Friday, 18 October 2013

The important thing is democracy but don't ask the people

The debate last night on "all up" elections was interesting for a number of reasons. This was brought forward following an initial discussion at "all member" briefing sessions last year when there was some cross party support. The proposal was simply to launch a public consultation to establish views before holding a special council meeting which would have required a two thirds majority to action a change. Firstly it was at some point suggested that the Conservatives were operating under a whip. This was a ridiculous comment as I have not imposed a whip on my members in my 7 years as leader and I am certainly not going to start on an issue like this! This was evidenced by the vote as whilst the majority of my group supported the proposal, a couple voted against and some abstained. By contrast every single member of all 3 opposition parties voted against. This has been a running theme recently and would suggest that if there is any question of a party whip it is being applied by the other parties to include the Independent Party (and yes I know that it a contradiction in terms.). There were some well argued points made on both sides. Even though I don't agree with them I thought that Labour councillors David Norman and Julian Ware Lane both spoke well and with obvious conviction as did a number of my colleagues to include Tony Cox and James Courtenay. However I was surprised at the general thrust adopted by a number of opponents to the proposal to consult. There was a distinct feeling that this was their cosy club and what a disaster if the electorate chose to sweep us all out and replace us with councillors who "didn't know where to sit" and other reasons. More to the point there was a lot of gut wrenching pleas to stand up for local democracy and to maintain a more effective link with voters but at the same time a refusal to ask voters what they think about the suggested change. If we had consulted it would have still taken the two thirds majority to actually decide to proceed. It was rather more "we will tell our voters how they should be allowed to elect us" than "let us listen to how our voters want to elect us". For me the most important argument remains that with elections by a third there could be a situation where every one of the 17 seats available was won by one party but it was still in opposition - there is no right for the community as a whole to speak and choose who should be running the town. The impression from last night was that it is all right to let the electorate speak so long as we approve what they are going to say, and that if not then they must have it wrong and need to be protected from themselves. So much for democracy.


  1. Nigel, there are two problems with your “...there could be a situation where every one of the 17 seats available was won by one party but it was still in opposition ...” argument as far as I am concerned.

    The first is separation of reality and fact: whilst it is possible, it is so remote a possibility as to be ignorable.

    Secondly: this adds to my arguments about the unfairness of first past the post – we indeed elect all 17 councillors from one party, and this could be achieved on a mere quarter of votes cast. If you want real fairness how about joining me in the Electoral Reform Society?

  2. Sorry, the above comment highlights my appalling typing. There is a 'could' missing between 'we indeed' and 'elect all 17'. My apologies.

    1. Julian

      Thank you for this feedback. As I am sure you will accept all systems have pros and cons. Whilst I accept that it is unlikely in the current circumstances that any party would have a majority of over 17 before a "third up" election it does not change the argument that the power of the electorate to make real change on any particular election day is hampered which must undermine the public's engagement. The main counter argument is that it can lead to quite dramatic swings but this can happen in a partliamentary election as well and at the end of the day it is for the people to decide and live with the consequences. I have always been a strong supporter of FPTP on the basis that it gives the electorate a choice rather than the blurring and coalitions often resulting from PR and hung parliaments. Hung parliaments mean that governments are appointed by politicians in (formerly) smoke filled rooms rather than the electorate and give easy opportunity to justify movement from manifesto pledges by blaiming pressure from the other partner. Having said that FPTP failed to deliver last time and if we have another hung parliament in 2015, with the Libs offering themselves to the main 2 parties and being effectively unremoveable from government then I will obviusly need to reconsider my position!