Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 2 February 2013

I agree with Iain on PR for local councils

If I haven't mentioned it before on here it's good to see Iain Dale blogging regularly again. With some of his recent posts he is starting to get close to the standard he maintained in his heyday.

Anyway he has a post today where he is complaining about his local council and their expenses. Here are a couple of snippets:

Tunbridge Wells is one of those councils whose political complexion has barely changed in 60 years. And it is unbelievably complacent. It fails to listen, its consultations are a joke and many of the councillors are fully paid up members of the Old Boys Network. There is a group of younger councillors who are trying to change things, but they are resisted at every turn by their older counterparts. This is the makeup of the council…
Conservatives 37
Liberal Democrats 5
Independent 2
Labour 2
UK Independence Party 2
I’ve never been in favour of PR for general elections, but I am persuadable for local council elections. We need to rid local government of these one party state fiefdoms, whether they are Conservative or Labour. They breed complacency and corruption. Council tax payers deserve better.

I of course disagree with Iain's comments about not wanting PR nationally but the fact he is willing to entertain it for local elections is interesting. I have lived under one party fiefdoms almost everywhere that I have lived since I left home at the age of 18 in 1992 (various places in Manchester and Liverpool were locked down Labour and since moving down south in 1997 most of where I have lived have been true blue Tory strongholds) so I know exactly how he feels.

But the effect is more pernicious still than just arrogant councils who are unresponsive to the needs and concerns of their electors because they know a donkey with the right coloured rosette will get in. It also affects how competitive the parties are for seats at a national level. When a party has no councillors and very little chance of them in a local area they often atrophy*. Having elected officials at council level is the lifeblood for parties.

I think there is a strong case for all of those who insist that we need to keep First Past the Post for national elections using the argument that seats are not really safe and can be won over time to support a proportional system for local elections. That way although I would still disagree with them about the national situation, they would be actively trying to do something to make some of those safer seats more competitive by allowing parties to get a foothold locally. And a nice side effect would be more accountable local politicians and an end to the one party fiefdoms that Iain and I agree are highly damaging to our localities.

*I recognise that it is not always the case that this happens and there are notable examples of where local parties have fought from nowhere to eventually get councillors and sometimes even take over the council but generally the rule applies that weak local parties stay weak. Tunbridge Wells is clearly an example of this having been Tory for over 60 years.


asquith said...

Here in Stoke, we recently switched to a system of very small single-member wards (not all wards are single-member, just to make it pointlessly complex, but most are). This (admittedly combined with the government's unpopularity, the political complexion of the city and the once-locally strong BNP's demise) led to a landslide Labour victory. Already we are counting the cost in terms of an expensive relocation of the civic hall which, for excellent reasons, virtually no one wants.

It isn't the council's fault that Pickles has slashed their funding, but I don't believe the present council are the best imaginable for dealing with the situation as it's been given to us.

I'd be at the front of the queue for agreeing with Fale's proposals, even if it is him coming up with them.

Tom Mein said...

Getting desperate quoting Iain Dale? Is he still giving a platform to Denis MacShane to try to boost his company?

Anonymous said...

Good post and I agree with you about the quality of Mr Dale's posts, even if I don't always agree with him.

Introducing pr for local government at the same time as devolving real power back to said local authorities would be a real means of breathing life back into democracy and a potential solution to the "English Question" resulting from Scottish and Welsh devolution.