Why the proportional representation element of London Assembly elections should stay

Why the proportional representation element of London Assembly elections should stay

National government’s interference in the affairs of City Hall has encompassed not only the London Plan and, of course, the damaging effective nationalisation of Transport for London, but also the way Londoners vote for their Mayor.

Plans were revealed in March to do away with the Supplementary Vote system, which enables Londoners to express a first and a second preference for Mayor, and replace it with First Past The Post. Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that FPTP “provides for strong and clear local accountability”. She did not explain how the present system doesn’t, or how hacking away great lumps of the Mayor’s autonomy does.

So far, there has been no announcement that the London Assembly’s voting model, which combines FPTP with a form of proportional representation, could be reduced to FPTP alone too, though there has been talk of a previous Conservative government wishing to do so.

Of the 25 Assembly seats, 14 are constituency seats, for which FPTP is used, and the other 11 are “Londonwide” seats, contested using PR. It is the PR element that has enabled smaller parties, ranging from the Green to the British National Party, to be represented on the Assembly since the first elections to it in 2000.

There are credible arguments for reforming the Assembly, which gets a lot of (often undeserved) criticism. Doing away with the PR component of its make-up is not one of them.

A new report from the Electoral Reform Society, a strong advocate of PR, makes a good case against what would be an erosion of Londoners’ democratic rights and any wish to do the same in relation to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

It simply shows that the PR element of the Assembly system ensures that the Assembly’s political complexion is far more representative of Londoners’ political preferences than general elections and therefore a much fairer mechanism of representative democracy.

In every general election since 1997, Labour has won a majority of London parliamentary seats – ranging from 77 per cent of them in 1997 to 52.1 per cent in 2010 – but only once, in 2017, has the party won more than 50 per cent of the total votes in those London seats.

By contrast, the largest parties on the Assembly after the six Assembly elections so far – sometimes Labour, sometimes the Conservatives – have secured percentages of seats that are closer to their percentages of votes overall.

And the overall Assembly seat share at May’s delayed election shows that although Labour and Tories got bigger portions of the Assembly pie than than their percentages of Assembly votes, the PR part of the election saw Liberal Democrats and Greens get close to proportional shares.

Speaking to the researchers, Green Party AM Caroline Russell stressed the contrast between the now three-strong Green group’s Assembly presence, closely reflecting the party’s 11.8 per cent vote share, and her situation as the one and only non-Labour member of Islington Council, where support for the greens is far stronger than a single seat suggests.

The Electoral Reform Society’s report is called Here To Stay. Let’s hope its optimism isn’t premature.

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Categories: Analysis

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