David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband stand together as Prince Charles launches a new youth campaign at Buckingham Palace. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The 2015 election could revive the electoral reform debate

Labour could win fewer votes but more seats than the Tories and Ukip could win more votes than the Lib Dems but no seats.

One consequence of the Tories moving ahead of Labour for the first time since March 2012 is that MPs of all parties are beginning to discuss the possibility that the Conservatives could win the most votes in 2015 while Labour wins the most seats. Such an outcome is made possible by the first-past-the-post system. While the Tories pile up wasted votes in high turnout areas, Labour efficiently pockets city constituencies where fewer take part. 

On a uniform swing, Lord Ashcroft's poll (which puts the Tories on 34 per cent and Labour on 32 per cent) would leave Labour with 14 more seats (307 to 293) than the Conservatives. David Cameron requires a lead of around four points before his party moves ahead. 

Were Labour to win more seats with fewer votes (as last happened in February 1974 and in reverse in 1951), the Tories would have no grounds for complaint. They have resisted every attempt to reform the system, most recently in the case of the AV referendum. (The failed boundary changes would have reduced but far from eliminated Labour's advantage.) But the outcome would be widely seen as perverse and undemocratic. Alongside this, it is possible that Ukip (a pro-reform party) could receive more votes than the Lib Dems but win no seats. 

All of this would have the effect of reviving the debate over electoral reform, which has laid dormant since the defeat of AV in 2011. The Lib Dems and Ukip would be in a strong position to push for a referendum on proportional representation (although I'm told that PR for local government is a more likely coalition red line) and the flaws of a system designed for an era when the two main parties won 96 per cent of the vote between them will have been exposed as never before. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

0800 7318496