The Liberal dilemma: electoral reform or policy influence?

The third party has a history of being more ambiguous about proportional representation than is usua

Dr David Butler, the grand old man of British psephology, was on to something when he observed on BBC News this lunchtime that he thought electoral reform would come about only if two general elections in a row resulted in a hung parliament.

We've just had one -- two in a row would take high odds -- and some will say that Nick Clegg will have failed completely if his party's new-found presence on the national stage does not result the Lib Dems securing some form of proportional representation.

But the third party has a history of being far more ambiguous about PR than is generally thought. It has not always been the glittering prize the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, suggested it was this afternoon. When asked by his colleague William Douglas Home what he should emphasise in a by-election campaign in 1957, for instance, the then Liberal leader, Jo Grimond, replied: "Proportional representation. Wouldn't it be awful if we ever got it?"

A week before the general election of 1964, Grimond sensed that Harold Wilson was heading for, at best, a very slim majority (it turned out to be four). But using any bargaining power he might have to extract a Liberal-friendly electoral system was not on Grimond's mind.

As Michael McManus puts it in his biography of the Liberal leader, Towards the Sound of Gunfire:

He said that, in the event of a hung parliament, "it would not be our object to make political capital . . . We would not expect a government to bring in proportional representation . . . we would try to press policies which certainly we want enacted, but which we also think would be particularly relevant and command wide support in the country."

And the day after the election, "Grimond again preferred caution to threats: 'Some time we shall have to change the electoral system . . . not immediately . . . the most important thing to face is the economic situation.' "

Sound familiar?

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Changing the Gender Recognition Act won't solve discrimination

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. 

The Government's recent announcement of a review to the current Gender Recognition Act - the right to legally change gender - has been given the full support of the the leader of the Labour Party with his proclamation that to comply with the act requires "invasive" medical treatment.

Like many people, Jeremy Corbyn has not read the 2004 Act nor understands its consequences, or the reason for its existence, particularly in relation to discrimination, which in essence the 2004 Gender Recognition Act does very little if nothing to fight. To clarify, there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any surgery or treatment, as some people are not fit nor able to undergo any form of medical intervention.

When we come to discrimination there is a blatant failure by organisations to educate their workforce about the rights of transsexual people. This is made worse by the perpetual use of the word "transgender" - originally a derogatory American slang word, which fails to differentiate between individuals who wear clothes of the opposite gender for whatever reason and those who genuinely feel they were born in the wrong bodies.

Close examination of any discrimination legislation reveals the only word used to describe people born in the wrong body, that is, "transsexual". So widespread is the use of the word transgender by the media, including the BBC, that the public, as well as parliament, insists on using it. Yet "transgender" is not in legislation for a very good reason. Transgender has no legal definition, even being used to describe people who are not transsexual but transvestite (people who wear the clothes of the opposite gender).

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. The public is confused, parliament is confused, the media is confused. All of them assign rights that belong specifically to a small minority of people, widely persecuted and discriminated against, to people who have no specific right to protection and do not suffer the same levels and degrees of discrimination a transsexual person does.This adds to the woes of a very small group whose voice is hardly heard, if it is listened to at all, instead being drowned out by cross-dressers, transvestites, drag kings and queens, gender queer and non-binary people and a plethora of others claiming all sorts of gender difference, which are difficult if not next to impossible to define.

The publication by the BBC of details of pay to the men and women it employs has highlighted a difference in our society that should not exist but does. The vote to leave the EU has also brought about a meteoric rise in racism, which everyone thought had been dealt with by legislation. It has not. Clear legislation needs to be reinforced by action. These are two examples where legislation has failed and has detrimental consequences for individuals.  The issue is no different for transsexual people; the law needs to be followed by actions.

The key mover in changing our society to accept difference is education, yet governments consistently fail to ensure either that a compulsory policy of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is implemented. Discrimination at all levels is allowed to continue. Ofsted staff have no clear understanding of the nine protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act; like many organisations they confuse "gender" with "gender re-assignment" by omitting the latter entirely. In Wales the compulsory policy is not implemented because the Welsh Government is too afraid of parents' reaction to compulsory SRE.

If the Labour party and the governments in the UK want to effectively help transsexual people then they need to speak to those people directly, not organistions claiming to represent all and sundry about the issues transsexual people face in society. Politicians should also stop tinkering with something which successive governments are not effectively policing and supporting in the first place.

The writer is a transsexual woman living in Wales. A pseudonym has been used.