Opinion: Rotherham would be an ideal place to hold England’s first STV elections

The problems caused by one-party states are many, but the behaviour of Rotherham Labour in failing to their residents by running a council that was simply “not fit for purpose” shows one of the worst possible examples.

The lack of political challenge to Rotherham Labour resulted in a council that lacked even the basic ability to serve local people. It stands as one of the clearest examples of the failure of the current English council elections system.

Eric Pickles has already announced that Rotherham will move to all-up elections from 2016, but this is insufficient to change the underlying problem of the lack of political challenge in Rotherham.

I believe that places like Rotherham, badly served by first past the post, show the need for a change to English council elections, so that (like Scotland) they use the single transferable vote system.

By doing this, Rotherham and many other failing one party states would be provided with a real, representative council with a genuine mandate for reform, and a degree of democratic opposition and debate that would prevent the council backsliding into being unfit for purpose.

We Liberal Democrats should proclaim our solution for the problems of Rotherham as being a better, more representative democracy that can properly serve its residents needs.

* Alisdair Calder McGregor was Candidate for Calder Valley in 2015 and is a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee

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36 Comments

  • Power Corrupts simple so Im for true representation via a truly fair allocation based purely on % of vote so all votes count u get 10% u get 10% of seats simple break up this party political system that has failed us in local and National goverment

  • Tsar Nicolas 5th Feb '15 - 12:15pm

    I agree with Tez and with the author of the article. A great idea – maybe Tower Hamlets could be next in line.

  • David Faggiani 5th Feb '15 - 12:16pm

    I agree – this would be a great test case. If not here, where?

  • Andy McGregor 5th Feb '15 - 12:29pm

    A very sensible suggestion.
    I have long advocated a mix of councillors some elected FPTP on a geographic ward basis and others proportionally represented from a party list.
    My off the wall idea is to also have some randomly selected “jury councillors” to represent the views of ordinary people on the council.

  • David Allen 5th Feb '15 - 12:55pm

    Diagnosis, spot on. Prescription, not so sure. Simply to call for STV invites the response “Party politicians, playing party games, pushing for the electoral system to be mucked about with in a way that favours their own party, yawn…”

    Randomly selected jury councillors, to be offered a standard expense allowance subject to meeting attendance standards and given the option to accept or decline, sounds a better idea. It might actually fly, whereas STV won’t fly. It would shake up councils and bring some light in.

  • Caracatus 5th Feb ’15 – 12:39pm
    ” Will you find any media release about the need for STV in Rotherham on the Lib Dem Party website ? ”

    Probably not, even if it was there!

    Finding your way around that website is almost impossible.
    The constant demands that you “DONATE NOW !” possibly gives the impression that all they want from you is your money.

  • Julian Tisi 5th Feb '15 - 1:47pm

    Rotherham is a great example of why we need electoral reform as here is a perfect example of a rotten borough where the councillors and ruling party generally were effectively unaccountable.

    But we need to be making this point nationally so that we can press the point in May and if we have enough MPs we might get electoral reform for local government. One thing we can be sure about is that there will be a great deal of unfairness about the election result in May and as in 2010 some will point to electoral reform. Stories like Rotherham are far more powerful and persuasive arguments for reform than just theoretical talk of unfairness or “making your MP work harder” (the awful nothing slogan used in the AV referendum).

    On a separate point – we should definitely push for STV. Party lists still give too much power to individuals popular in their party. The whole point is to make it easier to remove poor councillors and elect good ones in their place.

  • Alisdair Calder McGregor 5th Feb '15 - 5:14pm

    @James You’re completely ignoring one of the chief advantages of STV; that it works just fine with unequally sized wards by virtue of its nature as a proportional system.

    Take Calderdale, where I live: Todmorden (town) is slightly too big to fit into Todmorden (ward), so part of it gets chopped off & added into the next ward (Calder, which includes Hebden Bridge), meaning that the Mytholmroyd end of Hebden Royd TC has to be pushed into the next ward along… And so on & so forth.

    If we had STV, Todmorden would be able to have coterminous boundaries for both its Town Council Area & Metropolitan Borough Ward, and more importantly for the Todmorden community to have unified representation.

  • The idea that Lib Dems push for STV because it would be good for us, when we are demonstrably benefiting massively from FPTP in England and have been eviscerated by STV in Scotland, is risible. We push for it because it’s a damn sight fairer to everyone. Of course, getting anyone to believe that we might want something because it’s better, rather than for selfish reasons, even with the evidence of actual elections, when both Tory and Labour are pushing “they only want it because it benefits them” is somewhat difficult.

    I suspect that last sentence had too many clauses…

  • The nice thing is that we could shift to STV on current ward boundaries and then have a thorough boundary review afterwards to get ones that are properly community-based. Unlike most PR systems, we don’t have to change the boundaries first.

  • Mixed-Member Proportional/Additional Member System would be my favoured system (certainly as far as national elections go) It works very well in Germany and there is no reason why it can’t work just as well here. If we had it now then the SNP would find it difficult to have a complete landslide to them when their vote share doesn’t justify it.

  • There is little point in changing the voting system if the cabinet system remains. The committee system had its faults , but it allowed for opposition and ruling councillor members to ask clear questions in public. Decisions had a place where they could be properly scrutinised. There should also be a distinct difference between party political power and public responsibility. No one should be able to lead a council – as in Rotherham – and wield overbearing power on his / her political group.

  • Tsar Nicolas 5th Feb '15 - 11:58pm

    Flo Clucas

    I totally agree.

  • Dr Michael Taylor 6th Feb '15 - 8:03am

    No-one is forced to have a cabinet system now. The coalition gave the choice to local councils to choose a committee system if they wanted to. Pity not enough have taken up the option.
    On STV, clearly a large number of correspondents don’t understand it. Put simply, you elect people in multi=member wards and voters decide who those people are, not parties. All list systems used in the UK (and Germany) put the decision as to who gets elected in the hands of the party because the party decides the order of the list. STV gives voters a completely free choice between those nominated and the results are broadly proportional to the votes cast.
    There are also people writing in this thread who clearly want to subvert the democratic process. Why should some councillors (Jury? Councillors) have different powers and roles from the rest? Democracy means you elect people to take decisions on your behalf and if you don’t like what they do, then you throw them out next time round. STV, unlike FPTP gives you that opportunity. What’s not to like?

  • David Warren 6th Feb '15 - 9:02am

    I agree.

    I feel so strongly about STV I would like to see a proposal for it to be used for local council elections form part of any coalition negotiations.

  • STV works well in scotland in council elections because at a local level who your councillor is, is more important than which party they are from and the area is small enough so that having four wards in one isn’t a problem.

    I think the best system for national elections however is the scottish AMS system where you still get a local MSP and the parties are balanced.

    The worse system for a national election is, I believe, AV, the one the lib dems did a deal with the Tories for. AV results in even less proportionate election results and I think the last thing this country needs is a parliament that is even less representative of how the country as a whole actually voted .

  • Sadie Smith 6th Feb '15 - 10:29am

    Constitutions and Cabinets need to be changed.
    One of the biproducts of the Cabinet was the creation of post holders responsible for all parts of education plus child protection ( and it usually works out that way). So finding good Directors with Social Services background is difficult. And for years there has not been the sort of reporting to a group of members about childcare workloads that used to be a normal part of being a Cllr.
    When Sandwell was last in trouble with child protection, I urged Council Leader to split responsibilities. And was told he couldn’t do it.
    Opposition is still essential but this used to be positive opposition.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '15 - 10:47am

    David Allen

    Randomly selected jury councillors, to be offered a standard expense allowance subject to meeting attendance standards and given the option to accept or decline, sounds a better idea. It might actually fly, whereas STV won’t fly. It would shake up councils and bring some light in.

    OK, well first of all, the people selected with professional jobs are mostly going to decline, so the jury councillors will be skewed to those who are less likely to have the skills needed to do the job properly. Secondly, it does require a certain wiliness to be a councillor, in order to see through the plausible arguments put forward by the officers for what they want, but also to act intelligently and co-operatively with those officers.

    I used to be in favour of Citizens’ Juries until I experienced how easily they can be mis-used when Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham used one to push through the idea of abolishing councillors’ voting rights and putting all control of the council in the hands of one elected dictator. Only, of course they did not put it that way to the Citizens’ Jury they used to rubber-stamp their plans for an “Elected Mayor”, nor did they permit the Leader of the Opposition in the borough to address the jury and put it that way. Oh no, it was all about how good it would be to have an accountable figurehead, and how it was just replacing the councillors electing the Leader by the whole electorate of the borough doing that.

    The people on the Jury didn’t have the political expertise to be able to see through what they were being told. So it sounded good to them, they didn’t realise they were being fed a whole load of one-sided propaganda. After that, whenever I tried to challenge Labour as they pushed the Mayor idea, their response to me was always “How dare you go against what the people said they want?”.

    Once the Mayor system was brought in, I found there was not much point in being a councillor, you were just like a sort of low-paid social worker. I found the only response to almost anything I was asked by my constituents which was actually a councillor’s job rather than a social worker’s job was “Sorry, since the Mayor system was brought in, I no longer have the flow of information I used to have which would have enabled me to answer your question, I no longer sit on a committee where I could feed in what you are saying to me, and I don’t have a vote on it anyway”. People were shocked, they just did not realise that’s what the Mayor system really meant. So many of those who had voted “Yes” to it in the referendum said “If only I’d realised, I would never have voted for it”.

    When he was a backbench MP, Nick Clegg wrote a pamphlet for Centre Forum in favour of the Mayor system, and praising Labour and their use of a Citizens’ Jury to push it through in Lewisham. He did not bother to consult with the Leader of the council group of his own party in the borough to get the other side of the story. It was from that that I knew, right on at the start when his name was being put forward, that he was not the right person to be Leader of our party.

  • matt (Bristol) 6th Feb '15 - 11:26am

    I can see a logical argument for an STV interim council to ensure all points of view are represented in Rotherham, making ROtherham an exception for a short-term period.

    I remember a friend living in the area (whose own politics were dyed in the wool Labour) who always voted Tory (holding his nose) in his ward in an attempt to get enough non-Labour councillors to guarantee scrutiny of the ruling group. That’s not really a comfrotable situation…

    BUT I’m sure Pickles will instead proffer either government by appointed junta, or by elected mayor. Bah.

  • Julian Tisi 6th Feb '15 - 11:27am

    @ matthew Huntbach
    I pretty much agree with you about citizens juries. They sound great in theory but they suffer from the very problem you put so well.

  • David Allen 6th Feb '15 - 1:09pm

    Matthew Huntbach on randomly selected councillors:

    “OK, well first of all, the people selected with professional jobs are mostly going to decline, so the jury councillors will be skewed to those who are less likely to have the skills needed to do the job properly.”

    You’re not starting out in a very constructive mood, are you? Actually, it’s the professionals who tend to accept this sort of role e.g. with charities, they are happy to attend meetings etc.

    “I used to be in favour of Citizens’ Juries until I experienced how easily they can be mis-used when Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham used one to push through the idea of abolishing councillors’ voting rights and putting all control of the council in the hands of one elected dictator. Only, of course they did not put it that way to the Citizens’ Jury they used to rubber-stamp their plans for an “Elected Mayor”, nor did they permit the Leader of the Opposition in the borough to address the jury and put it that way.”

    Well then, you’re rubbishing a scheme I am not advocating. Randomly selected councillors would have the same rights as elected councillors, and there is no way a majority group could prevent them listening to the minority group! There might be more of an issue if there were no minority elected councillors at all, but even in that unfortunate case, the randomly selected councillors would be able to let some light shine in.

    “When he was a backbench MP, Nick Clegg wrote a pamphlet for Centre Forum in favour of the Mayor system, and praising Labour and their use of a Citizens’ Jury to push it through in Lewisham. He did not bother to consult with the Leader of the council group of his own party in the borough to get the other side of the story. It was from that that I knew, right on at the start when his name was being put forward, that he was not the right person to be Leader of our party.”

    You’re right to be cautious, I grant you. The top-down centralists who control The Prostitute State are brilliant at taking reformist rhetoric and perverting its purposes. No doubt Clegg believes in STV because it would keep him permanently in an ossified unchanging coalitionist government. Food for thought there!

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '15 - 8:45am

    David Allen

    Well then, you’re rubbishing a scheme I am not advocating. Randomly selected councillors would have the same rights as elected councillors, and there is no way a majority group could prevent them listening to the minority group!

    Ah, so you are proposing these would be supplementary councillors? I thought you were proposing replacing elected councillors by randomly selected councillors.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '15 - 9:01am

    So what about a system where everyone is 1/1000th of a councillor, and how it works is if a 1000 people get together they can delegate their councillor’s rights to one person? That IS what STV is, in its purest form.

    I don’t think you should underestimate even the simple breaking of the “got to vote for party X to stop party Y winning” principle as a way to end domination by one party – and that, of course, even AV solves. It was a measure of the incompetency of those leading our party that they were unable to sell AV in such a way.

    The most important thing is that we need to re-invent representative democracy, because most people seem to be unaware of what it is. When we vote, we are electing representatives, who come together to formulate policies. We are not choosing between competing Leninist five-year plans. One thing I think we might do is see it as us the people choosing people to do a job for us. When a position is vacant, we don’t fill it by allowing people who want it to come and shout in our ears, with those who have most money able to shout the loudest. No, we the employers are in control, we make sure all applicants have equal chance to put their case.

  • @Matthew Huntbach: You’re not electioning representatives who come together to formulate policy at a national level. At a national level you elect a party and that party have a manafesto and a leadership who decide almost everything. The vast majority of the MPs therefore just follow the party line almost 100% of the time and use their vote to rubber stamp the party line which in parliament is the will of their leaders.

    If the country did indeed send 650 independent individuals to westminster then I would agree that 650 local elections under AV was the best way to elect them.

    But the reality is that a General Election is a national contest between a hand full of parties and AV would likely make the results of that contest even more disproportionate than FPTP, especially during landslides when the power of the winner really needs to be checked. This is why I believe that for national elections in the UK AV is even worse than FPTP and AMS lists to balance the results is the best system. A council election is another thing entirely.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '15 - 12:07pm

    Mr Wallace

    If the country did indeed send 650 independent individuals to westminster then I would agree that 650 local elections under AV was the best way to elect them.

    Agree with who? I’m not saying that AV is the “best” way to elect representatives. It deals with the one issue I mentioned, but not with others. I would much prefer STV, with constituencies of at least five members.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '15 - 12:13pm

    Mr Wallace

    But the reality is that a General Election is a national contest between a hand full of parties and AV would likely make the results of that contest even more disproportionate than FPTP, especially during landslides when the power of the winner really needs to be checked.

    I have asked you this before and you did not answer, so I ask you again.

    Please explain the exact mechanics by which you think AV would result in a more disproportionate result than FPTP. Please explain how the numbers would work in various constituencies that would result in what you claim. How would a constituency which elected a Liberal Democrat MP in 2010 have elected a Conservative under AV, for example?

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '15 - 12:23pm

    Mr Wallace

    I believe that for national elections in the UK AV is even worse than FPTP and AMS lists to balance the results is the best system.

    But I’m not disagreeing with you. I do think the disproportionality of results under FPTP is the biggest problem that needs tackling, and I agree AV doesn’t solve that. So, yes, if it came to a choice between AV and FPTP with top up, I’d choose FPTP with top up.

    Isn’t this the problem all along with the coalition? The LibDems agree to a miserable little compromise which is just slightly better than the Conservatives’ ideal, but still far from the LibDem ideal – and then people like you come along and argue against us LibDems as if that compromise was our ideal, when quite obviously it isn’t – it’s a compromise, and that actually is what representative democracy is about, arriving at a compromise. Of course the compromise that is arrived at is not a fair compromise, because of the distorted representation. I would very much hope that had the Coalition been two-fifths LibDem and three-fifths Conservative (which is what proportional representation would have made it), it would have been significantly different to what it is when it is one-sixth LibDems and five-sixths Conservative. A point our Leader SHOULD have been making, but in his uselessness never has.

  • @Matthew
    “The LibDems agree to a miserable little compromise which is just slightly better than the Conservatives’ ideal, but still far from the LibDem ideal – and then people like you come along and argue against us LibDems as if that compromise was our ideal, when quite obviously it isn’t”

    The really sad thing is that the Lib Dems were offered a much better compromise i.e. an all-party commission to weigh up different voting systems, with a referendum being held on whatever system they recommended. They rejected this offer in favour of the “miserable little compromise” you refer to.

    I know you don’t agree with this view Matthew, but as time goes on it seems more and more obvious to me that it is the correct one. Our political system has become more fragmented and multi-party than ever over the past five years. In this environment, the chances of such a commission recommending a form of PR would have been good. We could have been having the referendum last year, at a time when it was obvious to everybody that the old two-party setup was a thing of the past. Yes, it would have been a gamble, but so too was the AV referendum. Gambling on an electoral commission would have probably offered better odds of change, and change actually worth having.

  • Matthew you want me to explain how an AV election would produce a more disproportionate result than FPTP? You don’t need my work for that, read the Jenkins report. As for the lib dems they have a far better chance at the next election under FPTP than thy do under AV. Do you honestly doubt that?

    I can understand the benefits of AV being that people don’t feel they need to vote tactically, MPs have 50%+ local support etc… But I do not believe those benefits out weight the price of having a more disproportionate result which is what the expert reports say it would give us.

  • Mr Wallace
    “I can understand the benefits of AV being that… MPs have 50%+ local support etc”

    So the Yes campaign claimed, but just a few seconds thinking about it shows that it isn’t true. As soon as people don’t vote, or do vote but not for all available candidates, then the threshold sinks below 50%. As a general rule, for every 1% of voters who do not express a preference for one of the top two candidates, the vote share required for victory drops by 0.5%.

    This is no minor psephological quirk. In 2011, Profesors Rawlings and Thresher of the LSE estimated that in an AV Westminster election, over 40% of MPs would still get elected with less than 50% of the vote (never mind “local support”).

    The only way AV could guarantee “50% local support” for the winner would be if all three of the following were true :-
    a) All potential voters were compelled to vote
    b) All voters were compelled to express a preference for every single candidate on the ballot paper
    c) All such preferences were considered to be, potentially, “support”

    a) and b) are possible in theory, in fact that’s what they do in Australia – or at least they try to; there was only a 92% turnout at their last election, despite a potential $170 fine for not voting.

    c) is simply preposterous, because the obvious implication is that in an AV election where, say, two racist/fascist parties were standing, every voter would be required to express a “preference” for them and could, in the final count, be counted as part of that 50% “support” for the winner.

    Lord Jenkins, in his report, is as confused by all this as most other people seem to be. He starts off by trotting out the idea of “50% support”, but he’s clearly talking about an Australian-style compulsory system. About a page later, he acknowledges that such a system would be unlikely to get introduced in the UK, so admits that 50% support would “arguably” not be guaranteed. But there is no “arguably” about it – it’s a mathematical inevitability.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Feb '15 - 9:15pm

    Mr Wallace

    Matthew you want me to explain how an AV election would produce a more disproportionate result than FPTP? You don’t need my work for that, read the Jenkins report.

    I don’t have a copy of the Jenkins report to hand. So, I have asked you a question, please answer it. Also, while I am aware in some circumstances AV could lead to a more disproportionate result, I was asking about how you thought it could do so under the circumstances we had in 2010 and will have in 2015.I can perfectly well see how it could do under some circumstances, but I don’t think these are the more likely circumstances.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Feb '15 - 9:26pm

    Stuart

    I know you don’t agree with this view Matthew, but as time goes on it seems more and more obvious to me that it is the correct one. Our political system has become more fragmented and multi-party than ever over the past five years. In this environment, the chances of such a commission recommending a form of PR would have been good

    The reason we FPTP now is because just such a commission was set up in the 1920s/1930s, and it caused enough delay to stop a firm decision being made – I seem to recall there was deadlock between supporters of AV and supporters of STV, so we ended up with neither.

    No, I don’t think an “all party” commission would recommend proportional representation, since it would be dominated by the Labour Party and Conservative Party who are firmly opposed to it. I can very easily see that opting for a referendum right away on AV would seem the more attractive position than a commission which might, as in the past, just lead to it being forever pushed into the future. Also, I think it was better to take a quick first step, which could possibly have led to further reform later.

    Where it all went wrong was not the decision to accept the referendum on AV, but the appallingly bad campaign run by the “Yes” side. Remember, “Yes” was ahead in the polls until near the end, and it as defeated by a “No” campaign which was full of lies.

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