How the Tories have been handed hundreds of council seats… long before polling day

Josiah Mortimer

Rotten boroughs are back. Conservative candidates are set to walk away with 267 seats before voters get to the polls in May due to uncontested ‘elections’, according to new analysis. Research published by the Electoral Reform Society shows this figure compares to just 17 guaranteed seats for Labour, the Lib Dems 11 and independent candidates five meaning the Conservatives are set to gain a massive 88% of the guaranteed seats.

The worst offender is Fenland District Council in Cambridgeshire, where the Tories will take 15 of the 39 seats up for election before a single ballot is cast – all but guaranteeing them control of the council come polling day. The spate of uncontested seats is a stark contrast to the situation in Scotland, where use of a proportional voting system for locals means uncontested seats are now virtually a thing of the past.

Now Labour figures are renewing calls for reform. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock says the “current FPTP system leaves so many in our country effectively voiceless”. He adds: “My party, and indeed politicians of all stripes, must now work with organisations like ERS and Make Votes Matter to champion proportional representation – replacing our archaic system with a democratic system fit for the 21st century, where every vote counts.”

Nancy Platts, Jeremy Corbyn’s former union adviser and co-ordinator of Politics for the Many, the left-wing campaign for political reform, believes the current voting system “puts power in the hands of the few”. She says: “The scourge of uncontested seats is leaving hundreds of thousands without even the basic right of a say in who represents them. Instead we see hundreds of councillors – nearly all Conservatives – measuring the curtains in town halls across the country before polling day has even begun. Now is the time for Labour to back change.”

We need to move towards a fairer, proportional system for elections across the UK – putting an end to this broken first-past-the-post system. It’s worked in Scotland, yet here in England we remain locked in to a one-party-takes-all mentality where votes are wasted and, as we can see, safe seats make a mockery of our democratic system.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale made the case in an opinion piece earlier this month, writing that the DUP’s influence in the Brexit debate is down to a voting system that hands them disproportionate power – calling the shots with under 300,000 votes. John McDonnell is als0 a prominent supporter of proportional representation (PR), alongside top labour movement figures such as Mark Serwotka and Billy Hayes.

It’s time to create a politics that puts the power in the hands of the many – and where every vote counts. This week marked 50 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed, extending the franchise to 18-year-olds. The next Great Reform will be ending the rotten boroughs of England.

Read the Electoral Reform Society’s ‘Election Cancelled’ briefing on uncontested seats here.

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