I recently shared a platform with leaders in the Green, Plaid Cymru and UKIP Parties, speaking at an event in the Houses of Parliament about Make Votes Matter.
Much has been made of the call for electoral reform to get a fairer system in parliament, and we might consider a better system for local elections too. A petition has elicited enough signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate on Monday 30 October at 4.30pm in Westminster Hall. Here's their handy briefing and some ways to get involved are below.
Why call for a more inclusive system? The first past the post, “winner takes all” system leads to an unrepresentative national government and can be equally damaging at local government levels. For example, in 2015, a hung council in East Hertfordshire, resulted in the Conservatives taking all 50 seats, with only just over half the votes. Thus many people can feel unrepresented and in the way the council then operates, alienated. Voting did them no good and they may well be reluctant to vote again. As we know, better turnouts enhances the sense of legitimacy of our elected members.
The “winner takes all” approach is carried through to the way a number of councils operate, so that the largest group can take almost all of the power, often on 30 to 40 per cent of the public vote. This leads to a more adversarial and less inclusive approach, making it harder for a council to properly respect all the voices needed to make the best decisions, and to give fair and proper local representation.
The system encourages an adversarial system that both confuses and alienates the public. No one party can have all the answers, and there is no God-given right to power. A more inclusive system of voting would put more voices at the table, more representative of the electorate’s votes.
A better system would bring more voices to the table, better scrutiny, more constructive opposition and better decision-making.
Many of our members are calling for a system that encourages Government to be more representative, more prepared to listen to more voices, not just their party faithful, to listen to residents, focus on facts and work towards always serving the public.
In summary, there are calls for:
- a voting system that encourages people to vote and vote positively
- a broader representation of votes cast, leading to improved democracy and scrutiny
- more legitimacy and trust of our elected members.
In 2015 our Independent Group members raised the issue at our AGM and called for support. Members did a thorough piece of work over a year, sifting through huge amounts of data and interviewing witnesses. They looked at many different systems operating in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. We already have more proportionate systems working in Scotland, in regional assemblies and in the Welsh Assembly. For example, the public can have a first past the post local member, but a second vote for top-up places so the overall body is genuinely representative of what the electorate wanted. Thus people put their vote where they wanted, not to keep someone else out! Independent members are included in the LGA as a proportion and need to be included in the same way in any new system. However, in some systems, they would need to join forces in a national Independent Network in order to access the top-up places.