Speech proposing motion F43

by Councillor Colin Rosenstiel, Cambridge

Madam Chair, I come to the rostrum this afternoon to propose this motion, being urged on not only by Tony Greaves but also by Paddy Ashdown.

The movers are happy to accept the amendment. It widens the scope in just the way we should be in the light of developments. We oppose the removal of lines 10-13 - they are what this motion is all about.

This motion is about getting a new voting system for this country. It is about a system that is representative not just of parties - they seem to get all the attention - it is also about representing voters.

A new voting system should mean that what people vote for is what people get.

We believe this can be done - we can have voter choice in elections and STV is the best way to do it.

I would like at this point to nail a few myths about STV. People say it is just a "Liberal Democrat" system. STV was first used in 1819 - nearly 60 years before there was a Liberal Party. It was introduced in Ireland by the British and is widely used in the UK: Universities, Unions and Professional bodies are examples.

There are first-time student voters surprised that multi-seat public elections are not by STV. Preferential voting in their student elections is often their only voting experience before casting their first public vote.

In fact, millions of STV votes are cast in Great Britain every year.

STV is a representative democracy system - parties are secondary. Parties get power only if that's what voters want. Irish voters are now very adept at crossing party lines and they have proved that co-operative government is much better than one-party government.

Parties are unregulated, have shown that they can't be trusted and are at a low ebb in the public esteem. We, the Liberal Democrats, can show people a different type of party, one that wants to put the voters in charge.

What we are now regaled with is a bewildering range of different party list systems. They weren't just worked out on the back of a fag packet - they used the front and sides as well for this ragbag! Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland Forum and Europe, all different and untried systems.

The Additional Member System is a party list system. Don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. AMS provides top-up members from party lists to correct the unproportional results of First Past The Post. The constituency members simply provide a fig-leaf. Constituencies would be totally different and much larger than existing ones. Parliament would be effectively dominated by party list members. Voters would have no say over who was elected from these lists, to judge by the Scottish and Welsh examples.

If the Tory party were to put Neil Hamilton on their list, as actually happened, there would be no possibility of a White Knight riding to the rescue in the person of Martin Bell. Neil Hamilton would be elected. There would be nothing the voters of his region would be able to do about it, other than to desert the entire Tory ticket in droves - a lovely thought but extremely unlikely. And the White Knight would be lost in the party melee.

Party lists will direct candidates' efforts at jockeying for position within their own parties. They should be addressing the voters. It should be the voters' choice, not cabals of party members manipulated by the likes of Peter Mandelson.

What do Labour fear in letting their voters, all the millions of them, choose their elected representatives?

And don't let's kid ourselves that Liberal Democrats will be entirely immune from the corrosive temptations of intra-party politics either.

So, what should the party do now?

In lines 9-18 of the motion we set out some of the steps required to persuade the commission to come to the most democratic conclusion.

The public does not yet realise the risks of placing all power over MP selection in the hands of party machines. We must go home from this conference and help to build a grass-roots movement (as described in section 4) demanding voters' right to choose - not just which party, but which people, are elected.

We must succeed and bring about a true victory for the people of the UK.