Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Democratic Deficit in Haringey (and almost everywhere else)

The pie chart above illustrates the percentage share of the vote in Haringey at the council elections in May this year. The parties scored like this, Labour 41%, Lib Dem 33%, Conservative 15.5% and Greens 10.5%.

Under our ward by ward first past the post electoral system, this result gave Labour 34 and the Lib Dems 23 councillors, of the 57 seats on the council. The combined total vote share of 26%, gave Conservative and Green voters zero representation in Haringey. On a purely proportional basis, these voters would have been represented by 14 or 15 councillors, and we would have had a fair reflection of what the electorate actually wanted see in terms of political representation in the borough.

The Green party is fully committed to moving towards a system which delivers ‘fair votes’ at all levels of government, and obviously we stand to gain by a change in the system. The Conservatives, who locally would also have gained from proportional representation (PR), in the main, are against such a change. But this is linked to how the Conservatives benefit from the status quo at national, Westminster elections, and no doubt in some areas at local level.

The Labour party, who also do well locally and nationally out of the present electoral system, are also against change, and from a purely cynical stand point, it’s easy to see why.

The Lib Dems as is their way, get themselves into something of a tangle when it comes to electoral reform. Under a PR system, they would have gained fewer seats in Haringey (19 as apposed to 23), but are long standing proponents of PR for elections, at least at national level, but here in Haringey, it would cost them representatives, and they seem to be not principled about PR when it doesn’t favour them. When was the last time you heard a Haringey Lib Dem councillor calling for PR at council elections? Hell is likely to freeze over first.

Of course, all this feeds into the national proposal for a change to the Alternative Vote for national elections, which is likely to be put to a vote, at a referendum next year. Under this system, candidates are ranked in order of preference, 1, 2, 3 etc. AV is not a PR system, and is little better than the current system at delivering a fair reflection of the votes cast, but has its advantages to the main parties.

The AV proposal for national elections is nothing to do with making elections a fairer expression of the votes cast, but all about the big parties trying to get the best advantage for themselves, particularly with the Con Dem coalition wanting to gerrymander the constituency boundaries in their favour.

Some kind of PR system would take away the opportunity of the bigger parties to gerrymander in this way, and produce a fairer result for the voters. But this is the last thing the main parties want to happen, as it would remove their opportunity to force through policies which significant parts of the electorate are against. So much for democracy!

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