‘We could have taken 11 council seats with a fairer voting system’

Greens say it’s time to turn to a fairer method than first-past-the-post

Friday, 13th May — By Anna Lamche

greens 2

Under proportional representation there would be more Green councillors at the Town Hall

A TOWN Hall made up of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, as well as Labour and the Greens sounds a world away from the composition of the council chamber elected last week.

But under an alternative voting system perhaps a different mix would have been returned.

And after another colossal landslide win for the Labour Party, their chief rivals in Islington, the Greens say it is time to turn to a fairer method than the traditional first-past-the-post system (FPTP).

They have calculated that if proportional representation (PR) had been in play, Labour would still have won overall but the final line-up of councillors would be more reflective of how people voted.

“[Under PR], we’d have something like six Lib Dems, six Conservatives, 11 Greens and 28 Labour councillors,” said new Green councillor Benali Hamdache.

Critics say that FPTP is increasingly returning near one-party administrations, removing the layers of scrutiny that come with having a fully functioning opposition.

The Greens say that the elections in London threw up similar mismatches between the vote share figures and the actual number of seats returned, including in neighbouring Camden and Hackney.

Cllr Hamdache referenced a study by Cambridge academic Mihály Fazekas which warns that councils supremely dominated by one group are often worse performers.

“We know from research by the Electoral Reform Society that one-party councils deliver less value for money,” said Cllr Hamdache.

This research found councils dominated by a single party could be wasting as much as £2.6billion a year due to lack of effective scrutiny on how money is spent.

He said: “Islington Council has been in an interesting situation for the last eight years, with 48 Labour councillors versus one Green.

“The limitations of such a big imbalance has been really clear: it means decisions are made in Labour Party meetings instead of the council chamber.

“By having a more balanced council, we know we’d see a better-run council.”

Cllr Hamdache said that under the FPTP system, Labour had won just over 50 per cent of votes in Islington last week but secured over 90 per cent of seats in the council chamber.

Analysing Islington’s results, the Electoral Reform Society said despite a combined vote share of over 20 per cent for the Lib Dems and Conservatives, neither party won a seat, meaning one in five voters in Islington have no representation at all on the council for how they voted.

“I think sometimes when voters see such a big majority, it can crush people’s faith in institutions – I think generally things are better-run when we have lots of different perspectives,” Cllr Hamdache said.

Labour councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz, the leader of Islington Council, said: “I think our exceptionally hard-working Labour councillors deliver regularly on really high-quality scrutiny.”

In a nod to a recent spate of letters in the Tribune in which backbenchers have hit back over the idea that they do not challenge council policy, Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “Recently we have had really powerful articles and letters from our councillors that show how important scrutiny is to our group of councillors, and what the role of an effective councillor is.”

She said scrutiny is not necessarily about “being oppositional,” but rather robustly representing different facets of the community.

“If you look at our Labour councillors, they look like Islington,” she said.

“They take that into not only how they listen to our community, but back into the Town Hall, back into how they scrutinise how the council is working.

“If other parties want to say that’s not delivering effective opposition – well, we have one of the worst governments of all time, and we are a very effective opposition to that,”

Cllr Comer-Schwartz added: “I think [PR] is obvious­ly something of interest to the opposition. I would say if you can’t win in the current system, don’t blame the tools.”

Conservative home secretary Priti Patel recently sparked anger among those in favour of wider reforms by saying the London elections for City Hall could be brought back to FPTP after the recent use of alternative vote and a list system for assembly members.

Darren Hughes, the chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Last week’s local elections once again highlighted how the current outdated first-past-the-post system produces distorted results in town halls meaning they do not properly reflect the will of local people.

“FPTP also tends to create ‘one party states’ where councils are artificially dominated by one party, even if they didn’t win anywhere near the level of support to warrant so many seats.

He added: “Switching over to a proportional voting system, such as the single transferable vote already in use in Scotland, would mean those sitting in council halls would far more closely reflect the actual votes cast by the electorate”.

Related Articles