How Would PR Affect Local Elections?
From 2007, Scotland will conduct local elections, using the Single Transferable Vote, the system which is used in the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland.
The Single Transferable Vote is not a pure form of proportional representation. It is perfectly possible, for example, for one party to win an overall majority on 45% of the vote, using this system. It is however, a good deal more proportionate in its outcome than the existing first past the post system.
In contrast to the outcome at Parliamentary level, none of the three main parties is particularly disadvantaged, overall, by the use of first past the post in local elections. The Liberal Democrats have close to a quarter of all council seats, Labour have nearly 30%, and the Conservatives have nearly 40%; all these shares are similar to the vote shares that these parties have been winning in recent local elections.
There is no doubt, though, that the current system allows strikingly disproportionate results to take place in individual authorities. In Newham, for example, Labour have often won all 60 council seats, on the back of 60% or so of the vote; conversely, Labour have no representation at all on about 70 authorities nationwide, despite often winning fair-sized shares of the vote in those authorities.
It cannot be good for the quality of local democracy to have authorities where large minorities are effectively disenfranchised.
Overall, bringing PR into local elections would not lead to any great difference in the three partiesâ€™ relative standing to each other. But it would eliminate lop-sided majorities on the one hand, and ensure representation for their supporters in many authorities where they are currently unrepresented, on the other. Minor parties, however, could expect to improve their representation, at the expense of the big three.
And that really is the sting in the tail. Itâ€™s clear that, at current levels of support, PR would ensure several hundred council seats for the British National Party across urban authorities. Could any of the big three contemplate forming a coalition with BNP councillors?
There were six by-elections last night.
Durham CC Framwellgate Moor: Lab 1187, Lib Dem 1037, Ind 267, Con 246. Lab hold.
Eden DC – Crosby Ravensworth: Con 211, Ind 185, Lib Dem 135. Con gain from Ind.
Hartlepool borough – Brus: Lab 350, Lib Dem 230, Ind 127, BNP 117, Con 41. Lab hold
North Norfolk DC – Holt: Lib Dem 885, Con 637, Lab 41.. Lib Dem gain from Ind.
Suffolk CC – Row Heath: Con 1222, Ukip 297, Lab 219, Lib Dem 118, Ind 110, Ind 22. Con hold.
Uttlesford DC – Newport: Lib Dem 746, Con 489. Lib Dem hold.
Sean Fear, a London Tory activist, writes a weekly local election commentary