We need fairer voting system, say Greens as party takes just one seat at council elections again

Electoral Reform Society cite Camden as example where vote was not properly reflected in result

Thursday, 12th May — By Richard Osley

_58A9252-2 Siân Berry

On her own again, Sian Berry, pictured at the count, is the sole Green councillor in Camden

SIAN Berry won more votes than any other candidate across Camden at Thursday’s council elections – but has once again found herself feeling a little lonely in the winners’ circle.

She was the only Green candidate to get over the line after deputy mayor Lorna Jane Russell polled well but missed out in her bid to add a second councillor in Highgate to the party’s roster.

The results, which saw Labour win just a little over half of the overall vote in Camden but claim 85 per cent of the seats in the chamber, have again left the party calling for a change to the voting system.

Cllr Berry said the mismatch between vote share and the numbers of seats returned had been seen in Hackney and Islington too.

“We are not seeing an accurate reflection of how people voted in the council chamber make-up – Labour would still have won but under PR we would have seen a better representation of what people actually wanted,” said Cllr Berry.

“Around the country we have seen people are more and more willing to consider a vote for the Greens. Outside of London, we had more gains than Labour.”

The Electoral Reform Society used Camden as a case study in its post-election bulletin, publishing the graphs above.

“Many councils in England and Wales have a single party holding in excess of 75 per cent off the council seats,” the campaign group said.

“In every case, this is wholly out of proportion to the support the governing parties enjoy locally – and has given these administrations carte blanche on official business.”

Cllr Berry said that Scotland had already installed a fairer PR voting system for local authorities but the key to changing things in England would be “for the Labour Party to come on board.”

The case for a change might have been stronger if the Greens had been able to post candidates in every ward; some residents did not have the option on their ballot papers to add to party’s vote share.

Caroline Lucas joins Lorna Jane Russell in Highgate on polling day

In the end a team of only 12 candidates for 55 seats was assembled.

“We felt if we didn’t just concentrate on Highgate we might lose our place on the council altogether,” said Cllr Berry, a former national co-leader of the party and a London Assembly member.

“I would’ve loved to have  contested more seats. Where we did have candidates, they often came second ahead of the Lib Dems and Tories.”
She added: “I think what all opposition councillors  need to work on now is to get community groups to have a voice and take part in scrutiny of the council.”

“In Islington, members of the public have been invited in to ask questions of the council.”

Cllr Berry had already suggested the chairing of scrutiny committees should be given to opposition councillors, but Labour controls these posts.

She said national issues had a played a role in Labour’s hold of two seats in Highgate, with residents wanting to “send a message” to the prime minister.

But Cllr Berry added that local issues were relevant too and that the high personal vote shares showed the importance of local connections.

She said: “It’s not just a Green wave we saw across the country, more of a sustained tide with more people prepared to vote Green. The trajectory is upwards and I think we have proved that past elections were not a fluke.”

Ms Russell lives in the Holly Lodge estate but has previously resided in the north-west of the borough – where she was a Labour councillor in Fortune Green until she defected in the autumn with a warning that Labour had stopped listening to residents’ problems.

She was in the thick of the battle in Highgate – a ward which has now for three elections been split between two Labour and one Green. On polling day, there was a scramble from both sides to “get out the vote”, with Labour activists arriving from beyond Camden to help on the doorstep and the Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas joining the Green operation.

 

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