There has been a shocking increase in the number of uncontested seats in some English councils up for election this May. The Eden District Council in Cumbria has already declared 21 of its 38 available seats, meaning that a clear majority of the council (55%) has been returned before the election has even taken place. This is up from 50% of seats in 2011.
Similarly, in South Northamptonshire in the West Midlands a third of councillors will be returned uncontested. The appointment of councillors without any competition is bad for our democracy, as year after year electors are presented with no option as to who will represent them.
One of the major culprits in this sorry situation is the first past the post system for local elections in England and Wales. This system destroys the incentive to stand for election in ‘safe’ seats, and so deprives voters of a choice at the ballot box.
However, this problem has a clear solution. Scotland used to suffer from the problem of uncontested seats. This was eradicated by the introduction of Single Transferable Vote (STV) at local elections. Today, all council seats in Scotland are regularly contested, giving voters a real choice at the ballot box.
The urgency of this issue is shown by the actual increase of councillors being elected without opposition in certain areas of England. The number of unopposed councillors in South Staffordshire, for example, has leaped from three to fourteen since the last election.
The obvious and fair way to stop this blight on our democracy is through the introduction of STV at local elections in England and Wales. It has eliminated uncontested seats in Scotland, it can do it in England and Wales too.