Hundreds of people gathered outside a meeting of senior Liberal Democrats this evening (10 May) to urge them not to dilute their commitment to electoral reform as they attempt to form a power-sharing government.
Over 300 people joined the demonstration which was organised at short notice by the Take Back Parliament campaign. Many wore purple clothes or purple ribbons as a revival of the colours of the women's suffrage movement, making clear that they see their campaign as part of an ongoing struggle for democracy.
As the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive Committee met inside the building, the party's chief executive, Chris Fox, came outside to receive the campaigners' petition. He told them that electoral reform remains “very important” to the Liberal Democrats.
The demonstration follows a day of political rumours and counter-rumours.
This morning, the Liberal Democrats were reported to be close to forming a power-sharing agreement with the Conservative Party, after last week's general election left no party with an overall majority. Democracy campaigners fear that such a deal would be unlikely to include much progress towards constitutional reform.
But at 5.00pm, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, told the media that the Liberal Democrats were about to hold formal talks with Labour as well as the Tories. Brown also announced that he would stand down as Labour leader by September.
It later emerged that the Conservatives have offered the Liberal Democrats a referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote system for parliamentary elections. While many consider this to be fairer than the current First-Past-the-Post system, it is not a form of Proportional Representation.
This evening's demonstration included members of the Liberal Democrats, some of whom waved their membership cards as they called on their leaders to stand firm. But it also included supporters of other parties and of none.
The campaigners called out, “What do we want? Fair Votes! When do we want them? Now!”.
Delight was expressed at how many people had turned up to the demonstration, given that it had been organised almost entirely online at short notice and was taking place on a early weekday evening.
“I was really inspired by how many people were here,” said one demonstrator, Barnaby Dawson, “This is really crucial as negotiations may be over soon”.
A major demonstration for voting reform is planned for Saturday (15 May), at 2.00pm in Parliament Square. No-one can be sure what, if any, government will have been formed by then and on what terms, but the Take Back Parliament campaign are determined to keep up the pressure for change, whoever is in office.
Take Back Parliament is an alliance of several groups, including Unlock Democracy, Power 2010, Ekklesia, the Electoral Reform Society, Vote for a Change and Operation Black Vote. Other members include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Fawcett Society and the New Economics Foundation.