Agenda item

Response to Motion referred from County Council on Proportional Representation


The Executive is asked to consider the motion on Proportional Representation that has been referred by County Council and make recommendations for consideration at the meeting of County Council on 22 February 2023.



Considered – A report of the Assistant Chief Executive (Legal and Democratic Services) presenting feedback on the motion on Proportional Representation referred by County Council at their meeting on 16 November 2022 and seeking a recommendation to the meeting of the County Council on 22 February 2023.


County Councillor David Chance introduced the report which provided an overview of the First-Past-The-Post system (FPTP) and the various forms of proportional representation (PR).


County Councillor Carl Les welcomed the public participants registered to speak on this item and invited each one to present their submission, as follows:


1. Mr Michael E. Chaloner, secretary to Richmond Constituency Green Party – 19 Spruce Gill Avenue, Aiskew, Bedale North Yorkshire DL8 1DN (attending in person)

“Looking at the diagram based on 2019 General Election we see how unfair the First Past the Post voting is to smaller political parties.

The Green Party had one MP, so they represented 866,000 voters while the SNP has only 26,000 per MP. No one should consider this true democracy.


If you support democracy you need to accept that the North Yorkshire Council should use a form of Proportional Representation for all elections.


It is not surprising that so many members of the British public have so little interest in politics while others turn to using extreme measures to get their opinions across.”


2. Ms Rosemary Livingstone – The Barn, Winksley, Ripon, North Yorkshire (attending in person) 

“I wish to submit the following statement in support of the NYCC Motion for Proportional Representation.  I am speaking as a private citizen on behalf of my family and friends.

There seems to be an existential angst amongst the population about the threats facing the County, the Country and the World. They feel these are not being dealt with adequately and they (the people) feel they are not being heard, and this is manifested in disillusionment with both local and national government.

As a consequence of this disillusionment there is a decline in the number of people voting in elections. It is not as though people can’t be bothered to vote- 12 million votes were cast in the TV series “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here”.

So let’s look at the voting outcomes in the last General Election in 2019 - across 8 parliamentary constituencies in North Yorkshire, including York:

·         Conservatives polled 54% of all votes cast but won 7 out of 8 seats.

·         Labour took 26% of the votes cast but only won 1 seat.

·         20% of voters gained no representation at all and indeed, probably never will if the system is not changed.

·         So 45 % of all voters ended up with an MP they did not vote for with a massive under-representation for smaller minority parties relative to their vote share.


So let’s accept we have a problem. But there is a solution. The solution is a proper method of Proportional Representation when we have elections for ANY governing body.”


3. Mr Mark Harrison - 15 Garbutt Lane, Swainby, Northallerton, DL6 3EN (attendance TBC)

“Many are suffering, angry and/or depressed by the state of the country.  A vast amount of money has been wasted on PPE whilst hunger, poverty, inequality of opportunity and crises in the NHS, care services and schools worsen. 


It appears that our current systems of election and government do not ensure good leadership.  In May 2022 in a letter to her constituents, concerning Boris Johnson, Dame Angela Leadsom stated: “The conclusion I have drawn from the Sue Gray report is that there have been unacceptable failings of leadership that cannot be tolerated and are the responsibility of the Prime Minister.”

(see Yorkshire Post 31st May 2022 by Caitlin Doherty “Conservative Yorkshire council leader calls on Boris Johnson to resign. The Conservative North Yorkshire council leader has called on Boris Johnson to resign.” )


It is wrong and defeatist to believe that “they are all the same” or that nothing can be done.  There are many excellent politicians and candidates who would be excellent given the opportunity.  It is significant that those with marginal seats are generally more attentive to the needs and views of the electorate than those with safe ones.


Our First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system rewards the worst.  Leaders of winning parties overestimate their righteousness as Blair did with Iraq, Thatcher with Poll Tax and more recently, Truss. 


FPTP encourages divisiveness, the discreditation of others and discourages cooperation.  Consequently, inadequate progress with essential policies such as Social Care, rising poverty or energy policy has been made – a gross abdication of responsibility.  FPTP drives ideological swings such as that between nationalisation and privatisation, endless NHS reorganisations or the replacement of at least 2,400 pieces of EU legislation which previous UK governments voted for.  A small number of swing voters in marginal constituencies determine the government. 


FPTP is inherently unfair.  Analysis of NYCC elections between 2005 & 2022 shows that, on average, UKIP required 15,556 votes per councillor, the Green Party 6,919, Labour 4,576, Liberal Democrats 3,504, but the Conservatives only 1,902.  Understandably, many believe their votes do not count, only 35% voted in May 2022.


The Conservative’s majority is based on only 41.3% of the votes.  Nearly 3 in 5 of those who voted did not vote Conservative and their views are not represented at this committee.

The most stable states in the world (Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Denmark all use PR; the only other European country which uses FPTP is a dictatorship: Belarus. 


It’s time for fair representative government.  I request that the Executive Committee and full Council endorse Proportional Representation at all elections and write to the Prime Minister accordingly.”


4. Georgina Sale - 44 Frenchgate, Richmond, DL10 7AG (attendance TBC)

“My name is Georgie Sale and having lived in Croft for many years I now live in Richmond.


It is certainly true that we live in a time of political turmoil and political change. We too in NY have a major political change with our newly forming Unitary Council. This council, you as councillors, will be working through, not only your practices but your policies based on your values and beliefs.

I do not think you will not get such a golden opportunity again to make a stand for values or for things you believe in, or think are unfair.


Just about any snapshot of statistics concerning either National or local elections show the unfairness of FPTP. So, in this area for last year’s May elections, 41.5% of votes casted won 58% of the seats. It does not matter about which party is which, as similar scenarios are found in other areas with the winning / losing parties reversed.


We also have ‘some votes are more equal than others’.  How many votes does it take to elect an MP? Well, it is 15,500 if you are UKIP, 6919 if you are a Green, Labour 4576, LDs 3,504, and Conservative 1902. Just under 2000; this is half of what it takes for a Labour MP and a third what it takes for a Green MP.  No wonder that people think their vote does not matter and don’t turn up to vote. About 70% of people in NY did not turn up last summer. If you have lived in North Yorkshire all your life, many of us have never had a representative that reflects our views.

Why should we bother voting?


As a Yorkshire woman I don’t want unfairness and inequality, I want everyone to have their voices heard and feel PART of the political system. So, let’s have North Yorkshire lead the way as we have done in the past from anti- slavery to factory reform. It’s time for our new council to stand up for Proportional Representation.”


5. Margaret Whitehead - 22 Harewood Lane, Romanby, DL7 8BQ (attending in person)

“It is not unknown for UK to claim to be the mother of modern democracy, a system of representative government in which all citizens can participate equally with an equal vote, an equal say in the choice of their representative in government.


Unfortunately, the system does not live up to its billing.  First Past The Post (FPTP) does not produce a body of people who, taken together, reflect the votes cast. The well-known figures show the imbalance between votes cast and seats won.  Take one example: in 3 of the last 5 elections at least 50% of the votes went to losing candidates, add in the not inconsiderable numbers who did not vote and the lack of a valid mandate for the winning party and many winning candidates is clear.  The votes for the losing candidates were wasted, but so also were the extra votes for the winning candidate. Neither group of voters had any impact on the outcome in their constituency nor on the overall composition of the legislature.  By this reckoning in 2019 71.2% of votes were wasted, 2017 68.4% and 2015 74.4%. 


The effects of the statistical absurdities of FPTP are various and none contribute to a healthy functioning democracy:

i.      combined with the present constituency system it produces safe seats many of which have not changed party in 100 years.

ii.     induces voter apathy in safe seats and depresses participation.

iii.    encourages cynicism about the whole democratic process if a vote is seen to be pointless.

iv.   encourages cynicism among some of those elected who say that a win is a win, ignore the limited nature of their mandate which undermines their claim to speak for their people.

v.     Creates a situation in which only marginal seats matter which can distort policies and spending by both the ruling and the aspiring party.


Given the manifest unreasonableness of FPTP, it is surprising that so many people do turn out to vote even in constituencies where they know full well that their vote will not affect the result.  The most they can do is register a protest vote or, possibly vote tactically where there is a chance that they may be able to prevent the election of a someone they really do want to keep out or get rid of.  People do want to register their vote, and many do so regardless of the defects of the system, just consider the 2019 election, on average each SNP seat took 26000 votes, Conservative 38000, Labour 50,000, Greens 800,000, while the Brexit party had 600,000 votes nationally but won no seats! There is no way of explaining that out come as reasonable or democratic.


The absurdities, the inequity and the plain unfairness of FPTP are so blatant and glaring that I am surprised that anyone can defend it except by saying that that is the British way, we have always done like that.  That is an understandable reaction in matters of habit or quaint and much-loved customs, but it is not a sufficient response when questions arise about the functioning of over fundamental democratic systems.  However well it may have operated in the past FPTP is plainly not democratic and this country will not be a democracy until votes are equal in weight.


If anyone is minded to say that the voting system is a matter for Parliament and therefor outside the remit of this Council, I would say that in addition to the job of administering the affairs of the County, the Council also has the function of making representations upwards to Government about matters of concern to your electorate, not just questions of funding and projects requiring support, but also fundamental matters which affect the Council’s own legitimacy and mandate.


Today is not the occasion to weigh the merits of different possible forms of PR but a chance to acknowledge the inadequacies of the present system and for the Council to show its wish to have the soundest and broadest possible democratic mandate and for those principles to extend to all elements of the electoral system.  I hope therefor that this motion will have the support of this committee and then of the Council as a first step to eliminate the country’s current democratic deficit.”


6. District Cllr Richard Good - Liberal Democrat Councillor on Richmondshire District Council (attendance TBC)

“My name is Councillor Richard Good I am currently a Liberal Democrat Councillor on Richmondshire District Council.


I have been involved in Liberal then Liberal Democrat politics for over 45 years. All that time I have campaigned for a fairer voting system for both General and Local Elections. In the early years only the Liberal and some smaller parties wanted a fairer voting system. In recent year all the major parties except for the Conservatives have put electoral reform as a policy.


In the Autumn of last year, I successfully proposed a motion to Richmondshire District Council for the Council to write to HM Government requesting a move away from first past the post to a fairer system. I am pleased to say this motion was supported by Councillors from all the parties with just two conservative Councillors voting against.


I ask that this Executive supports a move to a new voting system for the new North Yorkshire Council. Thank you.”


7. Ms Celine Barry – 1A Castle Hill, Richmond, DL10 4QP - Representing Compass North Yorkshire (attending in person)Compass

“The national organisation is founded on the belief that no single issue, organisation or political party can achieve the society we need by themselves. Compass stands for people working together to make change happen.


I represent members of all parties and none who are part of Compass North Yorkshire. We all agree we want a country that is much happier, more equal, and more sustainable. A country with a flourishing democracy and a thriving society. We all agree that to get there we need a new politics to take on the huge challenges the country faces: the climate and cost of living crises, housing, social care, technological shifts and much more.


That new politics starts with proportional representation. That is the key to unlocking democracy. Our existing system centralises power and gives disproportionate power to a few swing voters in a few swing seats. It’s a system where the majority of votes are wasted and voters are forced to back their least bad option, not what they believe in most. We want a system in which every vote counts equally. It cannot be justified that more than 70% of votes cast in the 2019 General Election received no political representation. Those in favour of First Past The Post (FPTP) argue that FPTP is a tried and tested system that ensures stability and clear governance. Considering the shambles or our current administration, that must provoke a laugh out loud response if anything does! He also thinks FPTP prevents “disproportionate influence by minority parties with minimal public support”.  So, what do we think the ERG Group within the current administration is doing? FPTP has not saved us from the disproportionate influence of that group on our national politics.


Our votes must count equally. Our voices must be heard. A vote that is not successful in electing a candidate of choice, must be allowed to go forward and be included in the tally of other votes by people who vote the same way. I say this as a Labour voter here in North Yorkshire, but I also speak for the Conservative voter in Liverpool whose vote currently is also wasted. This is the basic unfairness at the heart of our voting system which affects us all. It is unfair and unjust and people in NI, Wales or Scotland do not have to live with this unfairness at the heart of their politics. As candidates, activists, and citizens, people in Compass will be using their activism, resources, and votes at the next election to make proportional representation a priority issue at local and national government.”


8. Mr Sean Hagan - on behalf our local group of the national Make Votes Matter (MVM) campaign, MVM York & North Yorkshire which covers both unitary authorities and all 8 existing parliamentary constituencies across the county of North Yorkshire (attending in person)

“MAKE VOTES MATTER is the national cross-party campaign to elect MPs by Proportional Representation (PR).We focus on the House of Commons because that’s where real power lies.


PR delivers votes of equal value for all, whatever their postcode or party preference, and would elect a more representative and inclusive Parliament - one that reflects the UK’s diversity and people’s actual democratic choices, so each party’s number of seats closely matches their share of votes.   But First Past The Post (FPTP) distorts democratic representation, wastes millions of votes, forces people to vote tactically - and leads to permanent “minority rule”. 


No UK government has won a true majority mandate since the 1930s! - For ANY party to gain a Commons majority with only a minority of votes denies democracy.Why should it be possible for less than 44% of total votes to produce a landslide majority with 56% of MPs? Such one-party governments with their unearned majorities just represent the largest of many minorities but can push through whatever legislation they want - despite being rejected by most voters. How does that represent the “will of the people”? How can such governments properly be held to account? And, especially in safe seats which haven’t changed hands for generations, how can voters actually hold their own MP to account?


A vote’s value under FPTP depends on where and for whom it’s cast. Swing voters in key marginals hold the only votes with real power to change the outcome. But most votes don’t really matter because they’re either for losing candidates or surplus votes for winners. In 2019, 71% of all votes were “wasted” in these ways (source: Make Votes Matter).


That basic inequality, plus the uneven distribution of support for different parties, leads to grossly DISPROPORTIONAL representation overall. For example, in 2019, more than 22 times the total number of votes were needed to elect the sole Green MP than, on average, each Conservative MP (source: Electoral Reform Society).  That starkly illustrates FPTP’s fundamental democratic injustice.


So, PR is essential for the UK to become a well-functioning, multi-party democracy - like most of our EU neighbours and many other OECD nations. PR would open up the whole democratic process - ensuring truly competitive elections everywhere, maximising meaningful voter choice and guaranteeing genuine democratic equality. No more wasted votes, safe seats, negative tactical voting or unrepresentative minority rule. What’s not to like? Please support the motion!”


County Councillor Chris Aldred, as proposer of the Motion noted a similar Motion had previously been passed by Richmondshire District Council in October 2022 with cross-party support.  He confirmed his view that first passed the post was no longer fit for purpose and suggested now was the right time to seek change in the political system nationally.  This was supported by

County Councillor Andy Brown who suggested First Past the Post was an unfair system, no longer delivering a strong and stable government, and that the Conservative government should be encouraged to introduce a form of PR.


County Councillor David Chance noted the 8 public questions and statements regarding the current First Past the Post Voting system and their support for the alternative Proportional Representation system and thanked the members of the public for their contributions to the meeting.  Recognising they were very similar in content and in terms of what was being asked of the Council, he went on to give a response that would address them all.


In response to the officer report which was both thorough and comprehensive and provided a detailed overview of the pros and cons of First Past the Post and the different forms of Proportional Representation, he made the following points:

·         No electoral system was perfect and there were always pros and cons associated with any form of voting used.

·         Proportional Representation based systems of voting did enable a greater number of parties to be represented on political bodies, which in turn could enable a broad range of political views to be heard.  However, Proportional Representation often led to coalition governments that could be unstable and short-lived, involve significant compromise and the elevation of smaller parties to positions of great and perhaps undue influence as coalitions were formed and deals done.

·         The First Past the Post system of voting had the advantage of providing a clear winner in every seat contested, it built a strong relationship with the locally elected officials and was a well-known system of voting that was easy to understand.

·         The May 2022 elections to this Council were, as they had been for many years, conducted through the First Past the Post system and had returned a balanced and healthy mix of political representation with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Liberals, Labour, Greens and independent councillors.

·         The County council’s democratic processes were robust as demonstrated by the consideration the Motion, put forward by Liberal Democrats and Liberals and the Green Party, referred from Council regarding Proportional Representation on which Council will have the ultimate say at their meeting on 22 February 2023.

·         First Past the Post was used for elections to the House of Commons and local councils in England and Wales and this was not something that North Yorkshire County Council could change unilaterally.  Clearly, it was a decision for national government for whom a change in the voting system was simply not on the agenda.


Finally, taking account of the process to be followed regarding the Motion that was referred to the Executive by Council, he suggested the only course of action available to the Executive was to consider whether to recommend to the County Council on 22 February 2023 that a letter be written to the Secretary of State advocating for a review of the current electoral system, with a view to implementing a form of Proportional Representation.


County Councillor Gareth Dadd drew attention to the time and costs associated with considering the Motion on an issue the Authority had no control over.  He suggested it could be better spent on the delivery of local services.  He also suggested voter engagement had been increasing since 2001 with a slight dip due to a December election in 2019.


County Councillor Greg White suggested the various methods of PR were very messy and delivered fairly elected but weak Governments. 


County Councillor Keane Duncan suggested the advantages of FPTP included the tie between an MP and their constituency, and enabled voters to know who to hold to account, with votes cast based on the individual candidates who were best to serve their area rather than voting for a political party.


County Councillor Simon Myers suggested the issue was not the business of the Council and therefore should not be under consideration.


Taking account of the significant amount of business related to LGR that was due to be tabled at Full Council in February 2023, and given the level of interest in the Motion, the proposed and seconder of the Motion agreed with Executive Members that its consideration should be deferred to Full Council in May 2023.


Having considered all of the views given at the meeting, the Executive


Resolved – That given the resources and role of the Council it be recommended to County Council in May 2023 that the Motion be rejected.






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