September 27th, 2016

Campaign launched for referendum to let Coventry people decide on voting system

Updated: 10:40 am, Jun 02, 2015

Political parties in Coventry have come together to campaign for a referendum on whether local people want to change the voting system following the results of May’s elections.

The Coventry Green Party and Coventry Liberal Democrats are calling for ‘proportional representation’ (PR) to replace the current ‘first past the post’ voting system, initially as a trial for next year’s Coventry City Council elections.

They say Coventry people should then be given the chance to decide in a referendum by 2017 on whether to make the switch permanently.

The have written to Coventry City Council leader Ann Lucas and the government’s communities secretary, Conservative MP Greg Clark, demanding more ‘fairness’.

The UK Independence Party’s Mike Ellis said it also had the support of Coventry UKIP.

The three parties would benefit from the change – which would deliver them more MPs and councillors.

MPs and councillors would be elected according to parties’ percentage share of the vote – that is, how many people actually vote for those parties.

At present, voters can only vote for candidates in wards or constituencies, and the candidate with the most votes is elected to the council and Parliament.

The letter – signed by Matthew Handley of Coventry Green Party and Russell Field of Coventry Liberal Democrats – states: “Our electoral system is broken.

“In this most recent national election over 7 million citizens voted for parties who received only 10 seats in parliament.

“Similarly in the Coventry council elections 29% of the people voted for parties which received no representation at all on the council.

“The citizens of Coventry and the UK deserve to have their voices heard and the first past the post system is failing them.

“That is why we are today making a cross party call to help make the change we need and introduce a proportional representation system for the 2016 Coventry City Council elections.

“PR would bring a renewed sense of participation to an electorate put off by years of misrepresentation and show clearly your party‚Äôs commitment to building a fairer society.

“We ask that you bring forward legislation to allow for PR to be used for the 2016 council elections in order to demonstrate the methods and advantages of PR to the electorate.

“We further request that a local referendum be held in 2017 to either permanently adopt or reject the system ongoing.

“We see this as being the first step to PR across the UK including for national government and we want Coventry to be at the forefront of delivering fairness and equality in our electoral system.

“Please support us in delivering fair votes now.”

Opponents of PR say it breaks the local link between representatives and their constituents, and results in more hung Parliaments with parties ultimately deciding behind closed doors how a council or government will be run.

Critics of PR claim winning candidates are predominantly selected not directly by voters, but by parties drawing up priority candidate lists prior to the election.

But the rise of smaller parties on the national political landscape – including UKIP – has prompted more calls for the country to come into line with more proportionate voting systems which are commonplace in Europe.

A referendum in Coventry in 2011 resulted in local people on a low turnout voting ‘No’ to replacing ‘First Past the Post’ with the ‘Alternative Vote’ system – which mixes aspects of First Past the Post and PR.

The then Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had described the coalition government imposed referenda on AV as a “miserable compromise” on his party’s long standing call for PR.