Richmond peer calls for fairer voting system on return to council

Baroness Harris

A Liberal Democrat peer is to address the council where she forged her political career for first time in 22 years to urge it to better represent its population and be more “forward thinking and progressive”.

Baroness Harris of Richmond will issue the appeal to the first full meeting of Conservative-led North Yorkshire Council since the county council and seven district and borough councils were abolished on March 31 amid concerns for diminishing democratic representation.

While opposition councillors have condemned the subsequent cut in elected members representing North Yorkshire’s communities from 319 to 90, the authority’s leadership has pointed to savings for taxpayers and claimed councillors would still be able to respond to residents’ concerns.

When a notice of motion to introduce a proportional representation system of voting at elections was put before its executive in February, the council’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd, described the move as “self-indulgent” and “political posturing”.

Councillor David Chance, executive member for corporate services, said although proportional representation could lead to more voices being heard, the electoral system could also see more unstable coalition governments.

Campaigners say analysis of the county council’s elections since 2005 – all run under the first past the post system – 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.

Baroness Harris said despite North Yorkshire Council’s stated belief in the importance of democracy it had appeared dismissive of calls for a more representative democratic system.

She said the introduction of proportional representation (PR) at elections would more accurately represent the views of different communities across England’s largest county.

Her call follows Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham calling for Labour to consider introducing PE, saying it would “have the effect of empowering places over the civil service and the machine because I think the way parliament currently works is that it doesn’t fully empower all parts of the country”.

The peer, who was a member of its predecessor council from 1981 to 2001 and became the first woman to chair the county council in 1991, said by supporting PR the authority could show itself as “forward thinking and progressive”.

When asked if she believed the authority’s Conservative leadership would ignore the arguments she would present, Baroness Harris said: “I hope not. What I am asking is for the council to have a serious a debate about it and hope that they too come to the conclusion that PR is a fairer and more just system.”

Baroness Harris will tell the meeting the fledgling authority has the opportunity to ditch the “archaic” first past the post system and bring fresher ideas into practice.

She will quote National Centre for Social Research figures which found 51 per cent of people are now in favour of introducing PR for Westminster elections, a sharp rise from 27 per cent in 2011.

While the council’s leadership has stated PR was a matter that Baroness Harris’ Westminster colleagues will decide, she will state: “After all, Yorkshire has often been at the forefront of new ideas and campaigns for many years.

“You have been told, I understand, that this is a minority idea – but I can absolutely assure you, it is most definitely not!”


  1. It’s good to see that Gareth Dadd’s words are still getting publicity. Certainly those of us who heard his vindictive outburst in person will never forget it. What is he afraid of? Not getting re-elected? He’s certainly afraid of democracy!

  2. The injustice of the First Past The Post system on the elections for the new Unitary Authority in 2022 is clear. Despite only winning a 41% share of the votes, the Conservatives gained overall control of the council, with 47 out of 90 seats (52% of the councillors).Since the Masham Fountains by-election they are reduced to 46 out of 90 seats. In Scotland, Wales Northern Ireland they would have to share power according to their vote share as those administrations all have PR. The Conservatives favour PR when it suits them as in Scotland Wales and London Assembly. Without it, they would have been wiped out as a political force? Let’s be honest, they favour PR in England because its the only thing that keeps them in power.

  3. Sorry. Correction. The Conservatives favour First Past The Ppost (FPTP) as the voting system that keeps them in power.

  4. I was there in the Council chamber yesterday. I saw quite a lot of political posturing by the Conservatives which included a Tory member pulling down the arm of another Tory who was voting ‘ the wrong way’.
    One of the arguments made by a member of the executive was that First Past the Post ‘ brings us stable government’ where people don’t have to work together. This brought a HUGE cross party laugh! This is a party sticking its head in the sand.

  5. I watched the debate on the motion (to write a letter) for PR. It was frankly laughable. School children could have done better. It lasted about 10 minutes, a few councillors stated their preconceived opinions, hardly any councillors attempted to respond to previous comments. The Chairman sadly did not call on all councillors who requested to speak before passing to a vote.
    Not surprising as NYC is now taking over the business of all North Yorkshire Borough Councils and yet meets for only one day every 3 months!
    I am particularly sad about this motion being rejeted because PR in general and local elections would make a huge difference to general wellbeing. At the moment government and councils and in future mayoralities too can have all the power even though they can have less than half the vote, even as little as 20% of the vote in some cases. So they can rule the roost and tough luck on the poor or needy. ANd hte tories say the current voting system is easy to understand – I for one don’t get it! it needs changing. PR now!

  6. FIrst Past The Post (FPTP) encourages divisiveness, the discreditation of others and discourages cooperation. Consequently, inadequate progress with essential policies such as Social Care, rising poverty and the NHS crisis has been made – a gross abdication of responsibility. 20 years on from the disastrous invasion of Iraq it is worth noting that this would not have happened with Proportionate Representation (PR), Blair would not have had a majority. In many areas of the UK at local and national level the views of vast numbers of voters are ignored. The SNP would not dominate Scotland if PR were in place and moderate Conservatives in other areas would have better representation.

    The most stable countries 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 to catch up and improve our local and national governance.

Comments are closed.