• Statement from the Politics for the Many campaign
  • For media enquiries or to arrange an interview, contact Jon Narcross [email protected] / 07794728820

The progressive vote will be systematically ‘split’ in next week’s council elections – with on average two candidates from Labour, Greens and Lib Dems running against just one right-wing candidate in England, new research has revealed.

Voters on the left and centre-left are held back by the  ‘anti-choice’ First Past the Post voting system for electing councillors in England, democracy campaigners have found.

The research from the Politics for the Many campaign, using data collated by Democracy Club, finds that England’s winner-takes-all voting system means voters on the left are in effect being punished for having a choice of parties to vote for, as calls grow for Labour leader Keir Starmer to back proportional representation.  

In nearly half of wards (48%), there is one unified ‘right’ party (the Conservatives) standing candidates against all three of the progressive ‘left’ parties (Lab/LD/Green).  

There are a further 32% of wards where there is one ‘right’ party (always the Conservatives, apart from one ward in Derby where it is UKIP) standing candidates against two of the largest ‘left’ parties (either Labour, the Lib Dems or the Greens).   

It means many voters may have to ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically, opting to support a party they view as a lesser evil, or risk seeing their vote ‘let in’ a right-wing party – a problem that voters on the right do not face this election.  

In 85% of wards, there are more ‘left’ parties standing candidates than ‘right’ parties. The stark figures reveal that out of around 5,000 council seats up for grabs, there are only 8 wards in the whole of England (0.2% of wards) where all three ‘right’ parties are standing candidates.  

There are zero wards where all three ‘right’ parties are standing candidates and only one ‘left’ party is standing candidates.  

Astonishingly, there are only 1.3% of wards where there are more right-wing parties standing candidates than left-wing ones.

Campaigners say this is a major ‘structural advantage’ to the right under the winner-takes-all electoral system. With a proportional voting system like STV – used for Scotland and Northern Ireland’s local elections or AMS as used in the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the London Assembly – voters can rank candidates from different parties by preference, almost entirely eliminating the issue of votes being ‘split’. Voters can always vote for who they believe in, and express a range of choices.   

Pressure is growing for Labour leader Keir Starmer to back proportional representation, with groups as diverse as Open Labour and Momentum now backing a shift to a more proportional system.  

Nancy Platts, coordinator of the Politics for the Many campaign, said: “We’ve long known that the voting system is a barrier to progressive change. In an age of multi-party politics we’re still trying to make our two-party voting system work meaning voters are forced into tactical voting and supporting the ‘least worst option’ to try and game the broken system.  

“But in the end we’re still often left with warped results that fail to reflect the views of voters. Despite voting for parties to the left of the conservatives in the last 19 out of 20 General Elections we’ve seen a Conservative with majorities two-thirds of that time.  

“Labour must get serious about electoral reform to overcome the structural advantage our electoral system gives the Conservatives – only then will our politics accurately reflect the interests of ordinary votes.” 

Laura Parker from Labour for a New Democracy, a major coalition of pro-PR groups, said: “This research shows what we, and the Conservatives, have long known to be true – the current undemocratic electoral system works to their advantage. PR would not – which is why they are so committed to keeping the status quo. 

“We have an electorate which consistently votes to the left of the Tories, yet our voting system fails to reflect that instead entrenching their power in government. 

“That is why, for progressive views to be given a fair chance, we need a proportional voting system. When votes at the ballot box are fairly reflected, British voters would elect more progressive governments.” 

Labour councilor James McAsh said: “People who want to change the world are massively disadvantaged by First Past the Post – by the simple fact that there are more competitive progressive parties than there are parties on the right. It’s an absurd system that needs overhauling now.

“The Tories sweep up the right-wing vote, but left-wing voters are effectively punished for our pluralism. The only real solution to this crisis of representation is electoral reform.

“Voters shouldn’t have to try and game the system every time they set foot in the polling station on election day.
“We need a fair, proportional voting system, where there are no safe seats and no vote is wasted. Only then can we get a government that genuinely represents the majority. Until we get PR, minority rule by the right will simply get more entrenched.”

Full Findings

In 47.7% of wards, there is just one ‘right’ party (always the Conservatives) standing candidates and all three of the ‘left’ parties (Lab/LD/Green) are standing candidates. 

Across these wards, for every seat up for election, this is an average of 1.0 candidate from a ‘right’ party and 2.8 candidates from ‘left’ parties. (The latter figure is below 3 because not all three of the ‘left’ parties have stood full slates in each ward).

There are a further 31.9% of wards where there is one ‘right’ party standing candidates and two ‘left’ parties standing candidates. 
Across these wards, for every seat up for election, this is an average of 1.0 candidate from a ‘right’ party and 1.9 candidates from ‘left’ parties.

There are a further 5.1% of wards, where there are two ‘right’ parties standing candidates and three ‘left’ parties standing candidates. 
Across these wards, for every seat up for election, this is an average of 1.9 candidates from ‘right’ parties and 2.9 candidates from ‘left’ parties.

This means there are 84.7% of wards where there are more ‘left’ parties standing candidates than ‘right’ parties. Across these wards, for every seat up for election, this is an average of 1.0 candidate from ‘right’ parties and 2.4 candidates from ‘left’ parties.  

Across all of the wards where elections will take place, for every seat up for election, there are an average of 1.1 candidates from ‘right’ parties and 2.3 candidates from ‘left’ parties.  

There are only 8 wards in the whole of England (0.2% of wards) where all three ‘right’ parties are standing candidates.

There are zero wards where all three ‘right’ parties are standing candidates and only one ‘left’ party is standing candidates.  

There are only 1.3% of wards where there are more ‘right’ parties standing candidates than ‘left’ parties.  

There are 13.0% of wards where the number of ‘right’ and ‘left’ parties standing candidates is the same, and a further 0.9% of wards where either zero ‘right’ or zero ‘left’ parties are standing candidates.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Politics for the Many is the trade union campaign for political reform, campaigning for proportional representation and a democratic overhaul of Westminster. https://politicsforthemany.co.uk/  Politics for the Many is supported by the Electoral Reform Society.

Labour for a New Democracy is a coalition to secure a commitment to proportional representation at the next Labour Party conference: https://www.labourforanewdemocracy.org.uk/

Methodology

Politics for the Many and Labour for a New Democracy analysis of Democracy Club data. Our thanks to Democracy Club: democracyclub.org.uk    

There are other parties standing candidates who could potentially be classified on the ‘left/right’ spectrum (e.g. TUSC (267 candidates)/Freedom Alliance (95 candidates), but the researchers have focused on the three parties on either ‘side’ standing the most candidates. 

The Liberal Democrats are generally described of as ‘centre-left’, and are seen as a potential partner in a Progressive Alliance.  

Researchers analysed data of all English local election candidates for elections taking place on 6 May (unitary councils; county councils; district councils) from Democracy Club’s database. This includes candidates for all local elections delayed from May 2020, all local by-elections (which have been suspended during the pandemic) and all local elections that were always scheduled for May 2021. 

They then took the three ‘right/centre-right’ parties with the most candidates (Con; Reform UK; UKIP) and the three ‘left/centre-left’ parties with the most candidates (Lab; LD; Green) and then went through each ward, identifying how many candidates each of these six parties are standing. These parties also align with the three top parties from each ‘side’ who are polling highest in England. 

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