'Vote for the strongest opposition candidate in your ward'
Martin Shaw - Independent East Devon Alliance county councillor
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
‘I urge everyone to help the fishermen by eating their fish’, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, the Conservative responsible for the economy at Devon County Council, told its Cabinet recently.
Well I went down to Seaton’s excellent fishmongers and stocked up the freezer for a fortnight. But somehow I don’t think that ‘Eat Devon’s fish’ is going to save the fishing industry, which, to put it simply, has been Brexited.
Rufus would have done more to help Devon’s fishermen by supporting my proposal, three years ago, to press the Government to stay in the Single Market, even while leaving the EU. The Market, which Margaret Thatcher helped create, enabled British businesses of all kinds to sell their goods freely in Europe. But Rufus and the other supposedly pragmatic Conservatives on the Council - who knew full well that leaving the Market would damage Devon’s businesses - voted to slavishly follow their government, and rejected this.
George Eustice, the Cornish former UKIPer who is Boris Johnson’s minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, says disruption is worthwhile for the sake of ‘democracy’. Yet Devon increasingly feels like a one-party state: the Government is Conservative, the MPs are Conservative, the County Council is Conservative. Because of this, they take us for granted, not caring what damage they cause as long as we keep voting for them.
Indeed, they don’t even need a majority to support them. Much of the time fewer than half of Devon voters vote Tory. An article in the Local Government Association’s magazine draws attention to the striking discrepancy in the last Devon county elections: only 44 per cent of voters backed the Tories, but they got a huge 70 per cent of the seats!
So the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system gives them a big bonus. This is bad for democracy: voters on all sides think the results are a foregone conclusion, so why bother to vote? Most non-Conservative votes don’t help to elect anyone. Campaigning for Claire Wright last year, I met a 90-year-old woman who had voted for non-Conservative candidates in general elections - Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent - all her life, but (like Tory voters in Labour strongholds) she had never, ever voted for a winning candidate.
Obviously, the answer is a proportional representation system, as used in Ireland, New Zealand and many other countries. The last Labour Government actually introduced PR for Scottish elections but chickened out of bringing it in for Westminster or English councils - leaving England the least democratic part of the UK!
Today the Tories are hell-bent on making elections less fair, not more. They’ve decided that electoral fraud is a ‘problem’, although only one person was prosecuted for it after the 2019 general election, out of 32 million voters. But this is an excuse to force voters to bring ID with them to the polling station, which will discriminate against people without ID, especially young people (who, surprise, surprise, tend not to vote Tory). If you think the plan has echoes of Donald Trump, you’re right - it’s one of the ideas the man he called ‘Britain’s Trump’ has pinched
from Trump’s Republicans, who have developed a whole industry of‘ voter suppression ’to deter people who might support their opponents from voting.
Pigs will truly fly before a Tory government gives us PR. But the Americans have shown us there is a way to beat conservatives in a FPTP system. Where the contest is between a single right-winger and a single liberal or left-wing candidate, conservatives are eminently beatable. But British opposition parties just let the Tories get away with it, standing against each other and splitting the opposition vote.
Want to stop being ruled by Johnson and his complacent accomplices in local councils? Register to vote, get a postal vote and vote for the strongest opposition candidate in your ward, in May’s County Council elections.