There was of course a predictability about these local election results. With the coalition in mid term and with the economy stagnant it was to be expected that the Labour Party had a good night adding more than 700 seats to their tally and taking control of Birmingham and Cardiff.
The most telling comment of all has come from David Cameron stating that he would go on making “difficult decisions” to deal with the deficit.
At this point readers would expect the British Gazette to go on to make some critical comments about the major parties. To do so however would be to ignore the major problem so far as the accountability of local councillors to their electorates in their wards is concerned.
In theory this country has a functioning democracy. In practice, it has not. This is in very large part is due to the British electorate themselves. This country operates the First Past the Post electoral system. As does the USA. In the USA however the electorate uses the system properly. The voters cast their votes not only according to their own party political preferences but also in very large part to the perceived performance (good, bad or indifferent) in office of the candidates themselves. So far as the British electorate is concerned, the personal performance in office is to a significant extent ignored by the voters. True, in glaring and publicised cases such as the MPs expenses, individual MPs have been held to account, but this is very much the exception and not the norm. The detachment between performance and votes is even more apparent so far as local councillors are concerned with most voters not even knowing the names or the party affiliations of the councillors in their wards.
This disconnect is a well known fact of British political life. Local councillors and candidates know full well that they will not be judged on their own record or statements but wholly on the relative popularity or unpopularity of their party at the national political level. That the British electorate use mid term local elections as a statement of dissatisfaction/satisfaction is a given that passes without comment. It is accepted by politicians and commentators alike as a fact of British political life. This is in fact the big problem with local government in the UK. Because the electorate have effectively declared that their councillors are unaccountable to them this has had a corrosive effect insofar as the competence of many local councillors is concerned.
Allow us to quote a real life example: not too long ago, our street was completely resurfaced by the local authority. This was long overdue. The resurfacing not only included the road but the pavements each side of the road, the kerbing and the street lighting. These tasks were performed with a degree of incompetence that would have severed as a splendid script for one of the “Carry On” films of my namesake, the producer Peter Rogers.
The first task the council workmen undertook was to replace the pavements and kerbs with nice new pavements and kerbs. This was a great improvement. Their next task was to replace the old street lights with new street lights. This of course meant digging up those lovely new pavements and then filling in the trenches – reinstatement work. It also involved removal of some street lights as too many had been put in! When asked about this the workmen agreed that this was ridiculous, needlessly costly and unsightly but they were “only following orders.” Next came the resurfacing or the roads. Here the comedy descended into high farce. The workmen appeared to start the task in the right way. They removed the ironworks in the road and placed them, on the verges. The old surface was them dug up and removed. The new surface was then laid. Telephone calls were made to the council immediately after this for whilst the council workmen had laid what appeared to be a very nice road, the iron works were still lying forlornly on the verges at the side of the road and the road was already falling in to the void of the drains! This required the nice new road surface to be dug up and removed. It also required individual excavation of the drains! The road was then re-surfaced properly with ironworks put back in their proper places.
One would expect such councillors to pay a price – but no! This is of course due to the voters in Leeds casting their votes according to their own level of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the national government of the day and not the performance of the local council.
The question therefore is what do we do about this sorry state of affairs? Directly elected mayors are a solution but have proved to be a source of feuding between these representatives of the people and the local council with the local councillors seeking to undermine the elected mayor at every opportunity. The supporters of directly elected mayors were hoping to emulate the success of the US system. This has not occurred.
The British Gazette is of the opinion that the whole system of local democracy has to be radically reformed and that these reforms should be undertaken in the light of the persistent refusal (that has been going on for over 50 years) to work the system properly (hold the councillor to account) by the voters. It should be clear to all politicians that the British people use mid term election results to express their dissatisfaction/satisfaction with the national politicians and therefore holding these elections to select particular local councillors is pointless as the voters refuse to use this electoral process for this!
The British Gazette suggests the following reforms:
- that parliamentary constituencies be redrawn to comprise a particular number of local authority wards – these need not be all within the same local authority.
- that when the voter goes to the polls to elect their MP, the votes are counted by the wards and duly recorded as such. Following the election of the MP the percentage of the popular vote polled by each party will be calculated for each local authority. The local councillors will then be appointed by the parties on the Party List system of proportional representation.
The Party List system appears to be the perfect system for British local authority elections as the widely perceived failings of the Party List system – no direct connection with the ward/constituency and the selection of party “Yes Men” – sorry “Yes Persons” – are in fact advantages in the British case.
The Party List system is of course the most proportional and therefore the fairest system so far as reflecting the voters preferences are concerned. The terms of these local councillors should be the length between parliaments. This would mean that there would be no longer any “mid term” elections. In the case of a death or resignation of a local councillor, a bye-election is not held as under the Party List system the next candidate on the list takes the vacating candidate’s place.
Of course this reform would benefit the minor parties. Which means that the major parties will not be attracted to this reform. The result will be a continued broken political process.