‘Democracy cancelled’ as 300 councillors guaranteed success before votes cast

Democracy has been cancelled, campaigners have claimed, with 300 councillors guaranteed success before votes are cast.

Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has shown 300 seats across England will not be contested – denying voters a real choice in council elections on Thursday May 2.

The study chimes with the Press Association’s own research, which has shown the Conservatives are the overwhelming beneficiary of “democracy deserts”, being set to pluck nearly 90% of the guaranteed seats.

ERS chief executive Darren Hughes said this means 850,000 voters will not have any real choice over who is elected, effectively cancelling democracy.

“Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy,” he said.

POLITICS SafeSeats
(PA Graphics)

“Yet hundreds of thousands of people are being denied the chance to exercise their most basic democratic right and have their say on who represents them.

“For these potential voters, democracy has been cancelled, and they are going totally unheard.

“It is frankly a disgrace in the 21st century for parties to have landed 300 seats without a single ballot being cast.”

A Press Association study of uncontested seats showed more than 100 Tories were set to win council seats before a single ballot is cast.

With no rival candidate, 110 Tory councillors were set to walk into wards unopposed, compared to barely a handful of Labour, Lib Dem or independent candidates, according to provisional figures earlier this month.

The latest ERS figures show an even starker picture when unopposed and under-contested seats are taken into account for elections at 248 councils this year.

Conservative candidates are set to walk away with 267 seats before voters get to the polls – a massive 88% of guaranteed seats – compared to 33 for all other parties combined.

Of these, Labour should end up with 17 guaranteed seats, the Lib Dems 11 and independent candidates five – just over 12% of the total number of safe seats.

The disproportionate benefits were clear, Mr Hughes said, as he urged the Government to scrap the current first-past-the-post voting system to end the practice of safe seats in “democracy deserts”.

Scotland moved to a proportional voting system for council elections in 2007, which Mr Hughes said had meant “the scourge of uncontested seats has almost vanished in Scotland”.

The Welsh government is currently consulting on allowing councils to switch to a more proportional voting system.

But England continues to use a system where “all votes not cast for the one winner go to waste”, he said, leading to “one-party states, safe seats and electoral wastelands”.

“This is a disaster for faith in politics and – as we’ve seen – for competition too,” he said. “Nowhere should be a ‘no-go zone’ for parties.

“It’s time we brought the era of rotten boroughs to a close, by scrapping the broken first-past-the-post system in England and ensuring there is always real competition.

“A more proportional system would end the crisis of local ‘one-party states’ and open up our politics at last.”

Nearly 150 councillors are running uncontested, despite 270,000 potential voters having the right to a choice.

A further 152 seats are guaranteed due to a lack of competition in multi-member wards, meaning at least one seat is guaranteed for a particular party or independent candidate.

There are around a further 580,000 potential voters in wards such as these.

Mr Hughes added: “The result is councillors who have no proper mandate from the people they serve.

“This lack of democratic competition is bad for scrutiny, bad for local services and bad for democracy.”

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