Thank God The Council Elections Are Over – and PS – Our Electoral System Is Broken
by Cllr Kevin Craig
So that’s that. Stop all the clocks. Throw out your worn shoes. Shred the leaflets. No more 20000 steps a day. Cease your shouting from the bath at the unwanted ring on the doorbell. No more dogs made to bark by unasked for callers. A halt please to the tempting of hungry tired canvassers with teatime smells. It’s done. The 2018 Lambeth Council Elections are over and Labour has had another overwhelming success in Lambeth and will again rule the Council for the next four years (I declare openly an interest in this subject having recently had the honour of being elected as one of three Councillors in Bishop’s Ward).
Elections in my experience – especially close fought ones seem to bring out the worst in a lot of candidates. I think lying or fake news – call it what you want has become much more acceptable in today’s world – especially because the internet is essentially an unregulated Wild West where the libel and defamation laws of the real world often feel hopelessly ineffective. I have just fought my seventh Lambeth Council election (won 5 lost 2) and it was one of the toughest in 20 years with it harder than ever for the voting public to take an informed view on who was telling the truth. Also elections I believe, leave those candidates with emotional intelligence feeling rather shop soiled because in order to win/ counter your opponent’s campaign there is pressure on you to present your opponents as unpalatable and dangerous even though there are decent people aspiring to public life across the political spectrum – of course.
Whilst I personally think Labour’s mix of support for aspiration plus social compassion is the right prescription both at a local at a national level I know that’s just one person’s view. I know that there is huge debate around that and political positions aside, my key point in this article is that one has to wonder at times like this- fresh out of an exhausting election campaign – whether the voting system that we have is the right one? I contend that it’s not.
I have fought every Lambeth Council Election since becoming a Lambeth Councillor aged 25 in 1997 on the night that Tony Blair became PM. I have also been election Agent for Kate Hoey – a great friend and a good MP – three times (even though she and I disagree profoundly on the question of the EU). My point is that I have fought a lot of elections – some where every vote counted, and some where it didn’t. And I now am more convinced than ever in the merits of Proportional Representation. I can’t stand the fact that our Country voted Leave indeed I think it a disaster. But who can argue with or indeed wish to overturn the biggest democratic turnout in generations where every vote did count? And we need that sort of participation at a local level. If we are to get more people to vote, they must believe their vote counts.
The figures speak for themselves. The Green Party in Lambeth got almost 20 % of the vote in the Borough yet has less than 10% of Councillors. The Lib Dems have no Councillors in Lambeth now yet got 12% of votes. The Conservatives have one Councillor but should by rights have 6. Whilst I might be pleased about the lack of seats for the Lib Dems, on a day that I am feeling particularly bruised about the recent campaign, the truth is it doesn’t feel right that they have no Councillors. Also, in some wards in Lambeth it felt like there was no election. There was no contest effectively because of the unspoken reality that it was a done deal – think of Larkhall, Stockwell and Princes as examples of Wards (represented by good caring Councillors I might add) where there was no campaign effectively from start to finish. If every vote counted more people would vote.
Turnout in Lambeth’s recent elections overall remained in the classic local council turnout zone – between 33 and 37 %. It was nowhere near the fantastic levels of the 2017 General Election. That’s a shame as well. But the voting system we have is the one we use and the Council is now set on course for the next few years and will do its very best for the Borough. I hope that in time, all elections including local Councils and General Elections join those already using some form of proportional representation. Because if we are honest, the current system doesn’t produce Councils anywhere that accurately reflect the will of the people.
Kevin Craig is a Councillor in Bishop’s Ward in Lambeth. Having grown up on a Lambeth Council Estate he is a now an award winning businessman and philanthropist and a former “Lambeth Employer of the Year“. In this edition he writes about Lambeth’s recent Council Elections.