Speech supporting motion F20, Birmingham, 14 March 2010

by Councillor Colin Rosenstiel, Cambridge

Conference! This motion, especially lines 12 and 13, is about getting a new voting system for this country. It should be seen as about a system that is representative not just of parties - they seem to get all the attention - it is above all 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 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 have been regaled with is a bewildering range of different party list systems. Scotland, Wales, the old Northern Ireland Forum and Europe, all different and previously 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 try to correct the disproportional results of First Past The Post. The constituency members simply provide a fig-leaf. Constituencies would be totally different for Westminster 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.

Party lists 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.

Now, some of you may have a feeling of déja vu about my words so far. This could be because they are almost word-for-word my speech when I was proposing the party's current policy for PR by STV, the Single Transferable Vote, adopted by this conference at Eastbourne in 1997.

The rally scary bit is that it's all still true today! Please support the motion, especially lines 12 and 13.