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Letter: It ‘s the ‘First Past the Post’ System That’s the Problem

Published on: 9 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 9 Dec, 2021

From: George Potter

Lib Dem borough and county councillor

In response to: comment from John Perkins on Most Guildford Council Ward Boundaries to Change if Recommendations Are Accepted

The problem with multi-member wards is not the multi-member bit, but that they are elected by the undemocratic First Past the Post system which allows councillors to be elected with only a minority of the vote (for instance, in May’s county council election I won with just 32 per cent of the vote).

If anything, the history in Guildford seems to suggest that multi-member wards are better for enabling Independents and smaller parties to be elected. One only needs to look at the election history of the borough council to see that the norm is for a large number of multi-member wards to “split” their votes and elect councillors from more than one party.

In 2019 five, in 2015 six and in 2011 three multi-member wards elected councillors from two different parties. And the last time Guildford had a councillor elected as an Independent without any party allegiance was when Tillingbourne elected one Independent and one Conservative councillor in 2003.

The reason we so often see split wards is that many voters are not die-hard party loyalists. Anyone who has ever attended a count in Guildford will have noticed that a great number of voters in multi-member wards will split their votes by voting for candidates from more than one party.

Voters may do this for a variety of reasons (as a protest or due to the limited options available or due to their views on one specific candidate), but the effect often results in split wards.

One only needs to look at the result in Ash South & Tongham at the last election to see that, despite being a relatively straightforward contest between three Tory candidates and three non-Tory candidates for the three seats available, a number of voters must have put a cross by one or two of the Tory candidates but also put at least one cross by the R4GV candidate.

There is no other possible explanation for how the third-placed Tory candidate came more than 100 votes behind the R4GV candidate and more than 150 votes behind the first placed Tory candidate.

So, although single-member wards might offer more opportunity for an individual candidate to become well known and develop a personal vote, regardless of party label, multi-member wards are, if anything, the easiest route by which Independents and smaller parties are able to win representation on the council.

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Responses to Letter: It ‘s the ‘First Past the Post’ System That’s the Problem

  1. John Perkins Reply

    December 10, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    I agree that “First Past the Post” (FPTP) is the worst of the two issues, but doubt that multi-member wards benefit independent parties. According to the Electoral Reform Society any problems could be easily resolved, as indeed they have been in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    It’s quite difficult to analyse results in multi-member wards, which itself is interesting because it should not be. In general terms, though, in Guildford, in 2019, turnout fell as the number of members increased, which might suggest that people don’t have much faith in the system.

    Turnout in Ash South & Tongham is reported as 30.45% in 2019, which means that just under 2,000 people voted, only 961 were for the R4GV candidate, so it’s not possible to conclude that he was a third preference of any Conservative voters. There is another obvious possibility why the third-placed Conservative candidate received fewer votes than R4GV and that is that his party vote fell dramatically. Even with the average voter there putting nearly 2.5 crosses on the ballot paper, it wasn’t enough to save him.

  2. John Perkins Reply

    December 11, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    The inherent flaws in local government elections are easily corrected by adopting the Single Transferable Vote system used in Scotland since 2007 and Northern Ireland since 1973.

    Boundary changes can still be made, though they are not necessary.

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