CAMPAIGNERS are pressing ahead with calls for a referendum in Coventry on changing the voting system – despite a negative government response.
The Coventry Observer reported two weeks ago three political parties in Coventry had come together to campaign for a local referendum on whether Coventrians want to change the ‘first past the post’ voting system to ‘proportional representation’ (PR) – after an initial trial for next year’s Coventry City Council elections.
The Green Party, Liberal Democrats and UK Independence Party say Coventry people should then be given the chance to decide in a referendum by 2017 on whether to make the switch permanently.
Coventry Green Party and the city’s Lib Dems had written to council leader Ann Lucas and the government’s communities and local government secretary, Conservative MP Greg Clark, and demanded Coventry be “at the forefront of delivering fairness”.
The UK Independence Party in Coventry backed the call.
The three parties would benefit from the change by delivering 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.
A referendum in Coventry in 2011 resulted in local people 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.
Matthew Handley of Coventry Green Party and Russell Field of Coventry Liberal Democrats have now received a reply from Mr Clark’s DCLG department.
The letter written by civil servant Maggie Crosby on behalf of Mr Clark states since the 2011 referendum there “has been no consideration of changing the voting system for local government.”
It adds: “A change in the method of voting would require change to primary legislation so it is not something that could be organised quickly in any event and certainly not by 2016.”
The letter goes on to states the Local Government Act 2003 enables local authorities to conduct a referendum on any matter relating to the services.
It adds: “However, whilst I cannot give legal advice I would not think that a change in voting systems would be a subject upon which a local referendum could be held.”
Mr Handley, Mr Field and Coventry UKIP’s Mike Ellis have written back today contesting all those points.
They note legislation was introduced more speedily to enable the AV referendum in 2011.
They also state the 2003 law would allow the council to stage the referendum as it was a matter which could improve social wellbeing.
They add: “We would therefore ask why you seem to have reached the conclusion that a referendum would not be permissible in these circumstances?
“..We would question whether your arguments are accurate and would again 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.
“…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.”