Wednesday, 8 May 2013

KCC elections 2013

An analysis of the results by Michael Steed and Eric Syddique

Kent Conservatives will exercise untrammelled power in County Hall with the approval of little more than a third of the voters – they won nearly 54% of the seats for 36% of the votes.

The overall results in Kent were:

                        Votes               (%)      Seats    (%)

Cons                115,483           36.1     45        53.6

UKIP                 86,453           27.0     17        20.2

Labour               63,778           19.9     13        15.5

Lib Dem             31,190             9.8       7          8.3

Green                 12,262             3.8       1          1.2

Others                10,602             3.3       1          1.2

The smaller opposition parties, notably the Liberal Democrats, did not do so badly out of the voting system. The big losers were Labour and UKIP, whose supporters are seriously under- represented in County Hall.

Any system of proportional representation would have produced a council with no one party in charge – as the voters clearly wanted. To provide a picture of what county hall could have looked like, we have applied the rules most used in Britain for bodies elected by proportional representation (the regional list system).

We use Kent’s twelve districts to keep a constituency basis, rather than use a pure, Kent-wide, proportional system. Seats are allocated to the parties in each district by the formula used to elect British MEPs, which favours larger parties.

On the votes cast last Thursday, that would have produced a County Council of 35 Conservative, 26 UKIP, 17 Labour and 6 Liberal Democrat members. Two of the three larger groups would have to work together to form a majority, whether in coalition or on an ad-hoc basis.

The difference between that more balanced Council and the 84 people who will be deciding Kent’s affairs is much greater than the party numbers indicate. In a fair-votes Council, each of the two main party groups would have at least one member from each Kentish district.

In contrast, no group has that now. Thanet, with eight county councillors, will now have no one in the ruling majority group. With PR, the Conservatives, who took exactly a quarter of the votes cast in Thanet, would have two of the eight seats.

Labour now has members from only six districts; with a fair-votes Council, the Labour voters in the county town, Maidstone, and in South-west Kent, all now without a voice, would be represented, with a Labour member from everywhere but Tunbridge Wells.

The biggest difference would be in the composition of the UKIP group. All but one of their seventeen councillors was elected for one of the seats in the coastal belt from Sheppey round to Romney Marsh. In this stretch of coastal Kent, covering Swale, Canterbury, Thanet, Dover and Shepway, there were 44,206 UKIP voters, now represented by 16 UKIP councillors.

Yet there are nearly as many UKIP voters in the rest of Kent – 42,247 to be precise, now represented by just one seat in Tunbridge Wells. The absurdity is well shown by the imbalance between two adjoining districts, inland Ashford and coastal Shepway.

In Ashford UKIP came a good second with 29% of the vote, more than Labour (15%) and Liberal Democrat (10%) combined. Yet each of the latter two parties won a seat, while UKIP was not awarded a single one. In Shepway, UKIP appeared to be far more popular, sweeping the board in Folkestone town, and taking four of the district’s six seats. But when the votes for Shepway are added up, we find that the Conservatives, with 8,368 votes, actually topped the poll ahead of UKIP with 8,265. The UKIP share in Shepway (32.3%) was actually little higher than in Ashford.

With PR, there would have been two UKIP councillors from each district instead of four from one and none from the other; the Conservatives would have won two fewer in Ashford and two more in Shepway.

This example illustrates how the advantages of a fairer voting system are not just about a fairer reflection of political strength. Any constituency-based PR system, such as the single transferable vote used in Northern Ireland or in Scottish local elections, or the regional list system, whose rules we have followed, also produces a much more geographically representative council.  

[Michael Steed is a psephologist who was Lecturer in Government at the University of Manchester until 1987. He now lives in Canterbury, where he has been Honorary Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent since 1994.

Eric Syddique lives in Eynsford, near Dartford, and is former Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society.]

Contact: 

Michael Steed – 012227 470837
Eric Syddique -- 01322 863048

E-mail --  FairVotesForKent@yahoo.com