Borough elections – big changes ahead

ballot-boxThe borough wants to know what you think.  There is a consultation that will last until Sunday, 2 November 2014.  Your comments are welcome  – give your views here.

Here is a little background.  Local government elections have been held for centuries – even before there was a parliament in Westminster. In the beginning only men with property could vote but even then there was a debate between those who wanted frequent elections – to keep those elected on their toes – and those who thought that the councillors should be elected for longer than a year in order that they could gain experience in the role.  Eventually a compromise was reached – have elections every year but elect councillors for four years.  This is known as election by thirds.

There has been a big debate in the borough’s council – how many councillors should there be.  Currently, there are sixty councillors who are intended to represent the approximately 100,000 electors in the borough (there are 132,000 residents).  This means that, on average, there are 1,666 electors for each councillor.

Originally, it had been agreed that although the number of councillors may change the frequency of elections should remain as they are now – by thirds.  In the old days the borough could have changed its representational arrangements and that would have been the end of it.  However, the borough may no longer determine the number of its own councillors – it has to ask the national government to make any changes (more’s the pity).  Therefore the borough sought the intervention of the Boundary Commission to change the number of our councillors – if necessary.

Be careful what you wish for
For the record I voted against asking the Boundary Commission for a review.  In my opinion the main change that is needed is to move from the current “winner takes all” (FPTP) to the “preference voting” (STV) method of elections.  Scotland has STV for local government elections already – hence their higher turnout at election times.  STV gives the electors far more power than FPTP.  So instead of a meaningful change we are getting a great upheaval for very little benefit.

Unfortunately, once we are in the hands of the Boundary Commission we have to play by their rules.  The Boundary Commission has decided – because of its interpretation of the law –   that in boroughs that have elections by thirds, it will begin reviews with a presumption of delivering a uniform pattern of three councillor wards.  It has made this decision because it believes that people do not have the wit to understand how elections work and would be confused if there were elections across the country but none in their locality – another case of dumbing down.

For Weybridge to be fairly represented in Elmbridge borough’s council it requires ten councillors. The town has four wards: two are two member wards and two are three member wards. So if we want elections by thirds we would have to get rid of our two member wards and share wards with Walton and Hersham.  To avoid this we would have to have elections every four years.  A regrettable step in my view.

Regardless of what you want, or the councillors want (of any party) the Boundary Commission will make its recommendation to the national parliament and that parliament will decide.

Regardless of the commission’s proposals, some, if not all, ward boundaries will change because that it what the commission does.  Then there will have to be an extra whole council election.  The earliest date for this election would be May 2016.

Below I have produced a table that should highlight the merits of each types of election.  please tell me if you have any questions or thoughts.  I’ll do my best to answer them.

Options Election by thirds All-up elections
Benefits Greater accountability as councillors are required to engage and defend decisions on a more frequent basis.A potentially greater mix of new and experienced councillors because just after each election there will be new councillors and third year councillors.Voters have a more frequent opportunity of changing the administration.The national political cycle has less effect on the local election results

Greater consistency of councillors by reducing the potential for large scale change at the same time.

Fewer candidates required each year for nominations, thereby reducing the chance of non-contested seats.

Political make-up of the council is potentially more reflective of the changing views of the electorate.

First-time voters and recent incomers may vote within the year.

Wards of different sizes namely three, two [or even single member wards] could be maintained, which might better reflect the diversity of communities that make up the borough.Modest financial savings in the cost of administering elections depending on whether there are other elections (such as Surrey County Council, National or European elections) in that year.The ability for the administration to take a four year view without worrying about an election within a year.All political parties find it difficult to mount elections every year.
Disadvantages As all wards must have three councillors (exceptions may be made in some very special circumstances) the link between wards and village identities could be lost.There is a modest extra cost for administering elections in three years out of four.The administration is always conscious of an election within a year.All political parties struggle to mount campaigns each year. Less accountability as councillors are only required to engage and defend decisions only every four years with the possibility that the most unpopular decisions would be taken at the beginning of the four year term and more popular decisions towards the end of the four year term regardless of what is right for the Borough.It is possible to have a council entirely consisting of new councillors – with no experience.Voters have to wait four years to remove the administration.A full set of councillors required in one year thereby increasing the chance of non-contested seats – especially single member wards.

It is possible for the council to swing dramatically from one political party to another

First-time voters and recent incomers may have to wait up to four years to vote.



One thought on “Borough elections – big changes ahead

  1. Like you I agree that we need proportional representation to get some sense back into the political process.

    The Boundary Commission has too much power, with centralisation of government the result.

    I was a Councillor from 1994-1998. Nowadays we desperately need more local accountability over finance and decision making but it wont happen until this is more widely recognised.

    I think while local government is so little appreciated it might be reasonable to move here to a 4 year stint and only one election in that time because there just is not the capacity to cope with yearly elections. then there would be more chance to work for STV. However as you say you are more accountable with yearly elections.

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