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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fighting for more powers

My attempt to get powers for the Assembly to determine the electoral arrangements for local Councils in Wales failed by just three votes. Four Plaid Cymru members and one Welsh Liberal Democrat were missing for entirely legitimate reasons but the main reason we failed was that a number of Labour AMs, who are normally in favour of electoral reform voted against, even though they had a free vote.

Voting was 18 for, 8 abstentions and 21 against. My speech is here.

Update: Congratulations to First Minister, Rhodri Morgan and Education Minister, Jane Hutt who both voted for the LCO. The voting record is here.
Excellent speech, great LCO, shame that there were so many absences, albeit for understandable reasons. I would have wished that the Welsh Conservatives had not abstained, but I support Nick's reasoning on this, too. I suppose I am most disappointed with the Welsh Labour Party, yet again, as they have rejected a "made in Wales" option for electoral reform of local government in our country. Peter could not have set out the case more clearly...even Rhodri Morgan could understand and indeed agree with Peter! Why could other Labour AM's not see the logic?!?!
Even by Rhodri's standards, this is pathetic. My Party - the Labour Party - has a clear manifesto pledge to oppose PR in local government. I guess it just shows how hugely out of touch he and his cabal are with grassroots members, though. A bit like Carwyn Jonjes claiming that the Government "doesn't have an opinion" on the issue.
Totally support your efforts to reform the local government electoral system. At the moment local government in many parts of Wales is on its last legs. It was difficult for the political parties to get candidates for this year's elections. By 2012 I dread to think what the position will be like. The turnout showed that in most areas voters couldn't care less who ran the council. STV is not only the most democratic form of election it is essential for the revival of local democracy. I'm really frankly amazed that anyone who believes in devolution should not have voted for your LCO. The opponents should realise that it is an issue that wouldn't go away and that one day there will be change. On the brighter side yesterday did show that both in Westminster and in the Assembly we do have representatives who still understand what the radical tradition in British politics is all about. You made an excellent speech and so did Diane Abbott. We might be in different parties but our roots on the radical left go back to the same origins in the 17th century when ordinary British People as the Putney debates show knew what was right and what was wrong.
So much for not having an opinion, I couldn't help notice Carwyn encouraging Jeff Cuthbert to shout in opposition when the vote came
What other parliament (or wee-pretendy ones) in the world would vote against having the power to make law in a field that's within it's remit? It beggars belief.

And people like Carwyn Jones, John Griifths, Leighton Andrews etc supposedly want an Assembly with primary law making powers (including local government electroal arrangements) in the near future. The anti-devolutionist argument, from MPs, devo-dinasours etc is so easy to make now. Well done boyos!
Good effort and speech though Peter
Fear not, the next LCO before the Assembly will be on allowing people to put Welsh flags on registration plates.

I imagine that all those ambitious pro-devolutionists that voted against new powers for Wales yesterday will fully support this irrelevent proposal.

I hope you and the other Lib Dems will not support this when it goes to the Assembly? It is a horrendous waste of government time, and perpetuates the image of the Assembly as a jumped-up, gimmicky, talking shop.
There are plenty of good reasons for opposing STV.

To mix two sports analogies, STV's complexity makes the Duckworth/Lewis formula appear as straightforward as a penalty shoot-out. It is vitally important that people have faith in the system. Under FPTP the person who gets the most votes wins. End of story. It can sometimes be brutally effective (as David Davis may prove if, say, John Smeaton or Tim Collins run against him), and on a wider level it is highly disproportionate in favour of one or other of the major parties. These are features I and the vast majority of folk are content to live with in return for a system that very explicitly connects the electorate with its representatives be they councillors, Assembly Members or MPs. STV would severely erode the constituency link, and given the size of constituencies required to make STV effective would eviscerate it in rural Wales. Then there's the business of calculating how many candidates it is "efficient" to stand. As Slugger notes somewhere (it's too late to go hunting for the link), this tends to favour parties more tightly disciplined, with strong leadership that can make and impose hard headed, calculated judgements on their members. I maintain that there should be no change in existing voting systems (be they for the HoC, the Assembly or local authorities) without a referendum (i.e. the line Tony Blair took with regard to MPs).

I also take issue (in a comradely fashion) with Jeff's analysis of the participation issue. Take a look at participation rates in Eire to see that STV has virtually zero impact on participation trends, which have essentially mirrored those here. The participation problem candidates wise is not Wales wide. In my ward all four parties stood full slates and there was a communist on offer too. If you ask me, the real problem is that the powers of local authorities and particularly backbench councillors to actually change anything have been so circumscribed by successive governments assisted by a busybody infant assembly which can dictate councils to deliver gimmicks such as free swimming (not a bad idea health & obesity wise, but surely one that could be left to the discretion of councils that own and operate the facilities), or compel them to eliminate "surplus" school places; that a bemused voter can see little difference between a Labour or Lib Dem, Tory or NOC local council. This the root of the turnout differential between local and general elections and the reason it is sometimes difficult to persuade people to put themselves forward. STV wonkery will make not the slightest difference!
Some very quick points in response:

1. Under FPTP the winner is often a candidate with a minority of votes, under STV he or she will have to secure a specific level of support before being elected.

2. The constituency link is as equally as strong under STV as it is under FPTP. This is especially so in local government where multi-member wards is often the norm.

3. The size of wards in rural areas under STV has not been a problem in Scotland or Ireland and in fact STV has proved resilient in protecting the interests of independents simply because it allows people to choose between individuals as opposed to parties.

4. Discipline and strong leadership is as equally effective as a factor in electoral success under FPTP as it is under STV. You work the system you have, that is how democracy works.

5. The point on participation is open to debate but the one factor that cannot be overlooked is that under STV there are no unopposed seats. In May one in 10 seats in Wales were unopposed. That cannot be healthy for democracy.
Peter is right about STV and local government in both Scotland and Ireland. In 2004 in order to make a presentation on multi member wards to Highland Council I looked closely at the STV system in Irish local government. It convinced me that it was the right way forward. I agree that there were keen contests in some wards in the recent local government elections.In others political parties struggled to get anyone to stand. Looking at the age profile it will be even harder in 2012.Radicals and socialists should not be frightened of electoral reform. Rhodri might have voted for Peter's LCO by mistake but everyone knows that privately he supports STV. My preferred form of local government eletoral structure is a directly elected Mayor held to account and properly scrutinised by councillors elected by STV. At the same time of course there must be an increase in real devolution of powers down to local government. Towns such my own Maesteg which has a population of over 21000 should have a council with real powers. It is the norm in much of Europe.I vist France a great deal and I am always impressed by the physical state of the local town wherever I am. This is often down to real democracy and accountability. In France no one would have produced the botched regeneration scheme in the centre of Maesteg. This is simply because French politicians know that they would have been held to account by local voters and lost the subsequent election.
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