Friday, January 27, 2012
Salford Referendum And Democracy
It may be a problem with our first past the post electoral system, but the best way for smaller parties to win is to look at alternative routes to being elected. UKIP manage to scrape into the European Parliament through that particular form of proportional representation. Whereas in recent local by-elections, under FPTP, they have averaged 1% of the vote. Ironically for an anti-EU party they only have reasonable representation in an undemocratic sham of a parliament that they profess to oppose. I'm sure they aren't in it for the pot of cash to be had!
The only success for the English Democrats was when they managed to get their candidate elected Mayor of Doncaster, a huge shock in 2009 even for the English Democrats. So as they are unable to get elected under FPTP they are now busily campaigning for elected mayors.
Yesterday the people of Salford voted to have an elected mayor. I say 'the people of Salford', in reality only 18% of the people of Salford bothered to vote in the referendum. 17,344 voted yes while 13,653 voteed no. The city's electorate is 171,000. My maths is diabolical but I guess that means that around 10% of the people eligible to vote actually voted for a mayor. The whole exercise cost over £200,000. Hardly an overwhelming show of civic desire for yet another well paid politico. The referendum was called following a petition organised by the English Democrats.
There is an argument that if people don't bother to vote in elections then tough. But we do need to ask questions of a system that produces results such as this. Yes, if people don't bother to vote they can't complain. But on the other hand if a referendum campaign can only produce a turnout of 18% can it be said to have been effective in engaging with the electorate? Or is it politicos taking advantage of apathy for their own gain?
I support the principle of referenda, when called for by a percentage of the electorate in a referendum, but there has to be a limit. The 5% of signatures currently required on a petition to trigger a mayoral election is too low, it should be 10%. There should also be a threshold of at least a 51% turnout for the vote to be binding. If the politicos can't stimulate that level of interest among the electorate, then their wishes deserve to be ignored.
Sadly, if our system of democracy was more transparent and open, with elected politicians who were responsive to the electorate rather than party whips, we wouldn't actually need the safety valve of referenda. Maybe it's time we had a serious root and branch look at our whole system after years of tinkering and fiddling by Blair/Brown and the undemocratic European Union.
Oh, and don't forget, it was the good people of Salford in 2010 who re-elected that giant of political probity Hazel Blears. If you want to see what I really think of Blears just click on this link or click on Hazel Blears in the labels list below this post. 'Frederick Oakley' be warned, it is extremely venomous and will upset you!