Electoral change campaigners have been accused of wasting a council’s time after pressing a Tory administration which secured an overall majority with just 41 per cent share of the vote to press their party colleagues in Westminster to introduce proportional representation.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive saw both residents and councillors give impassioned responses to a proposal by Liberal Democrat councillor for Harrogate Chris Aldred for it to endorse proportional representation at all elections and write to the government to request the changes.
The meeting heard at the 2019 general election, across the eight constituencies in North Yorkshire and York, Conservatives received 54 per cent of the votes cast, but ended up with seven out of the eight seats.
Campaigners told the meeting how analysis of the county council’s elections since 2005 had revealed that on average UKIP needed 15,500 votes per councillor, the Green Party 6,900, Labour 4,500, Liberal Democrats 3,500 and the Conservatives just 1,900.
The meeting heard claims that many residents believed their votes did not count, resulting in only 35 per cent of those registered to vote taking part in last May’s council elections.
Campaigners called for North Yorkshire to lead the way for “a fairer future” and highlighted the region’s role in movements such as the Suffragettes and action to abolish slavery.
The meeting was told the council’s Conservative administration had been formed despite the party’s candidates only receiving 41.3 per cent of the votes, meaning nearly three in five of those who voted were not represented on the authority’s all-Tory decision-making executive.
After listening to numerous campaigners for 26 minutes and opposition councillors state the reasoning behind the motions for a further ten minutes, the authority’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd, said the public would be “horrified” to learn the cost of officer and councillors’ time in considering the proposals.
He said: “This is, let’s be clear about it, political posturing, by opposition members, grandstanding for no purpose in terms of outcome for this authority.
“We should be getting on with things that we have some control over.
“This should not be used again as a platform for self-indulgent and party political promotion.”
Councillor David Chance, executive member for corporate services, said there were pros and cons to any electoral system and while proportional representation could lead to more voices being heard, the electoral system could see more unstable, coalition governments.
He added: “The first-past-the-post system of voting has the advantage of providing a clear winner in every seat contested. It builds a strong relationship with the locally elected officials and is a well known system of voting that is easy to understand.”
Ahead of the executive agreeing that it would not support the proposal, which will be considered by the full council in May, Councillor Chance said electoral reform was an issue that Westminster politicians would decide, but that it was not on the government’s agenda.