Someone’s started up a petition on the Number 10 website to introduce STV in local elections in England. I’ve long thought that this would be a decent step to improving local democracy and accountability, so if you feel the same, why not go and sign it?
I wrote last week about the odd situation in Gwynedd, where a lack of candidates forced a non-election in one ward, and that ward turned out to be crucial for overall control of the Council.
Nominations for the ensuing by-election have now closed, and the electors of Bryncrug/Llanfihangel sadly haven’t shown a continued spirit of anarchism by refusing to nominate anyone again. Instead, having not been able to find a single candidate a few weeks, this time they’ve found five, including three different independents.
However, it looks like the election won’t be as crucial as originally thought, as Plaid Cymru have now done a deal with Labour to run the Council. I’ll keep an eye out for other updates as this campaign rolls on, though.
A couple of days ago, we had the story of the council ward in Wales with no candidates, and now we have the story of the ballot box in Glasgow that may or may not contain no votes.
It seems that Glasgow Council has just discovered that one of the ballot boxes used for the Langside ward was recorded as having contained no votes, but that, on closer examination (or perhaps just looking in the box) it seems that there were some in there. How many there are, I’m not sure, but from what I can find on Glasgow Council’s site, the polling district in question (Battlefield Primary) contains up to 3434 voters. (The report on polling districts is a little confusing, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s proposing creating one district with 3434 voters, or two sub-districts at the same polling station with 2,405 and 1,029 voters. If the latter is the case, then the box could be for the smaller of the two districts and only be for 1,029 voters.)
The official result is here, and Lallands Peat Worrier breaks it down in more detail here, complete with a graph that makes it easier to see where transferred votes (Scotland uses STV for local elections) have gone. What’s clear from that is that while the number of votes in there might not effect the SNP and Labour candidates who won on first preferences, the battle for third place is very close, and a few votes could change the outcome dramatically. And even with an ‘empty’ ballot box, they still managed a 35% turnout.
Beyond the election itself, there are some important questions to ask, starting with just how a box with votes in it got recorded as being empty. However, that then opens up a whole set of other questions, notably starting with how no one raised an eyebrow at a ballot box (and the BBC report refers to it as ‘the’ ballot box for the polling station, not ‘a’) coming back empty. At that point, someone ought to have checked with the staff running the polling station to see if no one had come in to vote during the day. There’s also questions about how none of the agents or candidates spotted that a ballot box wasn’t being counted, too.
Officially, though, that ballot box has no votes in it – that’s what the declaration of result says, and that stands as fact, despite what the evidence might say, until someone gets an election court to say otherwise.
One of the things about having a lot of local elections taking place at the same time is that it’s possible for a lot of rare situations to arise, just by the pure chance of probabilities. And sometimes, if you’re very lucky, two or more of them will crash into each other and create a very interesting situation.
Which is what’s happened in Gwynedd after the recent set of local elections. It all started with a political curiosity back in April, when it was announced that no candidate had stood for election in the Bryncrug ward. It was an odd situation, seemingly caused when an independent councillor decided to retire but no one stood to replace him. So, an odd situation, but one that was likely to emerge somewhere in Wales at sometime, given the sheer number of small single-member wards there where candidates are often returned unopposed.
However, that wasn’t the final twist in this little tale. The voters of Gwynedd had their say last week and this what they said:
Yes, 37 Plaid Cymru councillors and 37 others. Perfectly tied, except for the fact that Gwynedd Council has 75 seats, which means that the Bryncrug by-election goes from being an interesting little anomaly to potentially the election that will determine who controls the Council. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll suddenly find hordes of politicians descending on this one small ward in an attempt to root out every last potential voter. There’s almost a potential modern Ealing comedy there – all you need to do is discover some hugely valuable asset that makes control of the Council absolutely vital between two bitterly divided sides, and the hilarity will no doubt ensue.
With the election over, I got to return to one of favourite evening pastimes (after canvassing, of course) – shouting at the TV when Look East is covering politics.
Firstly, they clearly have an issue in getting accurate information about what’s going on. Last night, their political editor reported that the Bedford mayoral contest wasn’t looking good for the Liberal Democrats, about an hour after the result of the first preference votes had been announced, showing that Dave Hodgson was leading the race, and about five minutes after I’d seen the first mentions on Twitter that he’d won re-election by a clear majority.
Yes, there were elections going on all over the region yesterday, but for the BBC’s regional political editor to not be up to speed with what’s happening in the region’s largest local election? That’s really not delivering what I think you should expect from regional political coverage.
But I think that reveals a much larger problem with the way local politics is covered, which follows the lead of their national colleagues in assuming that the elections are merely an expression of people’s views on national politics. Thus, the fact that Liberal Democrats had lost seats in North Norfolk, while we in Colchester held our position was put entirely down to the different attitudes towards the Government of Norman Lamb and Bob Russell. The idea that people might have been voting with regard to local issues wasn’t even discussed as a possible explanation of why the votes might have gone the way they did.
I’m not denying that people’s local votes aren’t influenced by the national political situation – though there’s a long history here in Colchester of results going against the national trends – but surely we should expect that our local news programmes might actually make an effort to discover what the local issues are, rather than just blindly assuming that no one cares who runs their local council and are just having their say about the Westminster beauty contest?
As I’ve already had one phone call this morning asking how I did, here’s the result for Castle Ward:
Nick Barlow (Lib Dem): 1113
Thanks to everyone who voted for me, and I look forward to representing you for another four years.
Elsewhere in Colchester, everything stayed the same with every seat being held, despite Labour and Tory claims that they were certain to take seats off us. For the full results, see the Council’s website.
First, I want to thank the voters of Castle Ward for giving me the chance to represent you as one of your councillors for the last four years. Representing the oldest part of Britain’s oldest recorded town has been a great honour, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to do it again for another four years.
I don’t claim that Colchester is perfect, but I do think the Lib Dem-led administration that has run Colchester Borough for the last three years has got things on the right track. By initiating a series of Fundamental Service Reviews when we got into power, we’ve been able to identify lots of efficiency savings that have allowed us to minimise the effects of the cuts on Colchester, while protecting jobs and front line services.
We’ll introduce new neighbourhood teams for street cleaning and street services, which will mean that Castle Ward has a dedicated team working to respond to residents’ complaints and problems. Our policy of cleaning all graffiti has already started making Castle Ward look better, and under the new system, the ward will have its own team.
I work hard to make Castle ward a better place for everyone, and I regularly report issues to the street services team to get them cleaned up. I also make sure I follow up on reports I make to ensure we get action – I’ve lobbied the County Council to get our potholes fixed quicker, and we’re finally seeing action there.
We’re investing in the town centre, and working with local businesses to make it better. One of the first decisions I made as a Cabinet member was to get our new Christmas lights, and working in partnership with businesses and other organisations means we had a great array of events running to compliment them – and there’ll be even more this year.
I want Colchester to be a place that attracts visitors. That’s why I pushed for us to spend money fixing the Roman Wall, and if I’m re-elected I’ll work to get a proper protection and management plan for it, so we make the most of it. I want to promote our other heritage sites, and will look to arrange a Heritage Summit to get all groups working together on a strategy to really make the most of our history.
I’ll also work to get more jobs in Colchester, and ensure the Council continues to support our small businesses. This year, we’ve opened the new Business Incubation Centre at Severalls, and now we need to work hard to get the funding for the Creative Business Hub in the town centre that will bring in new jobs and new investment for the St Botolph’s area.
I’ll also continue to work on making the Town Centre a better place at night. Colchester’s not alone in suffering the problems caused by the night-time economy, but we need to act to stop those problems spreading – I opposed the plans for a massive nightclub in Crouch Street, and will oppose the plans for late-night opening every night of the week at the old Hippodrome. I led a group of councillors from all parties looking into these problems, and I’ll make sure that the work we did isn’t forgotten about, and find ways to get a wider variety of events in the Town Centre at night, making it attractive to everyone again.
I’ll work to protect our nationally recognised arts venues, and ensure that the Council keeps funding and working with them to make a better Colchester for everyone. A large number of people in Colchester work in the creative and cultural sector, and it’s a vital and growing part of our local economy that we need to protect and nurture.
Finally, I promise to keep up what I’ve been doing for the last four years, and work to make life better for the residents of Castle Ward, championing your issues and resolving your problems. Along with my colleagues Bill Frame and Henry Spyvee, we’ll keep reporting back to you through regular Castle Focus newsletters about what we’ve been doing, and will always be accessible to you.
Castle ward is my home too – I’ve lived here for almost fifteen years, and want to make it a great place for everyone. Please give me your support today so I can keep doing that.