In the last County Council elections in 2017, the Conservatives gained 44 per cent of the vote in Devon – 56 per cent went to other parties and Independents. Yet because of the first-past-the-post electoral system, they gained 70 per cent of the seats. This has given them an overwhelming majority on the Council and all its committees, which they use ruthlessly – even to ditch Seaton’s hospital beds a couple of years ago.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, this system has been replaced by the Single Transferable Vote system, which enables voters to rank all candidates (thus voting for the individual as well as the party), and leads to second preferences being distributed so that you get a more balanced representation – with more encouragement for cooperation between councillors of different parties.
It also means that instead of most votes being cast for unsuccessful candidates, and thus wasted, ALL votes count towards the election of councillors. This encourages more people to vote.
This year, the Welsh Assembly has voted to allow local councils to choose this system for their elections, too. Only in England are we forced to stick with first-past-the-post. At yesterday’s Council meeting, I asked the Council to request legislation for England, too, so that Devon could choose its own system.
In response, the Conservative Cabinet produced a meaningless amendment, which simply removed all references to the voting system for Council elections from the motion. They then used their large majority to force this through. We must hope the new Council is more favourable to democracy and reform.