Democracy Deserts in Bridgend and the case for Electoral Reform

The Electoral Reform Society has turned its spotlight on the imminent Local Elections in Wales and the sham of a democratic process it embodies:

Key snippets:

Voting wont interrupt the daily routine of 7,085 residents in Bridgend county borough next Thursday.” (5 uncontested seats – or Democracy Desertsas the ERS puts it so aptly)

Meaningless votes: All of the 96 democracy deserts are single member wards. Yet seats which elect more than one member (multi-member wards) are even more unfair under the current system as a party can gain all the seats as many as 5 despite not winning a majority of the vote. Most multi-member wards are held by one party, because the system doesnt allow for a politics that accurately reflects the diverse needs and interests of the community.
Across Wales at the last local government election in 2008 two thirds of voters might as well have thrown their ballot paper in the bin as only 34% of votes cast actually got a councillor elected.

  • In the Morriston ward in Swansea, Labour won ALL of the 5 seats, despite gaining 39.6% of the vote.
  • In the Plasnewydd ward in Cardiff, the Lib Dems won ALL of the 4 seats, despite gaining only 44% of the vote.

Under the current system those who finish 3rd can still go on to win. In the starkest example from last election the Lib Dems came third in Cardiff according to the number of votes they won, but gained twice as many seats as the Conservatives, who won the most votes.

This crazy system means that in Bridgend CBC – on top of the 5 councillors ‘elected’ with zero votes – even in contested seats, it is entirely possible to win a seat with just 200 votes in some wards, whereas it takes a minimum of 1000 votes to get elected in Brackla.

This may possibly work to our advantage in one or two places, but overall it acts a barrier to people getting involved (voting as well as standing) in the process that is so important in shaping our lives – and tends to lead to the main parties congregating in the same ground of perceived majority opinion – as seen with the three main parties.

This is also leads to people not voting for what they really want:

Returning to the ERS report:

The winner takes all feature of FPTP is an unfairness which is repeated in county after county across the country.

The case for reform: Scotland had similar problems, but in 2007 moved to a fairer system of electing local councillors. There are now no single member wards in Scotland. Local voters there get to express a preference at the ballot box, ranking in order their preferred candidates. In comparison, the Scottish local elections under STV meant that 74% of voters got their first choice of councillor elected. The unfair situation where the winner takes all is avoided as seats are distributed more proportionately.

Its a system that the 2004 Sunderland Commission, established by the then Labour and Liberal Democrat partnership government, recommended. Its a system that would have provided a vote to the 140,000 Welsh taxpayers who live in one of the 96 democracy deserts. Its a system that the Welsh Government must now get on and implement. Wales cannot afford to waste a further 8 years waiting for fair votes.

Hear, Hear!

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