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 Once again, our outdated First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system is shown to be completely unfit for purpose for a population that is more diverse, better educated and far less tribal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.

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