Democratising Devo Manc

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 25th February 2015

The ERS has long campaigned for devolution to the local level, but the Society also campaigns for proportional representation at a local level. Here ERS Deputy Chief Executive Darren Hughes outlines why they should go hand in hand.

Sign our petition for a fairer local voting system

The decision by the government to devolve responsibility for health funding – around £6 billion – to Greater Manchester is a good sign that the localism agenda is still in play, even if the pace of change could be quicker.

Today’s move builds on the City Deals concept promoted by the Chancellor and is in line with the case for devolution to cities so articulately made by Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis. With the Liberal Democrats long in the frame on this too, we can expect to see more of these announcements in the next parliament irrespective of outcome.

One note of caution, though: if we think our First Past the Post electoral system distorts results at Westminster, nothing compares to its effect at local government level.

The ERS has been pointing out the risks of an out of date and unreformed voting system at local level in England and Wales for some time. It’s a problem in itself, but it’s brought into even more dangerous territory as powers and pounds begin flowing from Whitehall to town halls.

What’s critical in this new environment is that there should be a healthy democracy at the local level to make best use of these resources, and to ensure maximum credibility and accountability.

But the kind of fairness in representation and effective scrutiny of spending tax-payers money that we expect from our elected leaders is far less likely to happen in One Party State councils.

It’s why the ERS has made local PR – like the successful system they’ve been using in Scotland for the last couple of election cycles – a top priority for the upcoming election.

Such a system would reward parties where they have strong support (for example in Manchester city council where Labour enjoys over 60% support) but stop such parties crushing all opposition (last year Labour won 100% of the seats on MCC). Even the most partisan of figures can see that something’s not working. And of course, we have Conservative and Lib Dem One Party States as well.

Our reports – Northern Blues and Towards One Nation – make the case for reform. With the Lottery Election almost certain to produce a hung parliament, the parties need to be thinking about the kind of democratic changes required to run modern Britain.

So, more devolution to nations, cities and regions please. But STV proportional representation for local elections is needed to help make it work; to represent more people more fairly, and to scrutinise how those in power use the resources they are trusted with on our behalf. That would seem to be in keeping with the mood of the country. Devolution and democratic reform should go hand in hand.

Read our case for a fairer local voting system: Northern Blues and Towards One Nation.

Agree? Sign our petition for a fairer local voting system

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