First past the post or proportional representation? How about a bit of both? by Andy Winter

I have for a long time thought that local government would be an ideal place to introduce a combination of first past the post and proportional representation. It would work like this. Reduce the number of councillors to represent each ward to just one, and reduce the number of wards to 16. A further 8 seats could then be allocated on the basis of the proportion of votes cast across the city to those on party lists and, as suggested to me by Jean Calder, a further eight seats to independents voted for by the whole city.

This system would retain a constituency link, and might also encourage others to stand for election through the party lists or as independents.

Ward councillors would not be allowed to chair committees, but their priority would be to look after the interests of their constituents. They should be properly remunerated given that being a councillor is increasingly becoming a full time job. With just 32 councillors, it would be more affordable.

The current system does not allow for good governance. Currently, if the chair of housing or of planning came from, for example, Rottingdean Coastal, they couldn’t be expected to look at the merits of a housing development in Ovingdean on behalf of the city. They would, rightly, look after the interests of their constituents.

However, councillors elected from the lists would be free to take a city-wide view, and ensure that the needs of the whole city are met. They would be the chairs of committees and from their number the whole Council would elect the Leader.

Some people, who wish to represent a political party, could bring expertise and experience that would massively benefit the city but, for various reasons, they are not able to nurture a ward up to an election and for the four years afterwards.

Last week, Labour secured 35.6% of the vote in the local elections, the Conservatives 30.2%, and the Greens 26.2%. In addition to the seats won, their proportion of the vote would have given them three, three and two additional seats respectively.

As for the independents, we could see people elected from the arts, the universities, or the business community, as well as individuals with something to offer.

Forgive me if I use myself as an example. I might be able to offer something as a councillor in the areas of housing and homelessness. Currently, to stand any chance of election I would have to join a political party, become an activist, and stand for selection as a candidate. I’ve done that before. I don’t have the time or inclination to put myself through that again.

Many others, far better qualified than I, are excluded from serving because of the current system. The City is the poorer for that.

(This item first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on 15th May 2015)

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3 Responses

  1. By jove, I think you have got it. I particularly warm to Jeans idea of the 25% Independents. I served from 2002 – 2009 on the SEERA and the 30% of people from outside of the Political Parties who included NHS, Universities, Businesses and the voluntary sector made a really substantial contribution, but could not overrule the party voices. It worked very well

  2. An overlooked factor is that some wards are tougher than others. Queen’s Park requires three LATs, such are its problems with social housing and so on. A contrast with, say, Withdean or Hove Park.

    Rottingdean Coastal could yet be interesting. Despite its name, the long territory encompasses a diverse stretch which, with work, could turn it in other directions.

  3. […] would be for a hybrid system similar to that which Andy Winter and Jean Calder argue for in a recent posting of the Brighton Politics Blogger. Because of my wish for a proper debate and for a full range of electoral systems to be […]

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