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Letter: First Past the Post – Favoured By Those Who Prefer To Rule Rather Than Serve

Published on: 5 Sep, 2018
Updated on: 5 Sep, 2018

From John Perkins

In response to: Tories Silence a Decent Voice of the Silent Majority

It’s not as simple as Stuart Thompson suggests when he says in his comment: “If Cllr McShee has the support of a majority in his community then surely he will stand as an Independent candidate in next year’s council elections, when he should expect to win easily.”

Local council elections are run under “first past the post” (FPTP) with multi-member wards. Defenders of the system claim one of its major benefits is that it maintains a direct relationship between the electorate and the elected member. However, in the case of those wards which return more than one councillor, the link becomes one between electorate and party.

Each elector gets two votes in 2-seat wards (8 out of 22 in Guildford) and three in 3-seat wards (9 of 22). The effects show in Worplesdon in 2015 where the Conservatives won all three seats with a total of 5,654 votes (122% of the turnout of 4,648).

If one assumes that no supporter of any other party voted for any of the Conservative candidates (admittedly a big assumption), it can be argued that the number of individual electors voting Conservative was as few as 2,069. The Conservative Party probably won all three seats with the support of less than half of the voters.

Absurd perhaps but it was theoretically possible for the Conservatives to have won 27 council seats (a majority) with under 16% of the turnout (11% of the electorate).

Such imbalance is difficult to overcome, which is why the system is favoured by those who would rule rather than serve.

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Responses to Letter: First Past the Post – Favoured By Those Who Prefer To Rule Rather Than Serve

  1. Stuart Thompson Reply

    September 6, 2018 at 3:50 am

    The position of a genuinely popular independent candidate is far better than suggested by Mr.Perkins analysis(such as it is).

    Let us assume that Mr McShee stands as an independent at the next election, that his only opposition is from three Conservatives and that, as in 2015, 4648 constituents vote and all of them vote for three candidates.

    If Mr McShee is so popular with voters that they all vote for him, then he will receive 4,648 votes and the Conservatives a total of 9296 or an average of 3099. It is obvious that he will be elected however the Conservative vote is distributed.

    100% support is clearly rather extreme, but it is easy to see that if Mr McShee were to receive the support of more than 75% of voters and the other assumptions hold, then he is sure to be elected (at 75% he receives 3,486 votes and the average Conservative vote is also 3,486). 75% is still rather high, but more realistic assumptions will bring it down. For a start, Mr Mcshee could persuade his supporters to vote only for him and not for any other candidates (I leave it to the reader to work out the required percentage if they all do this).

    More significantly, there are likely to be other candidates and the votes they receive will dilute the Conservative vote, especially if the Conservatives are unpopular. The figures quoted for 2015 suggest that an Independent candidate who received votes from more than 40% of voters would have been sure of election even if none of these votes reduced the Conservative vote (the average Conservative vote was 1,885 which is about 40% of 4,648).

    This does not seem too demanding for a truly popular candidate and Mr Mcshee should be encouraged to stand. If he is unsuccessful, it is more likely to be because he is less popular than thought than because of dismal election arithmetic.

  2. John Perkins Reply

    September 6, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    It was not my intention to discourage anyone from standing as an Independent. A choice of candidates is vital for any democracy and the more independently-minded candidates there are, the better.

    For Cllr McShee to have gained a seat as an Independent at the last election, he would not have needed to receive nearly as many votes as he actually did get as a Conservative. He should be encouraged by that. Also, the experience in Lovelace ward shows how a popular candidate and/or an unpopular alternative can give rise to dramatic change.

    However, I stand by my assertion that it’s not easy for Independents; the system is skewed against them. There are several reasons for that, the best-known being that some people vote only for one party regardless of its quality or that of its candidates.

    Another reason, expressed before in these pages, is that it can be physically difficult for one person to contact enough people to gain the support needed. Wards are arranged in such a way that each seat has roughly the same electorate. In single-member wards, it might just be possible for an individual to make contact with the entire electorate but multi-member wards have far more households, making it impossible for them all to be visited without help.

    Large parties have that help, small ones and Independents do not. There is no doubt that people are influenced by contact, even if it’s only a leaflet. If Cllr McShee is unsuccessful it might simply because he could not speak to enough people.

    In my opinion, it would be unwise for anyone to try to persuade people to support only themselves as that might be regarded as underhand or attempting to constrain free votes.

  3. John Lomas Reply

    September 7, 2018 at 11:27 am

    When I was growing up in Stoughton, I believe the ward was a multi-member one but with elections each year because terms of office for the councillors did not run concurrently, a system that is still used in other areas of the country, including Woking.

    I am sure that my parents voted each time according to what they thought of the candidate regardless of his/her party allegiance.

    Maybe records will confirm, but I believe that Frank Sparrow (Con) and Bill Bellerby (Lab), for instance, served Stoughton for overlapping terms. I know that my parents voted for both of them at some time. But they would never have voted for Dick Nugent (Con) for the parliamentary seat.

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