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George Eustice MP: Is First Past the Post really unfair to Lib Dems?

Eustice George George Eustice is MP for Camborne and Redruth.

Both sides of the debate on whether to change our voting system agree on one thing: that the primary effect of the AV system is to give the Lib Dems a head start in future elections. That is why it was the bottom line for Nick Clegg in the coalition negotiations and why the Lib Dems are running the Yes Campaign.

But is our current system unfair to the Lib Dems?  During the last election in my own seat of Camborne and Redruth, we couldn't understand why so many Lib Dem posters were put up in the wrong place and why so many leaflets were being delivered in the wrong constituency. Leaflets intended for the neighbouring Truro and Falmouth seat were regularly delivered in Camborne and Redruth.

It turned out that the reason for this was that the Lib Dems had sent in a by-election team drawn from elsewhere in the country to run the campaign to defend a seat where they already had a sitting MP with a 3,500 majority.  Why do Lib Dem activists from Nottingham, Manchester or Newcastle get in the yellow campervan to Cornwall at election time? Why don't they get out and knock on doors in their home towns like the two main parties do?

With the notable exception of four old friends from CCHQ who each gave a day to my campaign, the Conservative effort was staffed entirely by 300 local volunteers in Camborne and Redruth. If we couldn't get local members to pound the streets, we couldn't get the message out.  Any sitting Conservative MP at the last election would have been told they had to paddle their own canoe, raise their own money and deliver their own literature.  The same would have been true for most Labour seats.

The Lib Dems complain that our current system encourages parties to focus on too few seats but that is a description that only applies to them.  At the height of Clegg-mania, when the Lib Dems were leading the polls, how did they capitalise on their lead? They didn't even try.  They were invisible in Britain's major cities and it was their choice to be. 

I remember during the 2005 election, Michael Howard was advised by some people to target fewer seats. He was having none of it.  Few things irritate Michael Howard more than defeatism.  As far as he was concerned, a party that wanted to represent the nation had to campaign across the nation and he expected the party to draw swords and fight to win.  Quite right too.

The same Lib Dem activists who got in their campervans to Cornwall are now emailing their MPs and demanding that the rest of us give them a head start in future elections so that they can be given extra seats without even having to bother to campaign or knock on doors.  That’s wrong.  The thing about our current electoral system is that everyone has an equal chance if they are willing to try. 

The Lib Dems have never had problems being represented in the South West nor even in home counties seats where they can be bothered to make an effort.  If they really want to be a national party then they should take a leaf out of Michael Howard’s book and campaign like one.  Rather than “flocking together” like migratory birds in Cornwall, they should get out and knock on doors in their home towns.


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