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New Forest Labour, Lib Dems and Greens call to axe first-past-the-post elections system

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MEMBERS from political parties in the New Forest have banded together to campaign for changes to be made to the local elections voting system.

Liberal Democrats, Green and Labour members have voiced concerns about the "winner takes all" approach of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system used in the ballot on 6th May which returned the Conservatives to power on Hampshire County Council.

They have claimed voters are less willing to engage with politics as, under FPTP, the New Forest is a Conservative stronghold – with eight out of 10 seats going blue and just two to the Lib Dems. Turnout in the local seats ranged from 30-39%.

The recent election count for the New Forest HCC seats was held with restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic
The recent election count for the New Forest HCC seats was held with restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic

Instead of the current system in which individual seats are won by the candidates with the most votes, they want proportional representation (PR) in which seats would be allocated by the percentage of votes cast overall across the county.

They pointed to the results in the New Forest which gave the Tories 80% of the seats in the district, despite the party winning about 55% of votes.

The Lib Dems took 22% and won two seats. Labour and the Greens took around 10% each but were left with no representation on HCC at all.

Peter Kelleher, who was the Labour candidate for the Ringwood HCC seat, said: "Our winner takes all voting system freezes out the voices of a significant proportion of the electorate in our area who do not vote Tory. This is bad for local decision-making and bad for accountability."

As a result, the three party's have launched a joint Make Votes Matter campaign for proportional representation.

Kat Wilcox, Green candidate for Brockenhurst, added: "Leadership that reflects the diversity of passions and priorities in the communities it represents will always be more robust.

The voting percentages compared with the number of seats won
The voting percentages compared with the number of seats won

"I support PR because I want everyone's views in the room. I want our elected officials to have to collaborate and compromise, and come up with solutions that have a genuine mandate and therefore a genuine chance of making our societies more united and more successful."

However, the New Forest East Conservative Association disagreed that changing the system would necessarily boost voter numbers, and said in a statement: "Sadly, local elections tend to have a lower turnout, but we must work hard to rectify this."

It added: "The electoral system is not what concerns a majority of the public or deters them from turning out to vote.

"To suggest that merely changing the electoral system will result in a significant uptake in turnout is ill-founded.

"Engagement with the public is crucial and working tirelessly for the better of our local communities. This is the key to lowering levels of voter disengagement."

It highlighted that general elections, which use FPTP, have almost a 70% turnout – which is higher than Scotland and Wales which use more proportional systems.

It said: "We strongly believe that, instead, it is incumbent upon politicians of all parties to actively engage with the electorate, to understand the local issues and make improvements to the local community."

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