The Greens did not get as many council seats as their vote share merited
In last week’s council elections, Brighton and Hove voted resoundingly for Green Councillors.
We topped the poll across the city with 4,000 votes more than any other party and were the only political party to increase our vote share in every ward.
Leaping from 11 to 19 councillors overnight, Greens took seats from both Conservative and Labour Parties as well as holding every seat we won in 2015. Our achievements mirrored successes across the country, where the Green Party saw its best-ever council election results.
Having won the popular vote in the city, it would be only right that Greens take control of the council.
Yet despite gaining a smaller percentage of the vote, the Labour Party won 20 of the council’s 54 seats, becoming the biggest party on the council. This is a timely reminder that the way in which our votes are counted in council elections desperately needs changing.
What’s clear is that the current voting system – First Past The Post- is hardwired to suit the two big party establishment.
In Forest of Dean, Greens gained 27% of the vote but took only 16% of the seats. In Norwich, Greens achieved 29.4% of the vote- but only won 23% of the seats.
Greens won huge vote percentages across the country. Breaking onto councils where we’ve never had representation, we doubled our seats.
Yet once again our antiquated electoral system showed its pompous irrelevance.
Voters did something else at last week’s council elections: they howled at the failure of two-party politics to deliver Brexit, and reiterated their disappointment in politicians who fail to represent them. Two big parties might continue to hold power but they aren’t working for those who they represent.
During the campaign in my own ward, some voters had been sold the idea by Labour that in an area which hadn’t returned a Tory Councillor in 36 years, that voting Green would somehow elect a Tory.
Patient explanation of the facts and the hope of the Green message saw them re-elect two Greens with a significantly increased majority but with an electoral system that continues to perpetuate the power of these parties, it’s no surprise that some have switched off.
Tellingly, according to polling from Make Votes Matter, two thirds of people feel that a party’s share of seats should match the votes it receives. A glance at our politics nails the myth that fairer voting systems lead to weak government – we have some of the least effective government and opposition we’ve had in the UK in years.
Labour and the Conservatives continue to deny the range of diverse voices in politics which enrich it. Significantly, countries such as Sweden and Iceland that use Proportional Representation (PR) have much higher gender representation.
It was the London Assembly, a body elected through proportional voting, that first set the precedent for equal marriage.
FPTP is on it’s deathbed, argued our Deputy Leader Amelia Womack last week. For us, it couldn’t come sooner. Greens have been at the forefront of calling for a much fairer voting system for decades.
If we want to tackle low turnout and voter fatigue then we must provide a system that enfranchises voters and allows their voice to make a difference.
As Greens, we believe that system is Single Transferable Vote, making the votes people place proportionate to who wins on the day.
But we can’t stop there, 101 years after the vote was partially won for women, we also want to extend the right to vote to over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds. They can marry with parental consent, serve in the army, direct a company yet not vote.
It’s time for Labour and the Conservatives to face up to the fact that this country has evolved beyond the Victorian binary voting system reflecting just two parties.
Beyond the results of our magnificent election here, along with Greens across the country, we will continue to campaign to overhaul our broken voting system: a stronger, fairer democracy awaits.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is convenor of the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.
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