Making it easier for unpopular candidates to become Mayors turns back the clock

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 18th March 2021

The government has announced plans to impose First Past the Post onto the Mayor of London, and Combined Authority Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

The move could see unpopular and highly divisive candidates sneaking into city and town halls on low levels of support.

The proposals, announced on Tuesday by Home Secretary Priti Patel, would see the current preference-based Supplementary Vote method replaced with Westminster style First Past the Post.

It will force many voters to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for a candidate that isn’t their first choice, or accept that their vote will be ignored. Fundamentally though, the move would damage accountability and undermine the legitimacy of those elected.

The power they want to take back from voters

With the current system, if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates continue to a run-off and all other candidates are eliminated. When casting their ballot voters can put a second choice (who they would vote for in a runoff) on the original ballot paper.

If your favourite candidate gets through, your vote is counted for them in the run-off. If they didn’t, but your second choice did, your vote goes to them. The run-off candidate with the most votes is declared the winner.

Offering voters a backup choice using the Supplementary Vote acts as a safeguard against mayors sneaking into city and town halls on low levels of support by ensuring the winning candidate has a broad backing of voters – vital for officials with wide-ranging powers over policing and crime in our local communities.

Imposing a broken system

First past the post saw an MP elected to parliament on just 25% of the vote – should 25% of the community decided the policing priorities for the rest of us?

But it gets worse, Police and Crime Commissioner elections typically have very low turn out – even when combined with other elections in 2016 only 27.3% voted. We could easily hand power to people that only single digits of the electorate voted for.

Imposing Westminster’s broken first past the post voting system on mayoral and PCC elections is a step backwards that would see multi-million-pound budgets handed to people the majority of voters don’t want – damaging accountability and undermining the legitimacy of those elected.

With all the challenges facing the country right now, making it easier for divisive and unpopular candidates to take mayoral posts should not even be in the government’s to-do list.

We need to be finding ways of increasing accountability for our politicians, improving our democracy and making it fit for the modern age instead of turning back the clock and adopting a discredited, outdated and broken voting system.

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