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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The new conservatives

I am under no illusions that the cause of fair voting in local government is anything other than a minority concern. However, each and every one of us has an interest in how accountable and effective our local council is. In this regard, the general principle that the make-up of that Council should reflect the way people voted seems to me to be important.

There are still one party states in local authorities around Wales, though they are less in number than they were. Where they exist or have existed then Councils have been able to operate almost independently of effective scrutiny or the wishes of the electorate. That is something that Liberal Democrats and other parties would want to change. Not, it seems, New Labour.

Today's Western Mail reports that Wales Labour's manifesto for the National Assembly election will repeat the party's opposition to proportional representation in council elections. Incredibly they argue that moving away from the current voting system would undermine the direct accountability of councillors to the communities they serve and would damage the effectiveness of local government. Utter nonsense.

Those of us who advocate fair voting believe that a system such as STV will achieve more open and representative Councils whilst at the same time ensuring that Councillors retain and work within a community or communities as they do now. It would help tremendously if the Government abolished the cabinet system of local governance as well.

On this issue New Labour are the new conservatives of Welsh politics, defending entrenched positions for reasons of self-interest. They may well find themselves isolated and alone as a result on 4th May.
It always strikes me as strange that Labour have gone for list systems wherever PR is used on the mainland. Whereas it seems that STV is good enough for Northern Ireland.

I fully agree about the cabinet system. The committee system worked well for years. Decisions made in public with the input of other parties can only be good for democracy.
Not much of a surprise unfortunately.

We just need to keep on pushing the message that STV can give proportional and accountable local representatives (just like it does in Northern Ireland funnily enough)
Don't worry Peter. If Lib Dems, Tories and Plaid all put PR in local government in their manifestoes and Labour is in a minority after May there will be a mandate for change. It will only require backbenchers to put forward a bill for voting change. Privately Rhodri Morgan and a number of progressive Labour members would not be unhappy. PR is essential to revitalise local government and engage more people in the politics of their locality.
I have always found the main problem with local government in the UK (and in Wales in particular) has been the dominance of political partisanship in its conduct. In the US elections at the local level are non partisan. (Of course you still get it, but it’s not so bad) It has certainly retarded local government in Wales. For most people local government should be the most important, because it impacts their lives directly. I have always found apathy about local elections disturbing.

The Labour Party has always opposed PR, because they hate to share power (the have never got over Ramsey MacDonald in the 1930s) it’s all or nothing. They would rather run Wales with 24 seats as a minority government that share power in a coalition. I do not matter if they don’t have mandate from the people. It is rather reminiscent of the electoral law that Mussolini introduced into Italy where the party (Fascist) with the largest share of the votes took two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. So with the First past the post system Labour would have a majority of the seats in the assembly. Which is why even dislike the present system.

I understand the frustration with the present cabinet position. It does give to much power to the leader (as was found with Russell Goodway in Cardiff). The only advantage is its speeds up decision making (which is a poor advantage)

I confess that I am one of those strange ones that would like to see more elected mayors in the Welsh local government
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