Democratic reform must become one of the Green Party’s top priorities
There’s a temptation to believe as Greens that no amount of campaigning will convince the two largest parties – the Tories and Labour – to embrace democratic reform. As a wise sage once said, it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.
However, the Greens have a great opportunity at our autumn conference to solidify our policies in this area and bring our thinking closer to the most influential democratic reform organisation in the UK, the Electoral Reform Society – who have already done great work in appealing to Labour and Tory self-interest to make the case for localised electoral reform.
For the Green Party’s autumn conference, I have submitted a multi-part motion that will hopefully provoke some healthy debate. While the motion contains many elements – party funding, voter registration, recall of representatives, including a “none of the above” option and even how ballot papers are ordered – I would like to focus in particular on Subsection 1.
Subsection 1 proposes that we change the Green Party’s favoured voting system for local elections to the Single Transferable Vote from the Additional Member System. This would bring us into line with the Electoral Reform Society and would give us a useful tool for arguing more strongly as part of the wider coalition of forces calling for democratic reform – from the left (Greens), the centre (Lib Dems) and yes, even from the right (UKIP).
When Scotland introduced STV for local government in 2007 the number of voters whose first choice candidate was elected rose from 52.3% to 74.0%. This represents a return on investment for voters and would potentially lead to (re-)engagement from a large number of people who feel it isn’t worth voting, if matched with a solid on-the-ground communications campaign.
The benefits of STV on the local level are many. Firstly, it fits with the current context of most wards having multiple councillors – as it would mean 3, 4, 5 or 6 councillors being elected per ward, usually from multiple parties. Secondly, it delivers more choice and power to voters by allowing a preferential ranking of candidates that really influences the result. Thirdly, it is arguably the best system for smaller parties and independents to stand a chance of being elected – therefore breaking the large “one-party states” found in some of our major cities at a stroke.
But why should we throw out AMS, I hear you cry? Whilst I still support the Additional Member System on a Westminster level, I think it would lead to mixed messages on the local level. It creates “two tiers” of elected representatives, and I think the massive positive difference local councillors can make is through standing up for a distinct geographical area of their town or city. Electing councillors who serve the entire town or city (as under AMS) would make their mandate unclear. Who or what exactly do they have to represent? How are they to cope with a whole city’s issues? Who are they directly accountable to?
The Green Party is rightly proud of its internal democracy and so my motion – which was formed from a number of different people’s ideas composited into one place (and could be split down into its constituent parts at the start of the conference debate) – represents a great opportunity to improve our reform offer to potential members in the democratic reform coalition – and beyond. The range of debate we could have is huge, but unless my motion is placed near the top of the prioritisation ballot, we cannot debate any of these issues at all.
Rob Telford is the Green council group leader on Bristol City Council and the former democratic reform spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales. He is currently campaigning to be elected to the Electoral Reform Society’s Council.
If you are interested in getting involved in the Green Party’s democratic reform working group, please email Rob on firstname.lastname@example.org.