On 6 May, much of the country went to the ballot box to select county council representatives.
“On the doorsteps people told me that ‘politicians don’t listen to us anyway’ ”. So said Ruth Rollin, Liberal Democrat candidate for Brockenhurst. She continues, “I’d like to hope that we would all welcome a voting system that enables people to feel that their views are more represented, so they feel more engaged in the decisions about local services that affect everyone’s everyday lives, and they get the local government they vote for.”
This does not seem to be the case in the New Forest, where voters could easily be forgiven their apathy, living in such a Conservative stronghold. Our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system means that in any given constituency, the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. However, it also means that everyone who didn’t vote for that candidate loses out completely.
This was emphasized by Peter Kelleher, the Labour candidate for Ringwood.
“Our ‘winner takes all’ voting system freezes out the voices of a significant proportion of the electorate in our area who do not vote Tory. This is bad for local decision-making and bad for accountability”, he said.
The alternative would be a system of proportional representation (PR), where the number of seats won matches the percentage of votes cast. Local elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the London Assembly are already run on a PR basis. Across the New Forest, the Tories won 55 per cent of the votes, but romped home with 80 per cent of the council seats. The Liberal Democrats quite fairly won the other two seats with 23 per cent of the votes. But Labour and Greens won around 10 per cent each, and yet are left with no representation at all.
On a national level, the picture is even more skewed: according to the BBC, Conservatives won around 36 per cent of the votes, which is dramatically down from 43.6 per cent at the 2019 general election. However, it is being heralded as a great victory because they have won councils from Labour. Labour ended up with around 29% of the votes, down only 3 per cent from the 2019 general election – although you wouldn’t know it from the newspaper headlines. The massive gains made by both the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have received almost no media attention at all.
“Leadership that reflects the diversity of passions and priorities in the communities it represents will always be more robust,” claimed Kat Wilcox, Green Party candidate for Brockenhurst. She supports PR, she says, because “I want everyone’s views in the room. I want our elected officials to have to collaborate and compromise. Then they will come up with solutions that have a genuine mandate and therefore a genuine chance of making our societies more united and more successful.”
This is a very different outlook from the one that supports our current system of combative politics.
As if the adverse impact of FPTP on our communities is not bad enough, the government is pressing ahead with proposed changes to the way we elect mayors and police and crime commissioners. This was first announced by Priti Patel back in March and was included in the Queen’s Speech this month. The proposed changes would see a regression from the current PR used at present for these seats, to one based on FPTP. Following last week’s election results, which saw Labour win 11 of the 13 mayoral votes, it all looks suspiciously like a move intended to make it easier for the Conservatives to win. Under FPTP, which Ms Patel claims would bring “strong and clear local accountability”, candidates are often elected or re-elected with a minority of votes.
Make Votes Matter is the cross-party campaign to win proportional representation. You can find out more on their website: https://www.makevotesmatter.org.uk/. Look out for their latest petition calling for less FPTP, not more. It’s free to join, and there are local group meetings across the South West, as well as in the New Forest.
WCB event: 26 May, 8pm: How do we fix our broken democracy? UPDATE!
Every day it becomes more obvious that our first past the post system is not fit for purpose, Around sixty percent of the electorate are unrepresented, disengaged, disenfranchised and disillusioned. We must have electoral reform. West Country Bylines is hosting a Q&A session on this burning issue with a cracking panel drawn from campaign organisations […]