25 Sep 2017

Wirral councillors reject fair votes


I recently submitted a motion to Wirral Council calling on it to support the campaign for a fair voting system for local and Westminster elections. You can read my motion here.

The motion was discussed at a council committee meeting last Thursday. You can watch the debate courtesy of John Brace's video link.

Although six councillors backed my motion, a similar number opposed and it was voted down on the casting vote of the Chair.

First past the post is manifestly unfair and not fit for purpose. It will be replaced. It's just a question of when. Thankfully there is a growing campaign within the Labour Party to achieve this and a new report has just been published in conjunction with the Make Votes Matter campaign group to that end. It's a shame that a majority of Wirral's Labour councillors voted for the few, not the many and failed to back that campaign.

The six councillors who supported my motion were;
  • Chris Carubia (Liberal Democrat)
  • Adam Sykes and Bruce Berry (Conservative)
  • Mike Sullivan, Anita Leech and Tony Smith (Labour)
The six who voted against were;
  • Ian Lewis (Conservative)
  • Steve Foulkes, Tony Jones, Tom Usher, Louise Reecejones and Paul Stuart (Labour)
Christina Muspratt (Labour) abstained.
Below is a transcript of my address to the committee.

Notice of Motion: Fair Votes

I trust the motion speaks for itself in terms of highlighting the manifestly unfair allocation of seats in the recent general election. Once again, our outdated First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system is shown to be completely unfit for purpose for a population that is more diverse, better educated and far less tribal than in the past.

While it's easy to identify the failings of FPTP as a voting system the broader consequences for society are less well understood. I'm going to highlight some of these consequences all of which are supported by relevant academic reports:

More people vote under proportional representation (PR) systems. Turnout for PR elections is typically 5-8% higher than under FPTP. This is hardly surprising as the wasted vote syndrome synonymous with FPTP is a huge disincentive to vote. At the last local elections in Wirral, turnout was just 35%. In Scotland, where the single transferable vote system has been in use for local elections for a decade, turnout is 12% higher than in Wirral.

PR voting systems, which encourage consensual decision making, tend to reduce income inequalities. Among the 35 OECD countries the only three that use FPTP - Canada, the UK and the USA - all rank poorly on the income inequality index. The UK ranks 29 out of 35.

FPTP is the world's worst electoral system for gender balance in politics. The share of women in parliament is only 32% and falls way short of countries with proportional voting systems. Every country in the world with more than 40% female MPs uses a form of PR. Across England, only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are female.

FPTP is bad for the environment. Studies have found that countries using proportional voting systems have higher environmental standards and scored, on average, six points higher on the Yale index which measures a range of environmental outcomes.

FPTP encourages conflict. Military expenditure is consistently higher for countries using FPTP and almost twice as high as for countries with fully proportional voting systems. Furthermore, countries with PR tend to have significantly less involvement in armed conflict. PR countries require broader consensus before being lead into conflict by the executive.

And finally, under FPTP, elections are determined by a small number of swing voters in a few marginal seats. Financial resources are targeted at such voters which means money talks far more loudly in our disproportionate system than under PR.

There are a few common myths about FPTP which need to be addressed:

It is promoted as leading to stable government. In fact, we have averaged one unplanned election every ten years over the last century. Countries with FPTP have elections slightly more frequently than those with PR.

Secondly, it is entirely possible to retain a constituency link under PR. The Electoral Reform Society recommends larger constituencies electing 4-6 MPs under a single transferable vote system. In this case, Wirral would be a single constituency returning four MPs.

Thirdly, the AV referendum vote in 2011 was not a referendum on proportional representation. AV is not proportional and produces similarly perverse outcomes as FPTP. In fact, opinion polls consistently show overwhelming public support for a voting system where seats match votes.

Councillors, FPTP is way past its sell-by date. It is a dead weight stifling our democracy. As the excellent Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform report into PR puts it:

"It is no exaggeration to say that proportional representation is a prerequisite of a properly functioning democracy in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few."

I hope you agree and urge you to support my Motion.

16 Sep 2017

Proposed McDonalds for central Birkenhead

A planning application for a new drive through take away on Milton Pavement in central Birkenhead has been submitted to Wirral Council. The Wirral Globe has run an article on this. The plans can be viewed via this link and inserting the application number: APP/17/00982.

At this stage, I have submitted the following comments to planning officers. I will be following progress on this application very closely.
  • It seems that access into the shopping centre has to be made by walking through the car park which is hardly ideal.
  • it would appear that vehicles would cross pedestrian routes not once but twice and this might not be clear to anyone unfamiliar with the area. I think there are highway safety issues here.
  • The landscape proposals are extremely modest and could be greatly improved.
  • Reallocating land from retail/pedestrians to vehicles would seem to contradict council policy in terms of sustainable/active travel. This is particularly relevant here given the proximity to rail and bus services.
  • Are colleagues in regeneration being consulted on this? A development with questionable scope for linked shopping trips may not sit well with existing plans/aspirations for the area.
  • There are already McDonalds outlets at Charing Cross and Rock Park. Perhaps you could clarify any cumulative impact policies that might be relevant here?
Furthermore

If the restaurant were to be be moved to the east side of Milton Pavement mall and mirrored so that the access faced onto the mall, the drive thro' access could then be taken from the car park roundabout and leave by the Birkenhead Market Service Road. 

The building would then screen the ugly back view of the market, the waste storage would be at the back, the pedestrian mall would have no dangerous cross circulation with traffic. The proposed parking would now be sited on the present footprint of the restaurant, and would be accessed from the service area behind B&M.

Doing this avoids the poorly arranged access to the roundabout, all the nebulous and conflicting circulation, maintains Milton Pavement as a way into the Pyramids, and would allow some much better landscape detailing to enhance the maintained Mall access. 

Given that there is so much parking around the Pyramids I would have thought that the surplus land would be much better used to create an attractive landscape setting for the restaurant and entrance to the shopping area. Some of the coffee houses in the precinct have used their external space for sitting outside, admittedly for smokers, but it does make the precinct look more welcoming.

13 Sep 2017

Notice of Motion: Fair Votes

A fair voting system is essential for a healthy democracy. Everybody's vote should count equally and it is a massive injustice that Britain operates under a manifestly unfair and outdated voting system. I have therefore proposed the following motion which will be debated next week at the next meeting of the relevant scrutiny committee:

NOTICE OF MOTION: FAIR VOTES (as referred by the Civic Mayor to the
Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee)

Proposed by Councillor Pat Cleary
Seconded by Councillor Stuart Kelly

Council believes that a Parliament that more accurately reflects the views of the
nation, enabling people to feel that their votes count, is more likely to develop an
economic, social and environmental agenda that benefits Wirral's residents.

Following the recent general election, this Council agrees that the 'First Past the
Post' voting system:
 has again failed to live up to its reputation to provide strong and stable
government;
 has again yielded a wildly disproportionate allocation of seats with, for example,
the Democratic Unionist Party gaining 10 seats from 292,316 votes compared
with 12 seats from 2.4 million votes for the Liberal Democrats;
 has spectacularly failed to match votes to seats with 27,930 votes required to
elect one MP from the Scottish National Party compared with 525,371 votes to
elect one Green Party MP.

This Council:
(a) recognises that a robust democracy must include a fair voting system and that
nobody should be disenfranchised because of where they live;
(b) applauds the many groups and organisations campaigning for fair votes including
the Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Matter and the Labour Campaign for
PR;
(c) notes that the Single Transferable Vote system is already used for local elections
in Scotland and in both Northern Irish local elections and the Northern Ireland
Assembly while proportional electoral systems are used to elect the devolved
parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London;
(d) therefore calls for the introduction of a proportional voting system
(i) for local elections in England and Wales;
(ii) for Westminster elections; and
(e) directs that a copy of this motion be forwarded to the Leaders of all political
parties represented in the UK Parliament.