Do you remember your first vote?
Mine was in the 1983 General Election, when Labour and the Alliance got equal shares of the vote – but dramatically different results. That was so obviously unfair that I became an instant convert to fair votes, and I’ve supported electoral reform ever since.
Over the years we’ve seen fairer voting systems arrive in Scotland and Wales, for Europe and for the London Assembly. But as we all now know, despite many (broken) promises from Labour, we are still waiting for reform for council and Westminster elections.
It’s no surprise to me that there is a correlation between ‘safe’ Parliamentary seats and the likelihood of MPs being guilty of the worst expenses scandals. That’s what happens when our supposedly democratic system takes power away from the voters.
In marginal seats, defensive MPs are trying to exploit the weaknesses of ‘first past the post’ to cling on to power. At the last election, here in Islington South & Finsbury, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry had a majority of just 484 votes ahead of myself, the Liberal Democrat challenger.
With the polls confirming that voters are turning away from Labour, she is now desperately talking up the Conservative vote to bolster her position.
I wish that all parties’ votes carried equal weight. But the sad truth is that with our flawed electoral system, they do not. For example, voting Conservative or Green in my local constituency just helps Emily Thornberry – a firm opponent of fair votes – stay in place. So in this seat, the best way to get fair votes for all voters in Islington is to vote Liberal Democrat next time.
Public anger about the state of our politics gives us a golden opportunity to press for the reforms that are so badly needed.
A wave of campaigns have sprung up. Take Back Power sets fair votes at the centre of a range of reforms. Vote for a Change and Make Votes Count are calling for a fair votes referendum on polling day: Unlock Democracy and 38 Degrees want a citizens’ convention to bring forward plans for reform. That idea has cross-party support, including from Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.
Both approaches would give the electors, not just MPs, a say. It all makes Gordon Brown’s approach -vote for us now and you’ll get a referendum later, on one voting option only – seem a pretty poor offer.