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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Are the political classes in Brighton mature enough to cope with Caroline Lucas disagreeing with the Green Group?

A sign of a mature democracy is how it deals with dissent. It should be able to cope with it without clamping down on freedoms or maligning the dissenter. Similarly, a mature political party should not only accommodate dissent, it should positively welcome it.

Political parties should not try to resemble religious sects, demanding total and uncritical allegiance regardless of the merits of an argument. It is funny that the Blairites in New Labour demanded the same unthinking loyalty as Militant Tendency required of its acolytes.

I have always felt that the Green Party has shown more maturity than some other parties, particularly Labour in Brighton and Hove, when handling dissent. When Cllr Alex Phillips was the lone vote against the Labour/Conservative budget, most members of the Green Group respected the stance she had taken. Her dissent was widely welcomed within the Green Party.

I know plenty of Green Party members who remain supportive of the Green Council in spite of disagreements over particular policies and actions. To suggest, as Labour is doing, that the cuts being forced on the City Council are either “Green cuts” or that Caroline Lucas is somehow responsible for them, is childish politics.

I would imagine, and sources within the Green Party have suggested to me, that Caroline Lucas herself is not comfortable with some of the actions of Green members on the City Council. I believe that she disagreed with the expulsion of Christina Summers even though Ms Lucas’ record on gay marriage is without doubt.

The problem for Caroline Lucas is the immaturity of the political process where activists in parties opposed to the Greens might seize upon any admission of disagreement as a split within the Green Party. It is not a split, it is a disagreement and should any of my occasional readers try to make political capital out of this, they will merely be proving my point about political immaturity.

A day of shame for democracy

Shame on the Conservatives for piling debt on students and families, cutting funding for education and investment in our future.

Shame on those Liberal Democrats who voted with the Tories and betrayed their pledge to their electorate.

Shame on Simon Hughes and other Lib Dems for betraying their pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees.

Shame on the Metropolitan Police for using police horses against children.

Truly a day of shame for democracy and a day that will damage Britain’s reputation throughout the world.

Jason Kitcat should be applauded for his actions not suspended from office by a non-elected panel

The decision on the “standards committee” of Brighton and Hove City Council to suspend Councillor Jason Kitcat is shameful.  The panel found that Cllr Kitcat’s use of a video from a Council meeting was “political” and improper, particularly in regard to one “highly edited” clip of an exchange between Councillor  Geoffrey Theobald and the then mayor, Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn.

I for one am disgusted that a non-elected panel can suspend a councillor who has been democratically elected.  There is such limited media coverage of the debates of councillors on the City Council that any democrat would welcome wider coverage, no matter how “political” it is.  If Cllr Kitcat has ‘spun’ the item, then confront him politically.  Don’t hide behind an undemocratic panel.  This is politics, councillors are all adults. 

If Cllr Kitcat has done wrong, the way to deal with him is next May in the Council elections. I suspect that Cllr Kitcat will be re-elected with a massive majority in Regency Ward.  He is one of the finest and most hard-working councillors in Brighton and Hove.  His reputation is enhanced by his opponents actions.

I imagine Geoffrey Theobald, who can mix it with the best of them, must be terribly embarrassed that his colleague, Councillor Ted Kemble, made the original complaint.  Geoffrey doesn’t need the protection of this undemocratic panel to hide his policies.

What amazes me is that the Council is about to deliberate about what cuts they are to make, cuts on an unprecedented level.  The Coalition Government wants public input.  How can we participate if we don’t have information and the widest diversity of views.

Jason Kitcat should be applauded for what he has done.  He shouldn’t apologise.  He should be encouraged to carry on tweeting from Council meetings and posting videos, views and information on whatever media is available.

The person who can resolve this is Geoffrey Theobald who, I know, is sufficiently experienced in politics not to allow himself to be diminished by the complaint of Cllr Kemble and the ruling of the panel.  He should say that an apology is not wanted nor called for.

MP Expenses: A Threat to Democracy

Harriet Harman today outlined three new offences targeting false claims, registering interests and payments to MPs for raising issues in Parliament.
She also announced the establishment of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to run MPs’ expenses.

While many of the reforms are to be welcomed, there is one that sets a very dangerous precedent. The IPSA will have powers to expel Members of Parliament for breaches of the code. This is fundamentally wrong and needs to be rethought.

Send MP’s to prison for illegal acts, yes, but the only people who should be allowed to expel members of Parliament are their constituents. Perhaps the House authorities should advocate a recall system whereby local constituents, in sufficient numbers to sign a new the necessary petition, could trigger a vote on whether the MP should be forced to stand down, thereby causing a by-election.

Any system that allows unelected officials to remove elected representatives is fundamentally and democratic. Any system where the political majority can exclude a minority party or individual could result in decisions being made that are fundamentally undermine democracy and the relationship of a Member of Parliament with her or his constituency.