Wednesday 1 February 2012

Delaying elections

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities, has written to various "stakeholders", including council leaders, the (unelected) chief executives of the local authorities, the (unelected) Welsh Local Government Association, the (unelected) Electoral Commission, the political parties, and so on, to ask them for their views on delaying the council elections scheduled for May 2016 to May 2017. The only people not consulted in what we still optimistically think of as a democracy are the voters themselves.

The minister is considering this move because he has powers under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011). The Act has already been used to delay the date of the next Welsh Assembly elections to 2016, which means that Carwyn Jones has gained another year in which to do nothing much at all.

The trouble is, Mr Sargeant thinks, that by delaying the Welsh Assembly elections, they will now coincide with the local government elections scheduled for 2016. Of course, people can't be trusted to cast two votes for different bodies at the same time, so he wants another delay.

At the risk of sounding cynical, the likelihood is that most politicians will base their response on whether they think they will be in power in 2016 or not. Council chief executives will probably for the most part be in favour of a delay because, from their perspective, elections disrupt administrations and bring about uncertainty. Why they should have a voice in the matter is another question.

In just about any other Western democracy, giving politicians the power to tinker with election dates and delay them in peace time would be considered an utter no-no. Not in UK plc. In Switzerland there would have to be a referendum, and in most other countries, any government which attempted this sort of thing would find itself hauled up before a constitutional court. In the UK, all it takes is a little letter to selected members of the Establishment.

Here are a couple of other reasons for not delaying the council elections.
  • Holding local authority and Assembly elections on the same day might, just, boost turnout and give those elected a stronger mandate. 
  • Compared with other elected bodies these days, a disproportionate number of county councillors are well beyond retirement age. Extending the life of councils to five years will see more by-elections and long-term leaves of absence because of ill health. Quite apart from those who are no longer really capable of doing the job to which they were elected, because as we all know, it is very rare in public life these days for anyone to step down honourably.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i would agree on that one where it would encourage a higher turnout.
was it during 2008 where three votes were going on at the same time or was it before that again when it was assembly/mep elections? i recall something that 3 things were going on at the same time.

the more they tinker with a system the more likely the public will get fed up and be less likely to turn out.. and they be asking themselves why again. carmarthenshire seems to have a high turnout overall in uk parliament or assembly. i don't recall participating in a town ward election before, ever..i don't recall having any notification of any coming to think of it. what i find a bit confusing about my local town ward is that it is shared between 3 people, one of them is a county councillor and has a second role as local ward. i don't recall being asked to vote for any of them before..

i'll have to check something out, from last year, i think i read that some unitary councils had 5 year terms. i think it was wiltshire that are having theirs in 2013, but it won't take me long to find out.

five years is too long. then again, 4 years can be too long if there was a bad lot to shift. 5 years seems to fall in line with a parliamentary term.

would it be controversial if it ws every two years? that would cause a ripple for them to get work done and keep them on their toes as they know they can what they want over four years and amble through a term. then again, any new administration takes time to settle in which could mean anything from 3 months to 2 years anyway. and chopping and changing admin halfway through a consultation or a long term plan would mean a new admin picking up from where the old one left off.

keep it at four. five could be just a cost cutting exercise, and another year could be too much. if it was a good admin and things were right, it would be good.. if things were bad, another year can seem longer than it is.

5 four year terms is 20 and 4 five year terms equates to the same amount of time, so all they would be doing is saving the cost of one election.

oh no, another year per term is too much over 20 years. all it would do is prolong.

put it this way, if someone was any good over 4 years, they would be re-elected anyway.
if they are no good, people are stuck with them for 4 years, and 5 will be too much (anon2)