Hidden away in the small print of the Conservative manifesto on page 43 is a promise to get rid of the detested alternative vote used for mayoral elections and replace it with the good old, best in the world, system of first past the post. This is in addition to an explicit Tory promise to stick with FPTP for general elections and continue with the boundary review to slash the number of parliamentary seats to 600, while obliterating the odd 1,000 year old administrative boundary in the process. The Tories can now sniff the real possibility, on the back of Brexit, of reinforcing their hold on the political levers and consolidating it for the foreseeable future.
One of the less predictable results (or perhaps not) of calling a general election in the middle of local elections was a general boost in the turnout, as party loyalists woke up and hurried out to vote. Turnout rose across the UK, to the benefit of the old parties and particularly the Tories, as folk seemed under the misapprehension they were voting for that strong and stable Mother May and not some halfwit standing for the council. Cornwall was no exception. Turnout this year jumped from 32.7% in 2013 to 39.7%.
Even then, under our laughably antiquated voting system, not one councillor was elected with more than half the votes of the registered electorate. In fact only four out of 122 managed to get the support of more than one in three of their electorate. Another 18 won more than one in four. Many more – 31 – took their ward with the votes of fewer than one in seven electors. Three of these won with less than one in ten. And at Camborne Trelowarren, where only six votes separated Tory, Labour and MK, the Tory sneaked in with a massive 5.8% of the registered voters of the ward bothering to vote for him. Meanwhile, the average councillor won his or her seat with the support of just 19.9% of the electorate.
As turnout was artificially boosted this time, even this feeble level of legitimacy for our councillors was better than in 2013. Then the mean level of support was 15.3%. In that election no councillor was elected with the votes of more than a third of their electors and only six managed to secure more than a quarter. Sixty, or almost half, were elected by fewer than one in seven in their wards and 22 of those with less than 10% of registered electors.
Instead of looking to make elections more meaningful, increase involvement and reinvigorate democracy, the Tories are determined to set this voting system in concrete. In doing so they can guarantee taking us back to the future and further down the post-democratic road. In a neo-liberal economy where their chums benefit massively for asset speculation, genuine democracy has become an irrelevance. They don’t want an informed electorate – just get on with the sodding shopping and leave the decision-making to us, to the quangos, to the corporations, to the traditional ruling class, while we add a bit of condescending paternalism to keep all you plebs content.
Take back your country? You must be having a laugh.