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Rutland and South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

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We need to look forward. Let’s start with electoral reform

June 26, 2016 2:16 PM
By Connair Russell |

Make Votes MatterThis is not a great day, the referendum is over. Remain lost. We can put away our posters, our hyperbole and our support for George, Dave and Jeremy. There is work to be done.

Perhaps more clear than a desire to leave the European Union. The result and accompanying commentary illuminates the stark divisions in our society. This was not just a no to the EU, its rules, and its immigration policy, it was a slap in the face of the political establishment. Yet the decision will not be an easy one to reverse, if possible at all. The recurring position of the EU was that out is out, to conspire through political back channels to return us to the union would be undemocratic and illiberal. Perhaps the only situation where this is possible would be if an election was called by the new Conservative leader before the activation of article 50, and the winning party stood on a manifesto on returning. Even still it is unlikely and our efforts would be better spent on working for a liberal, outward looking Britain moving forward than undermining the British public. 52% of such a large turnout is a mandate greater than that of most sitting governments.

The words narrow-minded and bigoted have been thrown around but that is an unfair assessment. This was a case where large parts of Britain, rightly or wrongly, felt disenfranchised from the state, that the elites at Brussels and by proxy Westminster were not acting in their interest. Healing these wounds will not be an easy task and our political system is the first hurdle. We need an electoral system which engages rather than divides and disenfranchises voters. Our present system is not fit for purpose in such fragmented times, forcing people into a two party system based on fear of the alternative. This has resulted in our present predicament where neither the Conservatives or Labour represented their membership and anti-institution movements such as Vote Leave can thrive.

A central element of the Eurosceptic position in the debate was the lack of democracy in the Brussels system. Whilst in the referendum this sentiment favoured Vote Leave, the momentum from the campaign on this front could provide dividends in a push for democratic reform. If we are going to go it on our own, we should at least have a fairer, more engaging electoral system when doing so. The European Commission has been a particular target throughout this referendum, yet It can comfortably be said that our own House of Lords is hardly a beacon for democracy and transparency. As a first major change to make sure our country survives Brexit, we need a truly democratic system to keep the sitting government in check.

Our fast growth of membership today has shown people are drawn to a vision of an open, optimistic and internationalist Britain. We can still be outward looking. We can still work with Europe. We can still fight for liberty, freedom and fairness. But we have to face the coming challenges head on, and have the systems in place to do this.

* Connair Russell is a Lib Dem member and Social and Cultural Psychology MSc student at the London School of Economics