Proportional representation in local government would end ‘no go areas’ for Labour

The nations of Britain and the regions of England are becoming more and more electorally polarised.

Chris Terry is a research officer at the Electoral Reform Society

That Labour should be a party which appeals across the length and breadth of Britain is a relatively uncontroversial view that chimes with the ‘One Nation’ agenda pursued by the party’s current leadership.

Yet the nations of Britain and the regions of England are becoming more and more electorally polarised, with areas such as the South East becoming more Conservative, and the North East becoming more Labour. In the East of England at the 2010 election Labour won more than half a million votes but saw only two MPs returned.

Millions of Labour voters cast their votes for the party and are denied representation due to an unrepresentative electoral system. Labour activists want to reach southern voters as much as those in the urban heartlands of the North, but the current system penalises them for time spent in ‘electoral deserts’.

Councillors can often give a party much-needed lifeblood, providing local campaigning and improved infrastructure, and drawing others into local activism and support. Yet there are 69 councils in the UK where Labour does not have a single seat.

In some of these, Labour support is very low, but in others – such as Castle Point, Essex (26.9 per cent of the vote in 2012), and East Hertfordshire (20.2 per cent in 2011) and North Norfolk (17.7 per cent in 2011) – the party has significant support which is not rewarded with any representation.

A fairer system would allow the party to gain a toehold, perhaps a lone councillor to start off with, followed by a small Labour group.

According to a new report by the Electoral Reform Society, 27 of the 69 district and unitary councils which are currently Labour-free zones would return councillors under a proportional electoral system.

The introduction of such a system in Scottish local government in 2007 shows what is possible. In such a strong Labour heartland there were understandable concerns for the party, but today the party controls 16 council leaderships in Scotland and serves in a further three administrations as a junior coalition partnerfour more than under FPTP in 1999.

On Aberdeenshire council, where Labour had never won a seat before, the party is now part of the ruling executive.

The party has also managed to win majorities in five Labour council areas, but the introduction of a fairer voting system has allowed the formation of true oppositions which have been able to hold party administrations to account. The serious risk, in 2012, that Glasgow could be lost, forced the local party to clean up its act, running a rejuvenated slate of candidates who proved to be more dynamic and better servants to the public.

Proportional representation in local government would be good for voters whose chances of casting a ballot which elects their chosen representative would raise dramatically.

It would also help the Labour party achieve its One Nation ambitions. Allowing the party to reach out beyond its heartlands into new areas and to rebuild its bases, it would end ‘no-go’ areas and reward dynamic local parties who give Labour voters a voice all over Britain.

6 Responses to “Proportional representation in local government would end ‘no go areas’ for Labour”

  1. swatnan

    Its is in the interests of better democracy that we break this hegonomy that exists in many areas where a ‘safe’ seat is a guarnteed job for life. We should expect our elected representatives to be vulnerable to a change in the mood of an electorate that is dissatified with any administration. But that is virually impossible in many areas Labour controlled or Tory controlled or Lib Dem controlled. It is the main reason why there is so much public disillusionment with politics and politicians. The best scenario would be that every seat is considered marginal, and politicians be made accountable for their sins. They should not be allowed a get out of jail free card. The PR prosals go only so mfar; they should go further.

  2. uglyfatbloke

    Britain got a special ‘opt out’ when we joined the EEC to allow us to be the only country in the community that did not have a democratic electoral system and (I think) the only country with an upper house composed of inbred hereditary ‘nobles’, old chums and bishops. Of course we should have democratic reform, but both the big parties would have far too much to lose. Never mind the democracy, feel the power.

  3. bluecatbabe

    Yes, well out here in the East of England, Norwich North, the Labour Party shafted our excellent sitting MP Ian Gibson, who was the sole reason I still voted Labour in 2005. (I couldn’t vote against someone who had opposed the Iraq War, the privatisation of the NHS and treating University education as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, against his party’s line).

    So now have a parachuted-in Tory apparachik, Chloe Smith, useless Treasury minister and loathsome sponsor of the Gagging Bill.

    So thanks very much for that, Labour Party Central.

    When you complain about all those Labour voters in East Anglia who don’t get representation (and I agree, it’s a scandal: so why did you oppose PR last time it was mooted?) please remember you have played your own part in undermining democracy.

  4. David Lindsay

    This may be right, or it may be wrong, but what is beyond dispute is that it is charmingly naive about the Labour Party. PR for, of all things, local government? Truly, the view from the bubble.

  5. neilcraig

    The fact that we are not a democracy is proven by the fact that the main parties agree on so much. In particular they agree on an openly corrupt electoral system which is intended to provide such high “barriers to entry” to British politics that we have something fairly close to a single party with 2 factions monopoly. There is also the fact that about 7/8th of thecost of most government programmes is disappeared by the political parasites of all 3 parties. Hence Cameron is obviously more enthusiastic for a Labour majority next time than a Tory/UKIP one.

    Even the Pseudo-Liberals are waxing in their enthusiasm for a democratic electoral system. Only UKIP fully supports either freedom or democracy.

  6. blarg1987

    What we really need is to encourage everyone to vote in the first insatance, with a large proportion of people unwilling to vote, we do end up with safe seats. If everyone did vote, many safe seats would be threatened and from there PR may become more of a reality.

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