Voting in the London elections – after 16 years voters are still confused


The Guardian has an interview with Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor.  After disclaiming any responsibility for the cold that has afflicted all the candidates, she says this about her campaign:

Overall, it’s gone well. Ordinary people are saying they like what I’m saying on childcare and cheaper fares that are affordable. And that’s not just in places where we are strong, like Sutton, or in Bermondsey, where I’m known.

She says this of her two main rivals, Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan and the dirty campaign they have been running:

I think both of them, but particularly Zac, will wish they hadn’t done it. It’s damaged their reputations. Zac has always been seen by most people as a decent kind of guy.

On the doorstep voters are still confused about the voting processes for the London elections – and that is not surprising because they will be presented with three ballot papers, each using a different voting system.

Every household in London has been sent a booklet from London Elects – running to 32 pages – which carries profiles of the Mayoral candidates and explains how to cast votes in the Assembly elections.

The first (pink) ballot paper is for London Mayor, and has two columns, one for the voter’s first choice and one for the second choice. This uses the supplementary vote system, which although appearing very similar to the alternative vote method (which we all know everything about, don’t we?) actually has a sting in the tail. The second preference only kicks in if no candidate achieves more than 50% in the first round. The second round eliminates all candidates apart from the top two, so second preferences for anyone other than the top two will be discarded.

Of course, we are encouraging people to vote for Caroline Pidgeon as their first preference. But if she is not elected then voters’ second preferences are quite crucial in determining whether, say, Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith wins.

The second (yellow) ballot paper is for the London constituency member. London has been divided into 14 rather large constituencies, each covering several parliamentary constituencies. Each of these will return an Assembly member using First Past the Post.

The Assembly is then topped up with 11 more London-wide members. They are elected through a list system which aims at getting proportional representation across the whole Assembly. The third (orange) ballot paper, gives a choice between party lists and a few independents. The Lib Dem list has been labelled ‘Caroline Pidgeon’s London Liberal Democrats’.

The London list is very significant for our party because all of our Assembly members in the past have been elected from this list. Last year London Lib Dems were able to vote for the list candidates – under STV, of course – and at the top of the list we find Caroline Pidgeon, Emily Davey, Merlene Emerson and Rob Blackie.

London Lib Dems are trying to get across the simple message ‘Vote orange on orange’, but even that is not straightforward because the so-called orange ballot paper has turned out to be more of a shade of peach.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Eddie Sammon 2nd May '16 - 1:48pm

    Good article that emphasises the importance of simplicity in voting systems. PR can work without confusion, as in the British European elections, but I’ve long argued against the demonisation of First Past The Post. A lot of people like the simplicity of having small constituencies with one representative and a simple single choice and a simple counting system too!

    I support PR, but I don’t know why STV has become for some the single most totemic issue for the party and the core coalition demand.

  • George Potter 2nd May '16 - 2:47pm

    STV is a very simple voting system – you just rank the candidates in order of preference.

    It’s AMS and the Supplementary Vote system which are inherently confusing.

  • John Ncholson 2nd May '16 - 3:04pm

    Why are we campaigning here as “Caroline Pidgeon’s Liberal Democrats”? I do not understand this tactic, and at least one LibDem member known to me admitted to being confused, looking down the party list as far as “L” for Liberal Democrat, and wondering if we are actually standing. This is not (yet) a complaint, but a question. It does seem to be like we are trying to be “clever” but I cannot see how it is supposed to work.

  • George Potter 2nd May '16 - 4:46pm


    The reason is that in previous elections our mayoral candidate has received more votes than our list candidates for the London Assembly. So this time the party is experimenting with using the mayoral candidate’s name in the party’s description to see if this will reduce the gap between our list votes and our mayoral votes.

    It may well be that it confuses Lib Dem supporters and so our list vote will be even lower. Or it might boost our list vote because of the name recognition our mayoral candidate has. There’s no way of knowing unless we try and this is the election we’ve decided to try it out in.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd May '16 - 5:31pm

    For what it’s worth I think this tactic will work. There is not much point in being modest about your candidate’s success in the “air war”.

    Mary – my Mum did her postal vote in an ice cream shop on the Walworth Road (we had just been out delivering FOCUS en famille oldest participant 72, youngest participant 9!)
    Judging it up against our desserts I would say the ballot paper was orange sorbet in shade 😊

  • Bill le Breton 2nd May '16 - 5:42pm

    Why on earth is anyone being gracious towards Goldsmith?

    This seems much better from Stephen Knight

  • Stevan Rose 2nd May '16 - 6:30pm

    It seems Londoners are very easily confused judging by these reports. It also seems excuses are being prepared and rehearsed should we not do so well in London. There’s a pink and yellow paper and people are confused because an orange paper is a bit peachy? I think the citizens of one of the most advanced cities in the World have a lot more intelligence than you give them credit for.

    Having said that I can see how we may have created confusion through “Caroline Pidgeon’s Liberal Democrats” and that this might be seen as a fringe breakaway from just plain Liberal Democrats. Should this, against all odds, be proven to have a positive impact, the first person to suggest renaming the national party Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats should be expelled immediately.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd May '16 - 7:36pm

    Well, if this party spent some time telling people how the system works and how it means they can vote for us without their vote being wasted (which on the silly SV system is anyway half true) we might get some benefit from it. As it is the party seems completely unable either to work out the line or promote it.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 2nd May '16 - 7:36pm

    On the ballot paper, using the description to promote a slogan should be banned.

  • nigel hunter 3rd May '16 - 12:27am

    Goldsmith might be a nice person as an individual but as a Tory Party member he is only interested in power for himself and his party not for the good of all in London.

  • @Ruth
    Lovely image of you and your family holding your ballot papers alongside the icecream servery. Orange sorbet it is.

    @Tony Greaves
    London Lib Dems have been heavily promoting the ‘Vote orange on orange’ line, and also explaining about the other votes, as you suggest. But that doesn’t mean everyone has got it.

  • Denis Loretto 3rd May '16 - 9:21am

    As I see it the point in getting Caroline’s name into the orange/peach ballot paper is to remind people that she is the lead candidate in the Lib Dem list for the Assembly in which she has already served for 8 years with distinction. She has managed to secure a higher profile in the mayoral contest than any of our previous candidates and there is a danger that sympathetic voters will think they have “done their bit” for her by giving her their number 1 for mayor. It is of course risky but I think her name on the Assembly paper will strengthen rather than weaken the prospect of people selecting the Liberal Democrat option. I’ll certainly be doing my best for her on polling day.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th May '16 - 9:51pm

    With the favourable comment about Zac Goldsmith, is this a nod to Caroline Pidgeon’s supporters to give a second preference to him?If so, she has gone down in my estimation.

    I am not sure how anyone who supports this Right wing Conservative Party can be described as ‘decent’. And in what way does Zac Goldsmith understand the needs and aspirations of ordinary Londoners?

  • Jonathan Brown 5th May '16 - 8:59pm

    @Jayne Mansfield – it doesn’t look like an endorsement of Zac to me. Quite the opposite. Just from the quote above it looks as though she’s singling him out for particular criticism and specifically rubbishing the somewhat popular (?) view that he’s a ‘different’ (i.e. ‘nice’) Tory.

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