this – starting new movements, joining unions etc. I will say simply that the best framework I’ve found for furthering the cause of decency, equality and of course liberalism is the one found at http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

Don’t Be A Leaver’s Mug

Don't Be A Leaver's MugThe EU Referendum is only a week away. I’ve been pounding the pavement as part of the Lib Dems’ Team #INtogether, and with the non-party-affiliated Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, to get the message across: we have more power, more influence, a better economy, a better environment, a safer world and more jobs if we Remain in the EU.

Today, the Manchester Evening News makes it crystal clear. The Leave camp blame the EU for problems caused by decades of under-investment in the North West by successive Labour and Tory Governments – supported by the key politicians behind Leave.

Leaving the EU won’t mean more money for the UK. Even if it did, the people likely to hold national power when the dust settles won’t spend it on our NHS or other things that benefit the average Mancunian.

In the EU, we have more say, more jobs and more money. Nearly every expert and business agrees. We need to Remain, and we need Lib Dem councillors, mayors, MPs and MEPs to make sure we benefit from the opportunities we get from being #INtogether

The Tories and Kippers behind Leave think we’re idiots. Think all they have to do is keep shouting “Project Fear” and “take control”, and we’ll vote to give them the power to make our lives worse.

Don’t fall for it. Vote Remain on 23rd June.

The Orange Grove, Fallowfield

The Orange Grove, Fallowfield
The Orange Grove, Fallowfield

According to the Manchester Evening News, the former Orange Grove pub in Fallowfield may be knocked down and the site turned into more flats.

I’m not a fan of the idea – that part of the main road is very busy, with loads of shops and takeaways, and even before it closed the Orange Grove represented a bit of a break for the eye-line and some welcome greenery. In an area largely populated with bars, it was also nice to have a wider choice of pubs before it shut.

Ideally, if it can’t survive as a pub, I’d like to see it turned into a large late-night café with space for people to read and relax, perhaps some meeting area for groups from knitting to political campaigns, and retain the outdoor area. I’m not sure whether that’d be viable as a business though – what do others think?

Edited to add: Withington Lib Dem MP John Leech has also opposed this development.


Orange Grove, Fallowfield” is by Adam Bruderer, and available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license