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19th October 2014
19
Oct 2014
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A group of democracy experts, membership organisations and academics has written to William Hague to demonstrate support for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention. The signatories include the constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and the Electoral Reform Society.

The text of the letter and the full list of signatories is as follows:

Friday 17th October 2014

Dear Rt Hon William Hague,

We are writing to you as representatives of a broad range of civil society – including democracy experts, membership organisations and academics – to urge the Devolution Committee which you chair to recommend establishment of a citizen-led Constitutional Convention with real powers to decide the future shape of the UK.

When it comes to new Scottish powers, there is clearly no going back on The Vow. But once these powers are delivered, there will still be wider questions about where power should lie elsewhere within the United Kingdom. Your committee is tasked with answering these difficult questions. We believe the best way of approaching this task is to give the lead to citizens, within a clearly defined process of decision-making.

The Scottish independence referendum demonstrated people’s enthusiasm for making decisions about the future of the UK. When given a real choice with real influence, Scots turned out to discuss, debate and vote on their future in unprecedented numbers. We urge your committee to build on this passion and give people across the UK a role in shaping the country.

A citizen-led Constitutional Convention is the only way to answer questions about the future of the UK in a way which commands legitimacy and ensures a sustainable settlement. It will not do for politicians to make these decisions about our constitutional future behind closed doors.

We are calling for a Constitutional Convention based on the following five principles:

 

·         UK-wide: it should involve the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

·         People-led: a majority of the Convention participants should be randomly selected from the population, in a way which represents the UK as a whole

·         Focused on where power lies: the Convention should focus on deciding the balance of powers between the Westminster Government and our nations, regions, localities and people

·         Nations and regions recognised: the main Convention should be informed by discussions at a regional and national level, involving people from every section of society

·         Binding: there must be mechanisms in place – including a binding referendum – for ensuring that decisions made by the Convention are acted upon

 

We appreciate the challenges facing your committee, and would like to help you bring in the widest range of voices as possible to meet these challenges. To that end, please let us know how we can best contribute to your work.

In a time of low election turnouts and rising distrust in politicians, it is essential that people are given a say in the shape of our political system. You have an unrivalled opportunity to give them this chance. We ask you to seize it.

Yours sincerely,

 

Katie Ghose, chief executive, Electoral Reform Society
Prof Vernon Bogdanor, King’s College London
Alexandra Runswick, director, Unlock Democracy
Graham Allen MP, chair, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
Stephen Bubb, chief executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations
Prof Patrick Dunleavy, co-director, Democratic Audit
Dr Alan Renwick, Reading University
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Mita Desai, chair, British Youth Council
Dr Andrew Blick, King’s College London
Nan Sloane, director, Centre for Women and Democracy
Anthony Zacharzewski, director, Democratic Society
Prof Roger Scully, University of Cardiff
Prof Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield
Graeme McDonald, director, SOLACE
Prof Yvonne Galligan, Queen’s University Belfast
Prof Graham Walker, Queen’s University Belfast
David Torrance, journalist
Anthony Barnett, Open Democracy
Prof Laura McAllister, University of Liverpool
Emma Ritch, director, Engender Scotland
Simon Burall, director, Involve
Prof Stuart White, Jesus College, Oxford University
Neal Lawson, chair, Compass
Prof Conor Gearty, London School of Economics
Prof Simon Hix, London School of Economics
Prof Ron Johnston, Bristol University
Mike Sani, managing director, Bite the Ballot

13th October 2014
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Oct 2014
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Great to debate, but let’s have a format that reflects our multi-party era

Commenting on the broadcasters’ proposal for three TV debates in the run up to the 2015 General Election[1], Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It’s great to see some momentum behind the idea of TV debates. At their best, TV debates can make political issues come alive for the electorate, and after the success of 2010 voters expect to get this opportunity to hear directly from party leaders. It would be hugely disappointing to go back to the old days of no TV debates.

“But the format suggested by the broadcasters doesn’t really reflect the fact that we are now firmly in a multi-party era. It’s difficult to see how to justify the exclusion of smaller parties from the debates. And having a two-party duel between Labour and the Conservatives simply doesn’t reflect the way people see politics these days. Democracy is about hearing from everyone, not just from the two men most likely to be Prime Minister.

“People have changed since the heyday of the two-party system, and they want to hear a variety of voices in politics. The debates should be an opportunity to hear from the leaders of all parties which command a significant amount of support.

“Of course there are practicalities to consider in order to decide where to draw the line, but the principle should be in favour of openness rather than shutting people out. We want to see a format that fairly represents all of the parties which field candidates across the country and which people support in significant numbers.”

ENDS

For more information, interviews and comment, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

 



[1] See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29595529 
19th September 2014
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Sep 2014
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Statement from the Electoral Reform Society
Immediate release 09:45 19th September 2014
Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)


Time to give all UK citizens a say

Commenting on the need for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, Katie Ghose (Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society) said:

“This referendum has demonstrated that when it comes to deciding the future of our country, people want to be asked. It would be a terrible waste if we do not build on that passion by ensuring everyone in the UK, and not just Scots, have a say in where power lies.

“Now is not the time for top-down commands on our constitution, issued by political leaders in the immediate, frenzied aftermath of this momentous vote. The future shape of the country is too important to be rushed through Parliament without consulting the people.

“We need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to determine where power lies in the future. We can draw on international examples to create a process which does justice to people’s passion for change.

“Such a process needs clarity of purpose, and certainty about how its conclusions will be taken forward. It needs the full support of all the political parties, but it must also retain its independence from them.

“Above all, a UK Constitutional Convention must capitalise on the enormous amounts of interest and passion sparked in Scotland by the independence referendum, and bring that passion for determining our political future to the rest of the United Kingdom.”

ENDS

For more information, interviews and comment, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

NOTES

1. Last week The Times published a letter from the Electoral Reform Society and 18 other democracy experts, which called for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention whether or not Scotland votes for independence.

2. Citizen-led Constitutional Conventions have been successfully used around the world to settle where power should lie. For a recent example, see the Irish Constitutional Convention (https://www.constitution.ie). For more information about Constitutional Conventions and what this would look like for the United Kingdom, see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpolcon/writev/constconv/m24.htm See also the Irish Constitutional Convention process or contact Will Brett (07979696265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk)
17th September 2014
17
Sep 2014
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Whether or not Scotland votes for independence, the UK is set to change fundamentally. It is time all UK citizens, and not just Scots, had a say in the future shape of their country. The Electoral Reform Society is leading calls [1] for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention [2] to determine where power should lie.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“The Scots have had over two years to decide on their future. They have seized that opportunity, enjoying a vibrant and detailed discussion about what they want their country to be. But people in the rest of the UK have not had that chance. South of the Scottish border, there has been no great conversation about our future, or which powers should lie at which level of government.

“We need that conversation. The unionist parties are promising full and speedy devolution of powers to Scotland in the event of a No vote. But this would radically affect the rest of the UK without any real consultation. A quick fix in the heat of a referendum is no way to make decisions about our constitutional future.”

The call for a Constitutional Convention comes in the wake of a slew of promises from the unionist parties which are set to fundamentally alter the constitutional settlement of the UK, whether Scotland is a part of it or not. When the single biggest reason for voting Yes is ‘feelings about Westminster and the type of politics there’[3], it is clear that the eventual settlement will not be seen as legitimate if it is delivered from on high.

Katie Ghose added:

“In the event of a Yes vote, citizens will need to be involved if the settlement is going to have any kind of legitimacy. Instead, we are faced with lengthy internal wrangling among the very same mistrusted political elite which is said to be driving many to vote Yes.

“If Scotland votes No, the future of the United Kingdom will still be up in the air. It can’t be right that this future is decided entirely by political leaders decreeing from on high where power should lie. The citizens of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland, must have real influence in determining our constitutional settlement if it is going to be at all sustainable.

“Whether Scotland votes Yes or No, we need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to decide where power should lie. The parties should go into the next General Election committed to giving people a real say in the future shape of their country.

“A Convention needs to be representative of the country. It needs an agreed process for turning its recommendations into reality. And its scope has to be realistic. But above all, it needs the buy-in of all the major political parties, to ensure that it is a real and meaningful process. That is the commitment we need from political leaders in the coming weeks.”

ENDS

For more information and interviews, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

NOTES

1. Last week The Times published a letter from the Electoral Reform Society and 18 other democracy experts, which called for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention whether or not Scotland votes for independence. The full text of the letter and all signatories are copied below.
2. Citizen-led Constitutional Conventions have been successfully used around the world to settle constitutional conventions. For a recent example, see the Irish Constitutional Convention (https://www.constitution.ie). For more information about Constitutional Conventions and what this would look like for the United Kingdom, see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmpolcon/writev/constconv/m24.htm See also the Irish Constitutional Convention process
3. See http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_guardian_scotland_poll.pdf


Letter to The Times, published 11th September 2014
Sir, The narrowing of the polls has led to a cascade of promises from the unionist political parties. Whatever the result of the vote, we need to decide where power in this country (or countries) should lie. It is time for a UK-wide constitutional convention, on the lines of recent conventions in Ireland and Iceland, that gives citizens a say in shaping the future. Such a process needs the support of all the political parties, but it must retain its independence from them. Above all, a UK constitutional convention must build on the passion ignited in Scotland by the referendum, and bring that desire for determining our political future to the rest of the UK.

Signatories:
Katie Ghose, chief executive, Electoral Reform Society; Prof Vernon Bogdanor, King’s College London; Alexandra Runswick, director, Unlock Democracy; Graham Allen MP, chairman, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee; Prof Patrick Dunleavy, Co-Director, Democratic Audit; Dr Alan Renwick, Reading University; Prof Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield; Dr Andrew Blick, King’s College London; Nan Sloane, director, Centre for Women and Democracy; Anthony Zacharzewski, director, Democratic Society; Prof Roger Scully, University of Cardiff; Prof Yvonne Galligan, Queen’s University Belfast; Prof Graham Walker, Queen’s University Belfast; Graeme MacDonald, director, Solace; David Torrance, journalist; Anthony Barnett, Open Democracy; Prof Laura McAllister, University of Liverpool; Emma Ritch, director, Engender Scotland; Simon Burall, director, Involve

(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article4202428.ece)

8th August 2014
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Cash for peerages?

Press release from the Electoral Reform Society, 11.00 8th August 2014

Contact: Will Brett, will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265

 

The 22 new peers appointed today have donated nearly £7m to political parties, the Electoral Reform Society can reveal.

 

The vast majority of the £6,912,841 comes from one donor, Michael Farmer. But another five of the new peers are also party donors or closely associated with party donors. And 16 of the 22 new peers have previously held political positions (either elected or employed). This exposes the myth that the House of the Lords is a chamber full of independent experts. Instead it appears to be a way for party political people to achieve high office without submitting themselves to elections.

 

See table 1 below for a full breakdown of the new donor peers.

 

Commenting on the new peerages, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

 

“These appointments further cement the impression that to get into the House of Lords, all you have to do is write a fat cheque to a political party or be a party hack. The second chamber is a crucial part of our political system, with real legislative power. It cannot be right that people are effectively able to buy a seat at the highest level of politics.

 

“It is the founding principle of democracy that we should be able to choose those who govern us. Until we have an elected second chamber, as opposed to one full to the brim with favoured sons and daughters, we will not be getting the democracy we deserve.”

 

The new appointments bring the total number of peers in the House of Lords to 850. With the possibility of more rounds of appointments after the general election to reflect any changes in political balance, the House of Lords is becoming increasingly over-subscribed.

 

Commenting on the ‘super-sized’ House of Lords, Katie Ghose added:

 

“At this rate it won’t be long before we have twice as many unelected Lords as we do elected MPs. That’s clearly an affront to democracy, but it also raises all sorts of practical problems. There simply isn’t enough room for them all. In fact, the only reason the Lords is still able to function at all is because so many don’t show up for work.

 

“The sheer size of the second chamber makes it completely unworkable. And that means reform is coming back on the agenda whether party leaders like it or not. The challenge for them is to address this blight on our democracy once and for all, and not just tinker at the edges.”

 

ENDS

 

For more information and interviews, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

 

Table 1

Name

Donated personally

Donated through proxies

Total

Party

Previous political position

Karren Brady

     

Conservative

N

Stuart Rose

     

Conservative

N

Michael Farmer

6,550,908.20

£6,250

6,557,158.20

Conservative

Y

Michael Cashman

2500

0

2,500.00

Labour

Y

Joanna Shields

     

Conservative

N

Rabinder Singh Suri

£129,380.00

£183.055.00

£312,435.00

Conservative

N

Chris Fox

     

Lib Dem

Y

Barbara Janke

£5,498

 

£5,498

Lib Dem

Y

Paul Scriven

£2,000

 

£2,000

Lib  Dem

Y

Martin Callanan

     

Conservative

Y

Carlyn Chisholm

     

Conservative

Y

Andrew Cooper

     

Conservative

Y

Natalie Evans

     

Conservative

Y

Dido Harding

     

Conservative

N

Arminka Helic

     

Conservative

Y

Nosheena Mobarik

     

Conservative

Y

Chris Lennie

     

Labour

Y

Gail Rebuck

£2,000

£31,250

£33,250

Labour

N

David Goddard

     

Lib Dem

Y

Kath Pinnock

     

Lib Dem

Y

Julie Smith

     

Lib Dem

Y

William Hay

     

DUP

Y

 

6692286.2

37500

£6,912,841

 

16/22

 

Source: Electoral Commission

 

16th July 2014
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Jul 2014
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 Press release from the Electoral Reform Society, 16 July 2014 11:45

Contact: Will Brett (will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265)

Cameron has failed to meet his pledge on female ministers


Despite yesterday’s high-profile promotions, the Prime Minister has failed to meet his pledge that by the end of this parliament a third of his ministers would be female [1].


By any measure, the government – and the Conservatives’ share of government – is still dominated by men. The closest David Cameron gets to meeting his pledge is by interpreting ‘ministers’ as those Conservatives who attend Cabinet – but even then he falls short of his own target. If his pledge is interpreted to mean all ministers, and not just those who attend Cabinet, he is a full ten points short of meeting his promise. See the ERS’s analysis in the table below:

 

Cameron’s pledge: not met by any measure

 

% female

% Conservatives who are female

Pledge met?

Cabinet

23

30

No

Attending Cabinet

25

31

No

All ministers (incl. Cabinet)

23

24

No

All ministers and whips

26

28

No

 

 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It should not be so very taxing to make one in three of your ministers a woman. Even with the reshuffle, Mr Cameron has failed to do so. While it is heartening to see more women taking a seat at the top table of politics, the fact that the Prime Minister has failed to hit his own relatively unambitious target shows how much more effort needs to be made.

“We should also question how much difference this reshuffle can make when 83% of this parliament is already behind us and the Government’s legislative programme is all but finished. Having more women in positions of power is not just about symbolism – it’s about drawing on the resources and talent of 50% of the population. When that 50% have such unequal access to real power, it is bad news for us all.”

ENDS

Notes

1.      On 29 April 2009, David Cameron said: “If elected, by the end of our first Parliament I want a third of all my ministers to be female.” Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1175106/A-Tory-Government-ministers-women-claims-Cameron.html

 

 

11th June 2014
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Jun 2014
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Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, responds to today’s launch of online electoral registration:

 

“Today marks an important step forward in bringing our voting system into the 21st century. People conduct more and more of their daily affairs online, so by bringing voter registration into this world we are removing one of the barriers facing people when they consider participating in our democracy.

 

“We welcome the introduction of online registration as part of the launch of Individual Electoral Registration (IER).  But this is just the first step. We all need to work harder to get more people registered to vote. If the transition to the new system is not managed well, and resources are not targeted at those most likely to drop off the register, then millions of citizens will go missing from our democracy. The looming General Election makes voter registration an urgent task for government, political parties and citizens alike.”

 

ENDS

 

For more information and for interviews, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

 

Read more about the Electoral Reform Society’s position on Individual Electoral Registration at http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/missingmillions/

 

For more on today’s launch, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/register-to-vote-new-online-service-launched

26th May 2014
26
May 2014
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Over a third of the population of England and Wales are now living under One Party States, according to new Electoral Reform Society analysis of the local election results. This is an increase of over 2.2 million people, after 16 local authorities crossed the threshold of 75% domination by one party.​
 
The elections on Thursday saw the number of One Party States increase to a total of over one hundred.  There are now 18,889,433 people in living in 111 councils in England and Wales that have near-total domination by a single party.

One Party States, defined as councils at least 75% dominated by one party, are bad for voters because they are almost never based on popular mandate in line with the amount of power the ruling party enjoys. One Party States also tend to lead to bad governance, as a council dominated by a single party lacks the scrutiny provided by an effective opposition.
 
 
Often One Party States become complacent owing to the lack of effective opposition. This can lead to poor government, which is ultimately bad for voters as it undermines the council’s ability to provide a good service for the community.
 
Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
 
“Last week’s local elections should have been a celebration of democracy, participation and choice. Instead, one in three English and Welsh citizens find themselves coming under the control of local authorities utterly dominated by one political party.
 
“If this dominance were a reflection of the votes cast on Thursday, then there wouldn’t be any problem. But the sad truth is that One Party States are almost never based on a popular mandate equal to the dominance of the party.
 
“The truth is that the failed First Past the Post voting system used in England and Wales has left a third of the population living in One Party States.”
 
“We need 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 be good for voters, in that it would give them real choice. And it would be good for the quality of local democracy itself, making councils better scrutinised, more transparent and therefore more effective.
 
“In Scotland, the local electoral system was changed to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007. Since then, One Party States have become a thing of the past. We need to do the same in England and Wales, so that voters get the politicians they want, and the democracy they deserve.”
 
ENDS
 

Notes on methodology

  1. A One Party State is defined as a local authoritywith a single party holding over 75% of council seats, leaving opposition incapable of providing any checks on council decision-making. With two-thirds control, majority parties have the ability to overturn standing orders and change the way the councils are run.
  2. Population estimates based on 2011 Census data.
21st May 2014
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Some 16 councils in England are set to become virtual One Party States after tomorrow’s local elections, according to projections by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).


One Party States, defined as councils at least 75% dominated by one party, are bad for voters because they are almost never based on popular mandate in line with the amount of power the ruling party enjoys. In Lewisham, for instance, the ERS expects over 90% of the council seats to be taken by Labour, but barely half of the electorate actually to vote for them. One Party States also tend to lead to bad governance, as a council dominated by a single party lacks the scrutiny provided by an effective opposition.

The 16 new One Party States (projections)

Council

Current % of Council held by one party

Likely % after 2014 elections

Islington

72.9

93.4

Lewisham

72.2

92.3

Nuneaton and Bedworth

73.5

84.8

Lambeth

69.8

84.1

Lincoln

72.7

81.8

Hastings

71.9

81.3

Sheffield

70.2

80.9

Bury

70.6

80.4

Rochdale

70

80

Ipswich

66.7

79.2

Warrington

71.9

78.9

Wolverhampton

73.3

78.3

Oldham

72.9

78

Bassetlaw

70.1

77.1

Blackburn with Darwen

70.3

75

Rossendale

66.7

75

 

The potential new One Party States are all Labour-controlled councils owing to the electoral cycle favouring Labour in 2014. These 16 councils will join 99 already existing One Party States, 63 of which are Conservative, 3 of which are Liberal Democrat and 33 of which are Labour. That means another 3.2 million people will join the existing 16.2 million living under One Party States.

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This week’s local elections should be a celebration of democracy, participation and choice. Instead, over three million more people will find themselves coming under the control of local authorities utterly dominated by one political party.

“If this dominance were a reflection of the votes cast on Thursday, then there wouldn’t be any problem. But the sad truth is that One Party States are almost never based on a popular mandate equal to the dominance of the party.

“Often One Party States become complacent owing to the lack of effective opposition. This can lead to poor government, which is ultimately bad for voters as it undermines the council’s ability to provide a good service for the community.

“We need 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 be good for voters, in that it would give them real choice. And it would be good for the quality of local democracy itself, making councils better scrutinised, more transparent and therefore more effective.

“In Scotland, the local electoral system was changed to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007. Since then, One Party States have become a thing of the past. We need to do the same in England and Wales, so that voters get the politicians they want, and the democracy they deserve.”

ENDS


Notes on methodology

1.       1. A One Party State is defined as a local authority with a single party holding over 75% of council seats, leaving opposition incapable of providing any checks on council decision-making. With two-thirds control, majority parties have the ability to overturn standing orders and change the way the councils are run. A 75% threshold allows for the possibility of sizeable internal rebellions.

2.      2. Most of the councils and wards up for election this year are elected by thirds. In those councils we were able to take a projection of likely results based upon prior election results. So, in a ward that was won by Labour in 2011 and 2012, for instance, it is highly likely that it will also be won by Labour in 2014. In wards won by different parties in 2011 and 2012, an average national swing was taken and applied to the result. In councils, such as those in London, where there has been no election since 2010, projections are calculated on a uniform swing based upon 2011 and 2012 results.

3.      
3. Population estimates based on 2011 Census data.


For full data set and for more information/interviews, please contact Will on will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07979 696 265.

16th May 2014
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May 2014
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38,000 people denied a vote in next week’s local elections

 

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. This means that the election results are decided without the election even being run, as voters do not have any choice about who is going to represent them. Some 38,000 people are therefore effectively being denied a vote[1].

 

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

 

“The first principle of democracy is that you get to choose who represents you. But for tens of thousands of people in England, this fundamental democratic right is being denied.

 

“Uncontested seats make a mockery of democracy. If a seat is uncontested, democracy in that area effectively does not exist. The councillors ‘elected’ in five wards this year will have no proper mandate from the people as they will not have had to win a single vote.

 

“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.

 

“Uncontested seats are a blight on our democracy. It’s time to consign them to the dustbin of history.”

 

The 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 MossKnowsley Borough Council (Labour, Merseyside)

 

Uncontested seats in recent years

 

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[2].

 

In 2011 it was particularly bad. There were an astonishing 259 uncontested seats in the English local elections. That meant there were nearly 1.7 million people effectively disenfranchised by the existence of uncontested seats.

 

Why uncontested seats happen, and why they are a bad thing

 

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[3]. 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.

 

What can be done about it

 

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.

 

ENDS

 

For more information and interviews, contact Will Brett on 07979 696 265 / will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk

 

NOTES

 

1 According to 2011 Census data

2 Calculated through Electoral Reform Society research 2011-2014, and ONS population averages: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/stb-population-and-household-estimates-for-small-areas-in-england-and-wales.html

3 http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN05125/membership-of-uk-political-parties


[2] Calculated through Electoral Reform Society research 2011-2014, and ONS population averages: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/stb-population-and-household-estimates-for-small-areas-in-england-and-wales.html

[2] Calculated through Electoral Reform Society research 2011-2014, and ONS population averages: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/population-and-household-estimates-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/stb-population-and-household-estimates-for-small-areas-in-england-and-wales.html

[3] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/SN05125/membership-of-uk-political-parties

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