On Thursday many of us will have the opportunity to vote for Councillors who over the next four years will work on our behalf. In settings such as Brighton and Hove the selection of the candidates could have another significant impact as the number for each party could also lead to the Council leadership changing. My view is that we would all benefit hugely if there was some way of ensuring all of us voted. That would of course demand a different set of mechanisms and a change to our culture but it would also ensure that every voter has their views taken into account. One mechanism that would then be essential would be for us to have a chance to vote for None of The Above (NOTA) which would allow all voters who do not know who to vote for to have their votes counted, rather than for their lack of a vote to be treated as a sense of apathy. Another approach would be for much simpler ways of casting votes such as going on line, ringing up a vote line or being able to vote in locations where people go regularly, rather than isolating voters from the rest of society by obliging them to go into a school or a church with people camped outside.
A few days ago I visited a friend who I was surprised to see had stuck a party poster in their window. I asked them about it as it was not something they had done before and they explained that a friend who is a member of the party had persuaded them to do so. In reality however they were not sure they would vote for that party as part of the Council elections even though in fact they were very supportive of their MP who is a member of the same party. The discussion triggered a couple of memories for me. The first was the decision by Anne Meadows to leave the Labour Party and join the Conservatives in February. At the time the Conservative Party including Theresa May and Maria Caulfield welcomed Anne into their party and indeed she is standing in her ward this year as one of their candidates. The response from the Conservatives was that she was the person who people had voted for and so it was perfectly acceptable for her to remain as a Councillor even though her political allegiance had changed. I happened to agree with that to a large extent because over the years since I first voted on a purely party basis I have come to the conclusion that the people who I elect are more important than the party they are part of, even though it provides a clear set of ideas and policies that they presumably support. It was fascinating how a few weeks later that attitude was challenged within the Conservative Party when MPs for Labour and the Conservatives chose to leave their parties and start a new one. The reaction then seemed to change quite a bit and many MPs from both parties called for by-elections to take place!
The second memory triggered by my friends poster and our discussions was the ideas set out by Sue John when she was Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when they were in control of our city. Sue referred to a community based scheme where local residents could work together to make decisions about the way in which their community was organised such as street lighting and bin collections. I found the idea very appealing and wish we could introduce something like that into local settings wherever residents are willing to take part. However such an approach would in my view then fall into conflict with the idea of a party dominated system of selecting Councillors. In part this would be because at every election the people who would inevitably not be members of any party would have differing views about which local Councillor would be the best person for the group of residents to support and their party allegiances would make this much more complicated. So my thinking taking into account the Anne Meadows story, the Sue John idea and the view of my friends is that in the future our city and indeed perhaps many other locations would benefit enormously from a set of votes that ignored the political parties altogether and instead focused on the people who we can vote for. That would not prevent candidates from joining parties but it would make that less important than their own contributions and experience when it comes to planning and organising a community like ours.