At 23:54 tonight the process of moving to four-year all-up elections in Southend came to a juddering holt as 26 councillors voted against the proposals. They were voting on whether their should be a full consultation regarding the matter, which would then lead to a special vote on the issue down the line. Had the proposal made it through this special vote then 2015 was the year when we’d see all-up elections.
The debate did concentrate along party lines but the numbers show that a couple of Tories had to have gone against the motion. At the named vote I couldn’t make out some of the votes as people had quiet voices but seven of the eight Liberal Democrat councillors in the chamber did vote against. I was unable to hear Cllr. Wexham’s vote but when he stood up in the debate he strongly hinted that he was against the proposal so I suspect he did indeed vote against but I could not make out his response.. Cllr. Betson was not at the meeting.
The debate rested on two issues, firstly the saving of around £50k a year that would be saved by going to all-up elections and whether the people of Southend are better served by having all-up elections or not. Several councillors including Cllr. Velmurugan and Cllr. Longley said that the money could be saved by reducing the allowances, Cllr. Longley said that reducing allowances by £1,000 a year would indeed save the same amount of money.
‘The Price of Democracy’ was the buzz sentence. Councillors who were in favour of this move believed that the public were fatigued by voting in three of every four years for a councillor, they had the opinion that if they only voted once every four years then they would become more engaged and enthused with the democratic process. Whilst I do believe that there are people who don’t like getting their doors knocked by people looking for votes, there are many who like to be fully engaged and enjoy hearing from political activists, councillors and potential councillors.
I think it was Cllr. Terry who made the point about the hypothetical situation if Boris were to get Boris Island through that an ‘Anti Boris Island’ Party could spring up in Southend and swing into power on that one standalone issue. This would be fine but it was a good example as to how one issue can dominate an election and result in good and experienced councillors being kicked out, leaving their experience on the sidelines for at least four years.
Personally I’m in favour of electing in thirds as it means councillors can’t rest on their laurels. I like the fact that nine wards in Southend aren’t just solely represented by one party. I may be a card carrying Lib Dem but I don’t think people should vote for someone – certainly not at local level – solely because of who they stand for. Local elections should be about local issues. If the best person is standing for a party you might not vote for nationally then vote for them. Councillors can’t change the world but they can sort out day-to-day problems and that is who people should vote for.
I think all-up elections would lead to disillusionment and allow councillors to rest upon their laurels, I really do. Also all-up elections mean that national trends and swings can overshadow what is actually going on locally. There are other ways that money can be saved that don’t impinge on the democratic process and the evolution of council. I’m sure any dominant party would prefer all-up elections as that will lead to them being able to push through more ideological measures with greater ease, but as a liberal I think the more debate and variety in the chamber leads to more middle of the political spectrum politics and unsurprisingly I’m all for that.
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