Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Elected Dictatorships

With the expenses scandal, constitutional reform is back on the agenda, a recent poll showing a majority in favour of a change to the voting system for Westminster.

What has been less in the news is the need for voting change for that other bastion of first-past-the-post – local councils. The main story of the recent round of county council elections was Labour’s terrible showing. At the end of the counting all but one of the 24 County Councils were in Tory control. Wow, those Tories must have got an absolutely huge vote...

Well, no they didn’t. Their supremacy is entirely a product of the voting system. All these councils are effectively one Party states with all other parties, with their handfuls of seats, reduced to minor roles on scrutiny committees and the like. Take Kent as an example, the Conservatives have 74 of the 84 seats with all other Parties together getting just 10. This certainly doesn’t reflect the actual votes (the national Tory figure for the local elections was around 38%, unfortunately I don’t have the figures for Kent to hand, but it won’t have been more than around 50%).
Is this healthy for democracy? - hardly. It isn’t healthy for the environment either. From a climate change point of view, whilst cuddly Cameron rides round on his bicycle, these shires are full of backwoodsmen (and women ) who oppose any sort of renewable energy development such as wind turbines.

Of course you don’t need to go to Kent to see unhealthy one party ‘democracy’. Here in Manchester, we have had total Labour domination for as far back as anyone can remember. Labour currently holds around 2 thirds of the council seats and yet their share of the vote in the last 3 rounds of local elections is less than half (only 43% in 2008, the last round) .

Voting reform for local councils is an idea whose time has come; it is something that Greens in Manchester, amongst others will be looking at in the months ahead.

Answers to last weeks quiz - if you put c) for every answer, full marks!

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