Whose mandate?


- Credit: Archant

As it didn’t appear on any party manifesto and no one actually voted for it at the last election, there is no political mandate for the relocation of the East Devon District Council headquarters.

Ignoring public concerns and evidence – this is just a typical example of how local politics at the secretive Knowle operates.

As a political institution, the EDDC policy-making committees are overtly partisan, failing to represent diverse opinion across East Devon.

Dominated by a single party, the district council is made up of 43 Conservatives, 10 Liberal Democrats and six Independents.

While we have a council leader who no one in his Yarty Ward voted for and three uncontested seats in Sidford, we clearly have a faltering democracy.

With nine seats uncontested, EDDC is listed second in a national table compiled by Transparency International.

Nothing against the individual Sidford councillors, but how do we achieve a more balanced representation which reflects the cross-section of the constituency?

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Without tackling the complexities of proportional representation, one ballot procedure which is particularly flawed is the current system of multiple voting.

In the Sidmouth Town ward, for example, because there were three council places available, each elector was allowed up to three votes.

In the 2011 local elections there were 4,452 electors, producing a 56 per cent turnout with up to 13,356 votes available.

Due to the tactics of repetitive voting, all three places were won by Conservative candidates with a combined 3,475 votes – only 26% of the possible total.

In other words, each of the three Tory councillors was elected with 8 or 9 per cent, which is a very low threshold.

To obtain a clear mandate, a councillor ideally requires over 50 per cent of the votes.

With the triple vote, the maximum share is 33.3 per cent, which falls well short and devalues the status the councillors.

The question is, what happened to the vast majority of the remaining 9,881 votes in the pool which were potentially available?

To redress the above anomaly, a more simple and statistically sound principle is to return to a single vote for each elector, which will prevent repeat voting – a process which is unfairly loaded towards a democratic deficit.

This would provide the majority of voters with a greater chance of obtaining electoral accountability and a fairer result which might even increase the turnout.

Moving away from party allegiances to the merits of the individual, this means the most popular councillors may be able to achieve a mandate allowing them to perform with confidence in the knowledge that they have the support of their electorate, unlike at present.

Had such a single vote ballot operated at the last local election, it is highly probable that the councillor profile in Sidmouth would have better reflected the views of the community.

With uncontested seats and low approval rates at the ballot box, a council making decisions behind closed doors is not fit for purpose.

Graham Cooper

(via email)