As a long standing supporter of electoral reform I decided to make my first proper fringe of conference the Make Votes Count fringe held a lunch-time today. It was basically a snapshot discussion of “where now” for electoral reform given the new Gordon Brown government.
Jo Swinson MP spoke about the controversy over the handling of the recent elections in Scotland clearly making the case that it should not be allowed to be used as argument to prevent reform. An interesting statistic she gave was that the rate of spoilt ballots in the Scottish Parliament elections was 7% but the rate of spoilt ballots in the Local Government elections, run under STV, was only 2%. “It was the STV system voters found easier to understand”, she said.
For me the most interesting speaker was Archy Kirkwood who talked about his role as representative for the Lib Dems in the inter-party talks on the funding of political parties that has grown out of the Hayden Phillips report. This was a new area for me as I have not followed this issue very closely. Lord Kirkwood spoke with some passion about the need for the introduction of state funding of political parties to happen now and to be done properly. If we do not, he argued, our politics could end up following an American model with party politics becoming merely the branding used by competing elites fighting for office, leaving most people out in the cold.
His point was that we must do more to argue the case for value of party politics and being an elected representative in order to fight the growing mood of anti-politics in the UK. If we value the political process and the role of parties within it then we need to ensure they are properly resourced. We must be prepared to pay for it through state funding.
I’ve supported greater state funding of political parties as it has seemed to beceome more ane more necessary. But I hadn’t heard it argued for in quite this way before. I found his argument convincing. I also agreed with his insistence that the way state funding is allocated should strengthen the role of the local party organisation within political parties rather than distract from it as this is fundamental in ensuring we have a healthy democratic culture.
I think Liberal Democrats should be prepared to join him in what appeared to be his rallying cry of –
“Party politics is good for you!”
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.