Carmichael calls for end to safe seats as government rejects electoral reform

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken out during the Elections Bill debate against the “culture of entitlement” created by safe seats under First Past the Post voting rules, drawing a line between the absolute power granted to parties on a minority of the vote and the behaviour of the current government.

Mr Carmichael called for meaningful reform of UK elections in place of the government’s Bill which would put barriers to voting rights, open up greater financial advantages for the Conservatives and increase government control of the independent Electoral Commission. Mr Carmichael led Liberal Democrat opposition to the Bill, which passed Third Reading 325 to 234 on Conservative votes. The Bill now goes to the House of Lords.

Speaking during the debate Mr Carmichael said:

“We have seen just this weekend the dangers and just what is possible when we have an electoral system that puts total power into the hands of a party on a minority vote at a general election. I want to talk a little bit about what proportional representation would mean for Parliament and how it could lead to a restoration of the standing of the House in public life.

“It has been the privilege of my life to be a Member of Parliament and to have the opportunity to do things for my community and for the individuals who live there. To have a role at the heart of the nation’s politics is the greatest privilege that any of us can hope for. We have heard an awful lot of talk in the last week or two about cultures, and about the culture at the heart of this Government in No. 10 Downing Street, but let us also accept that the culture of Parliament has to change.

“Time and again over the years, the culture of deference and entitlement has led us into difficulty. Last year, with the Owen Paterson affair and all the stories about MPs with second, third and fourth jobs it became perfectly apparent that the sense of entitlement continues. Unless we can change that sense of entitlement we will not change the standing in which we are held by the public.

“Why do we keep coming back to this place, time and again, where we become our own worst enemies? I can answer that question in two words: safe seats. The existence of areas where parties can depend on the return of a Member of Parliament with a majority of tens of thousands without making any real effort creates that sense of entitlement.

“The standing of this House in the eyes of our fellow citizens has never been lower. It is now urgent that we address that. We must have a system that gets rid of safe seats so that everybody’s vote, no matter where they live, is of equal value.”

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