38,000 denied a vote

16 May 2014

Tens of thousands of people across England are being denied a vote in next week's local elections, owing to the undemocratic phenomenon of uncontested seats.


In this year’s elections there are seven wards which are ‘uncontested’, ie which are only being contested by one political party. These uncontested wards are:


  • Otmoor, Cherwell District Council (Conservative, Oxfordshire)
  • Walton South, Elmbridge Borough Council (Conservative, Surrey)
  • Appleton, Halton Borough Council (Labour, Cheshire)
  • Broadheath, Halton Borough Council (Labour, Cheshire)
  • Hale, Halton Borough Council (Labour, Cheshire)
  • Halewood West, Knowsley Borough Council (Labour, Merseyside)
  • Page Moss, Knowsley Borough Council (Labour, Merseyside)


In these wards, the election results have already been decided without the election even being run, as voters do not have any choice about who is going to represent them. At least 38,000 people are therefore effectively being denied a vote.


The first principle of democracy is that you get to choose who represents you. Uncontested seats make a mockery of democracy. If a seat is uncontested, democracy in that area effectively does not exist. The councillors ‘elected’ in these five wards will have no proper mandate from the people as they will not have had to win a single vote.


In other years, the phenomenon of uncontested seats can be very much worse. Between 2011 and 2014 there have been 382 uncontested seats. That’s over 2.5 million people denied a vote in their local elections.


The electoral system used for local elections in England and Wales (First Past the Post) means there’s little incentive for parties to field candidates where they are unlikely to win. In some cases where FPTP makes the seat a foregone conclusion, no other parties bother contesting it.


Uncontested seats are also a reflection of the dwindling memberships of political parties. In the 1950s, one in ten of us were party members. Now it’s more like one in 100. This is going hand in hand with a general increase in disengagement from politics. These trends make it harder for parties to field candidates in every ward for local elections, as they have fewer people coming forward for public office.


If a seat is uncontested, voters are denied a choice about who gets to represent them. Uncontested seats make a mockery of democracy. They also mean that the councillors ‘elected’ in these seats have no proper mandate. And they make it more likely that a council is dominated by one party, leaving it susceptible to poor scrutiny and therefore poor performance.


It’s time to introduce a fairer voting system for local elections – one which gives voters the chance to be represented by candidates for whom they have actually voted. Local electoral reform would mean there would be incentives for parties to field candidates wherever they have a vote, no matter how small. And it would improve the quality of local democracy, making councils better scrutinised, more transparent and therefore more effective.


In the 2003 Scottish local elections there were 61 uncontested seats. But after a fairer voting system was introduced in 2007 (i.e. the Single Transferable Vote), these uncontested seats were eliminated. Since then, in both the 2007 and 2012 Scottish local elections, there has not been a single uncontested seat.


This is because a fairer local electoral system creates incentives for parties to field candidates wherever they have even a fraction of the vote. This in turn gives voters the chance to be represented by candidates for whom they have actually voted, which for most people is a huge improvement on the status quo.


For those unfortunate enough to live in uncontested wards, of course, they don’t have any say at all. If a fairer local electoral system were introduced in England and Wales, then we will see an end to this blight on our democracy. Let's consign uncontested seats to the dustbin of history.


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8 Responses to 38,000 denied a vote

Electoral Reform Society's picture
Electoral Refor... 19 May 2014

Thanks for spotting this Andrea - now corrected

David simpson 29 May 2014

When we tried to vote in chislehurst Br the ballot paper was in alphabetical order which allowed a vote spoiler party to get the top of the list we believe this was done to spoil the ukip vote who were a the bottom of a long list both my wife and I spoiled one papers as we put our x in the wrong box we believe the this was a spoiler party that should be investigated

Andrea Parma 16 May 2014

There are at least 2 more uncontested wards. Both in Knowsley: Halewood West and Page Moss

Alison Piearcey 16 May 2014

Do you want to include the 'safe seats' as in 'if you put a rosette on a poodle, it'd win? Cos there seems to be quite a lot more of those....

David Lindsay 17 May 2014


In the entire country?

I remember more than that in the Consett and Stanley areas alone, back in the day.

Tern 12 Jun 2014

Does ERS speak out against the tradition of not opposing the speaker? While he is usually opposed by a small party, it is counted a parliamentary convention and unremarkable to deprive the thousands of voters in an entire seat, a 632nd of the country the parties of government stand in, of their vote on them.

It led to allowing the position of excluding Northern Ireland by not having the parties of government stand there. All parties or alliances standing in a majority of seats, hence who are potential governments, should be forced to stand in every seat.

Alan Moroney 4 Jul 2014

Actually, in a "first past the post" system, if it is actually democratic, these can be the most hotly contested seats.
I mean a system with primaries, where the people choose the candidates.
In the US, the uncontested seats are probably the most democratic and representative. The internal party primary is the most vicious, personal attackson candidates system imaginable.
it has the wonderful nastiness of a fight between people who hold reasonably similar views, screaming at each other to try and produce the perfect candidate.
Of course in the UK, with its pretense at democracy, this is sadly not true

Tony E 9 Jul 2014

Surely part of the problem in local government is that all most councillors are doing now is determining the order in which services are cut. Soon county and district councils will only be able to undertake statutory duties and council tax will be needed to make up the deficit in central government funding. Why should anyone want to stand in these circumstances?