“The broken scales of our democracy”

John Rentoul

davey 300x183 The broken scales of our democracyEd Davey, Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, was interviewed by Andrew Neil on BBC1’s Sunday Politics, who put to him a terrific quotation from Nick Clegg from September 2010:

On the broken scales of our democracy ten voters in Glasgow North have the same weight as seventeen voters in Manchester Central, and this isn’t just a single anomaly. These differences are repeated up and down the country. As of last December, Wirral West, Edinburgh South and Wrexham had fewer than 60,000 voters. Falkirk, Banbury and West Ham had more than 80,000. This unfairness is deeply damaging to our democracy.

Andrew Neil: Now you were sitting on the front bench as he said these words. I presume that you agreed with every work, ‘the broken scales of our democracy,’ on boundary changes?

Ed Davey: Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for fairer votes for as long as I can remember. We want a fairer voting system in the United Kingdom and Nick was explaining how we felt that for ages.

AN: But then you didn’t vote for it.

ED; Well the boundary changes we think were one of doing it but actually the real way as Liberal Democrats have said for many election, you know this Andrew. We’ve been arguing for electoral reform for Proportional Representation. That is the best way of delivering fairer votes and attacking the problem that Nick was setting out there.

AN: But let’s be clear about it. This piece of legislation it brought together what he was talking about. In that clip there it brought together the AV referendum and the boundary changes and fulfilled the bargain struck in the Coalition Agreement. Let’s just see, ‘we will bring forward a Referendum Bill on Electoral Reform which includes the provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal size constituencies.’ That was the bargain the Tories kept their promise, you didn’t.

ED: No I disagree. You’ve just taken an extract from the Coalition Agreement. If you looked at the full part of that section in the Coalition Agreement you’d see a promise to have an elected second chamber.

AN: But it was pegged to the AV. Let’s look at that. Well let’s look at it.

ED: I’m sorry. No you’re doing the pick and choosing.

AN: No, no I’m not because I’ve got to show you the next bit.

ED: I was involved in the Coalition Agreement Andrew, let me tell you what our deal was. The deal was something that we’d been campaigning for a hundred years that some of us feel very strongly about, mainly that the people of Britain should choose the people who pass the laws over them –

AN: I understand that

ED: and when the Tories reneged on that Coalition Agreement we felt we were completely within our rights to say I’m sorry, you can’t have the thing that was in your manifesto and not in ours. The problem with this sort of argument Andrew is you don’t understand Coalition politics.

AN: This is what was in the Coalition Agreement. Excuse me Minister, you’ve accused me of picking and choosing.

ED: You don’t understand coalition politics.

AN: Let’s got to the full words. I understand them very well which is you can’t keep your word. ‘We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of Proportional Representation.’ They brought forward proposals for a wholly mainly elected upper chamber, they kept their word on that. You reneged on boundary changes.

ED: No, I just don’t accept that at all.

AN: Well that’s what it says.

ED: Everyone knew when we were signing up to this Coalition Agreement and some of us were very clear about it, because we fell so strongly about making our country more democratic, more accountable to people so that people out there get to choose who decides the laws over them, and I’m the Conservatives reneged and it was only when they reneged that we said, hold on a minute, you’ve got to have a price to pay, and I’m sorry that is the way –

AN: What bit of that agreement didn’t they keep? Look at the words up there minister, what bit did they not keep?

ED; They didn’t deliver on what was the expectation

AN: they brought forward proposals

ED: – and the understanding and I think you know as well as – we did, as well as the Conservatives did that the expectation was that we would have legislation passed in both Houses –

AN: But it’s not written there in the agreement minister.

ED: This is what the programme was. It was in the Queens Speech, it was agreed in Cabinet, it was agreed in the Quad and the Conservatives failed to deliver on that, so it’s completely legitimate for us to say hold on a minute, we wanted a modern democracy more responsible to the voters. You’ve reneged on that, and so we’re not going for a boundary change which wasn’t in our manifesto and actually isn’t our preferred way of delivering fairer votes.

AN: You agreed in the Coalition that in return for an AV referendum you would agree to boundary changes and cut the size of the House of Commons. You got your referendum, you lost, you got your House of Lords proposals, you lost that and then in a fit of peak you voted against the boundary changes. That’s what happened.

ED: No, I’m sorry, you’re wrong on that. We had a package of democratic reform, of political reform in the Coalition Agreement and unfortunately the Conservatives weren’t prepared to see it through, even though it was in their manifesto, and I have to say we were very disappointed in that, indeed were many people who cared about this issue for many years. So I have to say the Conservatives have paid a price for their inability –

AN: For trusting you.

ED: For their inability to stick by their word.

AN: For trusting you and you reneged on your promise.

ED: Listen, I don’t agree with that. I think it’s really important that our country reforms its democracy and I hope in many other areas where we are working well with the Conservatives we could have worked together there. Unfortunately we weren’t able to.

Tagged in:
  • Rich Greenhill

    “Goods which have perished: Where there is a contract for the sale of specific goods, and the goods without the knowledge of the seller have perished at the time when the contract is made, the contract is void.” — Sale of Goods Act, section 6

    Caveat elector.

  • creggancowboy

    With turnouts at 20% how can you call it democracy?

  • Ezekiel

    It’s understandable why Conservative backbenchers might like to play word games with the coalition agreement but it should be beneath a reporter to do the same thing. The Conservatives very clearly went back on the coalition agreement so it shouldn’t be any surprise that the Liberal Democrats choose to punish them in such a manor. They really brought the whole thing on themselves.

Most viewed



Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter