On the 7th May 1998, Londoners voted to establish the Greater London Authority – a new mayor and Assembly for the capital.
By a margin of 72%-28%, they voted ‘in favour of the Government’s proposals’: proposals that explicitly established a Mayor elected by the two-preference Supplementary Vote system, and a proportionally-elected Assembly to hold that Mayor to account.
With such a small Assembly (just 25 members), it was vital that its members came from a diverse range of parties that truly reflected how London voted – rather than a one-party state that First Past the Post so often causes: a danger when the Mayor is likely to come from the largest party there.
Earlier this year, a backbench Conservative MP launched a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament seeking to replace the Additional Member System with First Past the Post. There is simply no appetite for it, and it rightly looked set to fail.
Indeed, the London Assembly itself was quick to reject suggestions to overturn its electoral system –not least without the input of Assembly Members and the Londoners who want fair representation.
Yet last week, Conservative sources confirmed to this site that they would seek to overturn that motion and the 1998 referendum vote in order to impose First Past the Post on the capital.
Since the Conservatives would be likely to lose out from such a move, this seems to be purely an ideological attack on the principle of PR: that a party’s number of seats should match the votes cast for it.
Big powerful roles need good scrutiny. Yet First Past the Post tends towards swinging, unrepresentative majorities that crowd out opposition. We already know that councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes.
Poor scrutiny leads to bad decision-making and spending of taxpayers’ money. That’s not just a Conservative issue, but one that affects all of us.
More than that, though – Theresa May forcing Parliament’s archaic, broken First Past the Post voting system on a modern, dynamic and diverse city represents an attack not only London’s democracy but devolution in general.
If they can do this without consulting Londoners, what’s to stop them trying to do it to legislative centres in Cardiff Bay, or Holyrood, or Stormont?
Given that the Assembly voted only in March in support of PR, it shows a cavalier attitude towards devolution in general.
PR should be extended, not scrapped. The top-up list in London allows Labour voters in Bromley and Tory voters in Lambeth to actually see their vote have an effect.
It doesn’t even make sense by FPTP-proponents’ logic. The obsession with so-called ‘strong’ majority government doesn’t apply here – the Mayoralty is the executive, the Assembly is its scrutineer.
Nobody wants a check-and-balance body that snuffs out opposition, that wipes out smaller parties, and that is likely to be controlled by the Mayor’s party. What kind of good governance is that?
Whatever the case, this suggestion is one of the most bizarre and dogmatic pledges of this campaign, and anyone who respects London’s pluralism and openness – elements embodied by proportional voting – should hope it goes the way of another u-turned policy this week and is rejected.
Darren Hughes is Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society
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