1. Governance
May 23, 2017updated 23 Mar 2023 12:40pm

This is why the Tories’ plan to change mayoral electoral system is a giant leap backwards for democracy

By Josiah Mortimer

Last week, 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” – the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system to mayoral and police & crime commissioner elections. Though this is still to be confirmed, the change is expected to affect the London Assembly, too. (It currently uses the proportional Additional Member System.)

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.

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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.  

Josiah Mortimer is a communications officer at the Electoral Reform Society, on whose blog this post previously appeared.

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