The Conservatives just pledged to take our democracy back decades

19 May 2017

Yesterday Theresa May launched the Conservatives’ manifesto. There was a lot of talk about ‘moving forwards’. But one pledge stuck out as doing the exact opposite.

Theresa May has pledged to impose (or in the manifesto’s words, ‘extend’) First Past the Post for Mayoral, Police and Crime Commissioner elections, and – though still to be confirmed – the London Assembly.

We won’t mince our words here: this would be an undemocratic outrage – and a giant leap backwards for our democracy. More than that, it represents a power grab.

None of those institutions have ever used First Past the Post. There is zero evidence voters or the office-holders want to move from preferential or proportional systems to the worst voting system – one which creates millions of wasted votes and allows individuals to scrape in just a fraction of the vote.

In fact, the London Assembly only in March overwhelmingly approved a motion supporting and defending proportional voting.

Every new institution created in the past two decades has used a fairer voting system – including for mayors, which like PCCs use the two-preference Supplementary Vote system.

Let’s be clear: stopping people from putting down their preferences totally limits voters’ choices and means people will be elected on miniscule mandates. Millions would be forced to ‘hold their nose’, or be put off voting altogether, because they will have only one option.

By only letting voters express one preference, FPTP causing millions of wasted votes, making millions of people feel they have to opt for a lesser evil rather than back who they really believe in.

And given the powerful nature of the roles, it is vital that all votes count and that mayors and PCCs represent as many voters as possible. A First Past the Post elected mayor for example might represent a third or even fewer voters – potentially damaging their mandate and their influence.

It’s vital we don’t go backwards to the bad old days of First Past the Post – there is simply no appetite for it, and it would be hugely damaging for voters and our democracy.

This proposal simply can’t stand unopposed. And believe us – it won’t.  


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6 Responses to The Conservatives just pledged to take our democracy back decades

Joe Sousek 19 May 2017

Glad to see ERS committing to this. We all need to work together to #SaveOurDemocracy. We've been fighting these plans since they were proposed by Tory & Labour MPs - see here for the motion we got through the London Assembly in March opposing a proposed change to FPTP:

Kim Spence-Jones 19 May 2017

The current Mayoral second-preference system is actually worse than FPTP. Unlike the French presidential election's version, it requires voters to *guess* who the final two will be, in order to vote strategically if necessary. It is a system where voting for one's first preference can actually result in one's least favourite preference being elected (as possibly happened in Cambridgeshire). Not only that, but being true to your desires is highly likely to be wasted first and second preference votes. We either need full STV, or split the first and second rounds as the French do. 

Alan Rayner 20 May 2017

Yes - the Supplementary Vote is very much a nonsense - in that electors have to guess who might fill the top two first count places. That said, SV is far better than FPTP in that usually a true majority of sorts is achieved. There is NOT any need for the expense of a two-round system. Already the answer is available - preferential voting using AV (Alternative Vote for a single vacancy). Why make two trips to the polls when the job can be done in one?! The SV/AV debate is, however, minor compared with the outrageous (relevant adjective in this case!) proposal to adopt FPTP - which is totally against UKIP policy and perhaps a reason for their erstwhile supporters not to migrate to the May team. ERS must stand firm on this - but, given that the Society was formed (under a different name) in 1884, I am doubtful as to its efficacy in relation to any right wing government. All the progressive changes seem to have been introduced under Labour governments (apart from the 1918 and 1928 franchise extensions) but I am open to challenge on these points. Can ERS prevail under a Conservative government? Sadly the electorate is probably less well informed on this issue than parts of it were on the referendum issue last year. Let us hope that the new Conservative intake will not be swayed by the new party orthodoxy as were the "remainers" after the result of the EU referendum and the subsequent sea change.

Daniel Walker 22 May 2017

You don't have to 2nd-guess your first preference though, which pust it head-and-shoulders above FPTP already. Although I agree AV/STV would be better.

Alex Campbell 21 May 2017

Terrible though this is, it does set an interesting precedent. The Conservatives (if/ when they win) will argue that the electorate have agreed to the changes as they were set out in their manifesto. It gives progressives an opportunity to do the same for future changes - potentially allowing new, fairer electoral systems so long as they are clearly signposted in future manifestos.

David Dyter 22 May 2017

Fully agree with Alex. These proposals will mean that an Electoral Reform bill can be brought in through a majority vote in the commons. There will be no need for a referendum.

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