The General Election is fast approaching. The main political parties vying for our votes have published their manifestos; the campaign is in full swing. Now some of you may remember I wrote an article a few months ago, in which I defended Nick Clegg’s decision to enter a coalition with the Conservatives. At the end of that article I made a bold statement: I would not vote Lib Dem again whilst Nick Clegg was the leader.
This is a statement I made prematurely. It was made whilst being caught up in the rhetoric of David Cameron’s pledge for English votes, for English laws (in the wake of Salmond’s defeat to gain independence for Scotland). This is an idea which I am 100 per cent in favour of and it was placed the cross in the ‘Conservative’ box on my ballot paper. But then the campaign began, the Leaders’ Debate happened and my brief holiday romance with the Tories was over.
A lot of people have lost their faith in the Lib Dems because of the coalition fiasco. A lot of people claimed that Clegg ‘jumped into bed with Cameron’ and that the Lib Dems sold their souls and threw their policies and beliefs onto a blue-burning funeral pyre. These sorts of claims have damaged the Lib Dems and it must be said, unfairly so. I won’t spend another few paragraphs detailing the ins and outs of my position on the Coalition (it can be read here), but what I want to talk about today, are the reasons why, despite my brief affair with the Tories, I am voting Liberal; why I will always vote Liberal.
The first point to make is perhaps a purely ideological one. The Conservatives, Labour, UKIP, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru all sit on one side of the political spectrum or the other. Left wing politics, right wing politics. They are both unbalanced in some way leaving a large proportion of the public feeling dissatisfied when either the left or right are elected to power. But hey, that’s democracy right? If the majority vote for it, then you have to accept it. While this is true, one of the things that motivates me to Lib Dem is the fact that they are the only well balanced and politically fair party. On the spectrum, they sit right in the middle. They offer the best parts of left and right wing politics whilst leaving out the extremes of each; why can’t more people see that this is surely a good thing? Surely it makes sense to vote for a party that can offer balanced legislation that looks after the workers and the most vulnerable people in the country, whilst also ensuring that the wealthiest are not punished by extreme taxation. Of course there are people who will sympathise with either of these extremes, but the vast majority of people I feel sit right in the middle. So why not vote for a party that represents this middleness?
One of the arguments I hear so often in response to the balanced middleness of the Liberal Democrats is “oh they’re just sitting on the fence, they don’t know what they want” or “they have no identity”. These statements are completely untrue. The Liberal Democrat identity is rooted in its name. They are liberal. They are not conservative (note small ‘c’), they are not socialist. They stand for a fair and free society; one that does not favour the super rich, one that does not pour public money into the welfare system and allows anybody to claim. Their identity lie in the middle of the political spectrum – the ‘best of both worlds’ if you will. That’s an ideal worth voting and fighting for.
The next key reason I’m voting Lib Dem is that of electoral reform. The current system ignores those who do not vote Labour or Conservative. At the last election in 2010, despite having a higher share of the vote than in previous elections (23%), the Lib Dems actually lost seats! If this truly is a fair and democratic society that allows all people to be given their say, how can this be allowed to be the case? The First Past the Post system has served its time. It has provided the two-party politics of the twentieth century a basis upon which to thrive. But we are not in the twentieth century anymore. We no longer have a two-party system; last night’s debate is evidence of that. We need an electoral system that gives everybody in the country who votes, a voice. A voice that is no longer compelled to vote tactically instead of for the values that they hold most dear. A voice that is not listened to if their cross wasn’t blue or red.
The Single Transferable Vote is the system that the Liberal Democrats would introduce should they ever be elected to government. It is a system that offers proportional representation, whilst still allowing for the constituency/seats system to function. In a rather unprofessional way, I’ll attempt to explain how the STV system works. Much like the Alternative Vote, voters rank their chosen candidates in order of preference (1-5 for example). The votes are counted and once a candidate has passed the required quota for that constituency, they are elected. The difference between STV and AV is that there is more than one seat up for grabs in a constituency, and so a party can put forward multiple candidates. Any votes above the threshold for the winning candidate are then distributed across the other potential MPs according to preference to fill the rest of the available seats. Each constituency has a different quota that is needed:
(Valid votes cast/seats+1)+1
20,000 votes and 3 seats.
(20,000/4)+1=5,001 votes needed.
*Courtesy of the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/interactive/2010/may/10/proportional-representation-alternative-vote-plus)
Whilst this may be a complicated system to explain to people who are unfamiliar with it, and it may be costly to overhaul the system, it offers people the chance to vote for people and parties in whom they strongly believe. It gives smaller parties like the Greens and even the Lib Dems, the chance to have their voices heard in Westminster. A lot of people’s political voices are being silenced by an electoral system favoured by Labour and the Tories because it keeps them in power. If the country were divided into three constituencies, one constituency with a million people all voted Lib Dem, and other two each with 1,000 people voted Labour, then under the current system Labour would win despite only having 2,000 votes. I know this example is extreme, but it clearly demonstrates how the current system fails. Only the Liberal Democrats offer a chance to reform our electoral system.
Based on what I’ve just discussed, it’s clear that the Lib Dems won’t win an outright majority. In fact, I think it’s clear from recent opinion polls that we are probably heading for another hung parliament. This means that either the Tories or Labour will need to be supported by a smaller party in order to form a majority government. Look at our options for who could do that. Let’s start with UKIP. As good a politician as I think Nigel Farage is, I don’t like his or his parties policies. Everything wrong with the UK is down to immigration…apparently. Whilst immigration does need to be addressed, the answer is not simply to leave the European Union. There are no policies in the UKIP manifesto that even have me tempted to turn the page, let alone see them in coalition! The Scottish National Party are the other choice that would prop-up a Labour minority. Let’s be clear about this. A Scottish party should not, in any way be allowed to make decisions that affect English people and English laws.
The only other alternative are the Liberal Democrats. They have a proven record of working in coalition and have pressed the Conservatives to become more centre thinking. The Lib Dems, as Nick Clegg so brilliantly put, would give a heart to a Tory government and a brain to a Labour one. The Liberal Democrats need to keep check on Labour and the Tories to ensure that we as a country, aren’t swept back in an extreme society of austerity or frivolous spending of public money.
The Liberal Democrats offer a fair and balanced future for the people of our country, and for the economy. They won’t cut as harshly or spend as recklessly; they will take another large portion of working people out of paying income tax. They will challenge immigration by reinstating strict border controls so that we know who is coming and leaving. They will invest much needed money in schools and education from “cradle to college”. They offer the chance for everyone’s voice to be heard. For me, they are the clear choice at this election and the clear choice for a positive future for British politics.