Don’t rush the referendum: June is too soon

First published on the ERS blog here

On Tuesday, David Cameron announced the details of the government’s initial ‘renegotiation deal’ with the EU in the run up to the referendum. It clears the way for the ballot to be held in June – something some politicians are keen on.

But since that’s only four months away, it’s not a lot of time to have a full debate about this major constitutional issue. There’s also another issue though – it will clash with the May Assembly elections in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

There’s a real risk an EU vote so soon after the May polls could undermine these important devolved elections. It’s vital the EU referendum doesn’t overshadow the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish elections – the former of which in particular receive little UK-wide attention as it is.

There’s a question of confusion and issue-clashing too, with two very different ballots held one after the other – potentially knocking both debates off course and away from issues which are actually devolved.

A June EU vote would only serve to add more busy-ness to an already busy day of elections, with Police and Crime Commissioners also being picked – despite issues of justice and policing not being fully devolved. That’s not to mention the problem of ‘voter fatigue’ – the issue of turnout declining if there are too many votes within a short period of time. People get bored.

April and May will see the EU debate reaching its peak if the vote was to be held in June –overlapping significantly with the devolved elections. Don’t we want to give both debates a clear run?

So here’s a proposal. Let’s have genuinely focused discussions about these two important decisions by conducting the campaigns at different times. Both debates need a decent amount of time, coverage and political space in order to give voters the ballots they deserve.

Josiah Mortimer will be working with ERS Cymru in the run up to the Assembly elections in May

The TV debates in Wales need to include all six parties

First published on the ERS blog

It’s less than 100 days until the Assembly elections in Wales (and Scotland, Northern Ireland and the London Assembly for that matter). The election debate is heating up.

So broadcasters are making their plans for televised election broadcasts – including who exactly will feature on them…

Electoral Reform Society Cymru are calling on media outlets in Wales to include all six major parties in their election debates, to make the upcoming broadcasts as inclusive as possible. We’ve already got the conversation started

Although the arrangements for the TV election debates have yet to be decided, there’s a strong case for including the six biggest parties. Last year’s UK general election debates featured seven leaders. Any fears about timing and messiness were entirely allayed – they were a huge success.

Why should six parties appear? For one thing, there are six parties with a genuine chance of winning Assembly seats this May. Their voices should be heard.

Secondly, the public in Wales deserve as open and inclusive a debate as possible, especially given that the proportional electoral system means there is now a truly multi-party political system in Wales, with a diverse range of viewpoints in the democratic arena.

As well as that, the Assembly is getting more powers. There’s going to be a greater need for scrutiny, including those parties that might join any coalition. Voters should be given a true representation of the options available in May.

Last year’s Westminster TV debates drew in millions of viewers because there was a real debate with clear differences of opinion. It makes for good democracy.

So, here’s the long and short of it: it would be wrong for broadcasters in Wales to exclude the Greens and UKIP. Their support has grown significantly since the last Assembly elections. And both parties are in the race to secure their first Assembly Members this May. It’s only right that they should face the scrutiny of the public and other parties.

Let’s open up these TV debates to reflect the diverse political landscape Wales has today. To exclude serious contenders for seats would be a missed opportunity and would only let down voters.


I’ll be working with Electoral Reform Society Cymru in the run up to the Assembly elections in May.

ERS Cymru will be releasing three mini-manifestos ahead of the Assembly elections, as well as polling, research and seat projections.

WGP petition

Petition to #InviteTheGreens onto Wales TV debates hits 1,000 signatures

petition to persuade the BBC to invite the Greens onto the TV debates in Wales has garnered more than 1,000 signatures in just a week.  

The campaign, launched by Wales Green Party, adds weight to a letter written to BBC Wales last week, noting that “Over the last 12 months, membership of the Wales Green Party has tripled. In May we will be fielding candidates in constituencies across Wales, and already have our candidates for all regional lists. In the most recent polls, the Wales Green Party equalled the support of the Welsh Lib Dems on the regional level.” Activists fear the party is facing a media blackout, despite its growing support.

The petition states that the Wales Green Party is a “serious contender” in the upcoming elections and has “a strong chance of winning its first seat in the Senedd. Despite this, the Wales Green Party has been excluded from participation in recent broadcasts by BBC Wales.”

The campaigners claim that “a proper democracy requires that voters are well informed and can make a proper choice.”

The petition reflects the Green Party of England and Wales’ similar push last year ahead of the May election, when over 280,000 people successfully called for the Greens to be included on the major broadcasters’ televised debates. It arguably spurred on the #GreenSurge – an enormous growth in Green membership and support across the UK.

A spokesperson for Wales Green Party told Bright Green:

“We are the delighted by the wide range of support we have received from people who believe the Wales Green Party should be included in leadership style debates and political programs in the run up to the Welsh Assembly elections.

“We will be presenting the petition to the BBC this week and are awaiting for an official response to the letter Alice Hooker Stroud sent them.”

Think the Welsh Greens should be invited to the debates? Sign the petition here.

Beckett report: It wasn’t the Greens that cost Labour the election

We’ve all seen the headlines from Labour’s inquiry into its election defeat released last week. ‘Miliband seen as weak’, ‘Labour not trusted on the economy,’ and so on ad infinitum. But in listing four reasons for defeat, one thing was pleasingly notable for its absence: the Greens.

The Green Party have long been an easy cop-out for some tribalists within Labour to explain defeats. The ‘stealing votes’ narrative is well known by Greens, and can generally be met with a groan and a fatigued opposition to the idea that Labour ‘own’ votes. But the Beckett Report is surprisingly magnanimous – and it is by no means meant to be – in its handling of the Greens in terms of the 2015 General Election. The ‘Greens cost us the election’ argument – thankfully on the wane though never quite dead – is swiftly dealt with.

Here are four reasons the Greens didn’t cost Labour last May’s election, according to Labour itself:

  1. Firstly, and simply, the Greens didn’t take any Labour seats. They already had Brighton Pavilion. And Green wins add to the anti-Tory bloc. The report states: “Both UKIP and the Greens made large gains in votes but won only one seat each. Analysis suggests that votes that went to UKIP and the Greens did not significantly affect the overall outcome of the election, i.e. the number of seats won by Labour and the Tories.”
  1. It’s not just that Greens didn’t win seats though: Green votes mainly came from the Lib Dem collapse rather than Labour voters: “There were 43 English (mainly South and Midlands) and Welsh Labour target seats where the Green vote rose by more than the Labour vote. While some people switched to the Greens from Labour, they were probably few in number. The increase in Green votes came overwhelmingly from the 2010 Liberal Democrats and was correlated with those constituencies where the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed the most, including some of the seats that the Liberal Democrats lost to Labour.”
  1. There’s almost a hint of praise for Greens’ tactical voting – Greens tend to vote Labour in marginal seats: “What is certain…is that there was significant tactical voting by Green supporters, including many who voted Green in the local elections, who backed Labour in marginal seats. We can therefore conclude with some confidence that Labour was successful at attracting the support of Greens and that their rise played little part in Labour’s defeat.” Whether they attracted that support on merit or simply so that Greens could keep out Tories is neither here nor there: Greens use their votes carefully under our broken First Past the Post voting system. Indeed, Labour’s only Southern victory can be put down to tactical Greens, suggest the authors: “Our only gain in a southern town was Hove, where we had a very strong local campaign and probably benefited from tactical voting by Green supporters.”
  1. Finally, the report offers a welcome rebuttal to the tired ‘Labour was too left wing’ mantra. “Many of our most “left wing” polices were the most popular” – indeed the Greens’ quadrupling vote share can no doubt in part be put down to its positioning as the ‘true’ left party in the face of Labour wobbling. The left-wing policies Labour did have (rent controls, gradual rail renationalisation etc) “were the kind of policies the public expected from Labour.”

Indeed, they were quite probably a boon: “An analysis by BES suggests that some of those who supported us would have been less likely to had they seen us as less left wing.” Left-wing policies are often the vote winners: “Both the SNP and Greens gained votes in this election and arguably they were seen as to the left of Labour.”

So, Greens are absolved. It wasn’t the Greens that lost the election for Labour: it was Labour itself.

This piece was first published on Bright Green

Just three days left to decide which motions are heard at Green conference

Green Party members have just three days left to vote in the ballot that will determine which motions are heard at Spring Conference next month.

Every Green member gets a vote in the ‘Prioritisation Ballot’ to determine what order motions will be heard on the conference floor at the Harrogate International Centre between the 26th and 28th February. The vote closes at 23:59 on the 25th January.

You can vote in the Prioritisation Ballot here. Turnout is generally very low – although rising every year – so every vote counts:  

There are motions on removing the minimum membership time requirement to stand for leader, to ban Greens from entering the House of Lords, and to reform conference voting, as well as policy motions on housing, LGBT+ rights and energy, among much much else.

The deadline for motions to the final agenda was on the 15th January, and on the 31st January the final agenda will be published following the results of this ballot. You can read the first agenda with all the motions here: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/sites/my.greenparty.org.uk/files/First%20Agenda%20Spring%202016.pdf

Here’s that link again: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/news/spring-conference-first-agenda-and-prioritisation-ballot-now-published

Spread the word!

One small step towards cleaning up the big donor culture

Sometimes it’s the small victories that count. On Wednesday the Electoral Reform Society released polling showing that 77% of the public think big donors have too much influence over our parties. And on the same day, Peers heeded the public by voting to set up a cross-party committee on party funding reform.

The move comes amidst growing concern that the Trade Union Bill is completely one-sided in its approach to the issue. As it stands, the Bill could cut £6m per year from Labour’s income by making union members ‘opt in’ to unions’ political funds (instead of the current ‘opt out’ situation).

This isn’t happening in isolation. So-called ‘Short money’ – public funding given to opposition parties to compensate for the fact that the government has hundreds of SpAds, researchers and press officers at its disposal – is being slashed by 20%, set to take a further £1m per year off Labour’s funding.

While right in principle, party funding can’t be done by the government to the opposition – it needs to be a cross-party endeavour. We’ve seen scandal after scandal, and frankly the public are sick of all parties’ dodgy funding fiascos.

In the 1940s, someone said: ‘It has become a well-established custom that matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other’. That someone was Winston Churchill. What was established from then became known as the ‘Churchill convention’. Without broadening the Trade Union Bill, there’s a risk that will completely unravel to the detriment of democracy.

Figures released by the Electoral Commission this week showed that parties spent £39m during the last General Election – up from around £35m in 2010. This is an arms race – and it’s one that nobody can win.

So what happened in the Lords? Peers voted by a substantial margin (327 votes to 234) in favour of Baroness Smith of Basildon’s motion to create a select committee on the party funding elements of the Trade Union Bill – essentially moving away from a one-sided ‘reform’ to one that all parties will have to engage in.

It’s a good move in that it could be the first step towards a lasting settlement on party funding. How our parties are financed needs reforming across the board – not through tit-for-tat partisan attacks: after all, 57% believe that a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have (up from 41% in 2014) so there is widespread backing for change.

As well as setting up this new cross-party committee, Peers advocated ‘urgent new legislation to balance those provisions [in the Trade Union Bill] with the other recommendations made in the [Committee on Standards in Public Life’s 2011] Report’, with the new committee set to report by 29 February.

So this House of Lords vote was a step in the right direction – and we hope parties engage constructively to sort out the mess that is Britain’s party funding system.

Let’s clean up the parties’ big donor culture once and for all.

trade unions

The Trade Union Bill, and getting party funding reform right

The issue of how our parties are funded is at the core of Parliamentary democracy. And today, peers in the House of Lords are debating a major change to the current system in the Trade Union Bill that’s currently going through Parliament.

The change is a major one – but it’s one-sided. By insisting in the Bill that union members should ‘opt-in’ to unions’ political funds, the Government will effectively be cutting Labour’s funding by £6m a year.

Party funding reform is a crucial issue. The Electoral Reform Society can reveal today that 77% of the public believe big donors have too much influence on political parties.

In fact, the Trade Union Bill could be the start of a process which sorts out our hopeless party funding system for good. The public are sick to death of the perceived influence of big donors on parties – and that includes the influence of unions on Labour as well as wealthy private individuals on the Conservatives. A cap on individual donations is one of the measures needed for a cleaner party funding system. Under an opt-in system the money provided to Labour by unions effectively comes from many individuals rather than one ‘baron’, which should make Labour more open to a donations cap.

But we badly need a cross-party deal on party finance reform. Otherwise it simply isn’t sustainable. This stuff can’t be done in isolation against one party, or else we could see decades of unsustainable retaliations as parties get into power and attack their opponents’ source of funding.

Our polling released today also shows that 72% of the public agree or strongly agree that the system of party funding is ‘corrupt and should be changed’ – up from 61% when the same question was asked in 2014.

57% also believe that a ‘state-funded political system would be fairer than the one we currently have’ – up from 41% in 2014.

Fundamentally, campaigners such as ourselves are concerned that the Trade Union Bill is currently one-sided in its approach to reforming Labour’s funding, undermining the ‘Churchill convention’ (named after the man himself) that matters directly affecting political parties be dealt with in a multi-party manner.

But what today’s polling shows is that the public are deeply concerned with Britain’s broken party funding model. Party finances in the UK are in dire need of reform, following years of scandals and voters’ rising disgust about the role of money in our politics.

There’s growing appetite for reforming the way parties are funded, and you can see this among people from across the political spectrum. Measures in the Trade Union Bill to ensure union members have to ‘opt in’ to pay into political funds could form part of a fresh settlement.

But by targeting Labour and not tackling the issue in the round, the Government is risking decades of parties indulging in tit-for-tat raids on each other’s sources of funds. We need all parties to get around the table and deal with this once and for all. Frankly, there is no other way of finding a sustainable solution and avoiding accusations of constitutional gerrymandering.

Now is the time for all parties to get to grips with the mess that is Britain’s party funding system. The fact is, Labour is seen by the public to be at the behest of barons, and the Tories at the behest of bankers. All parties need to tackle the big donor culture which makes party funding an arms race rather than an open democratic process.

The ERS are calling on Peers to back the motion today to set up a cross-party committee on the Trade Union Bill, so that it can form part of a new settlement on party finances across the board.

In 2014 the ERS published ‘Deal or No Deal: How to put an end to party funding scandals’. Read the full report and recommendations here.