A survey carried out by Make Votes Matter (MVM) Oxon, assisted by members of the campaign group Compass Oxfordshire, has revealed that most of Oxfordshire’s city and county councillors would welcome the introduction of Proportional Representation (PR), with Labour councillors showing some of the highest levels of support.
The campaign group asked all councillors if they support, oppose or are undecided on the introduction of PR at both national and local government level. In Oxford City, 60% of all councillors wanted PR for national elections while only 13% opposed it and 6% were undecided. Councillors were less sure about local elections but still 52% were in favour, 13% opposed and 14% undecided. Some 10 councillors, or 21%, did not respond.
The level of support for proportional representation in Oxford was particularly surprising, as the council is held by Labour with a clear majority and it is usually thought the local party opposes PR on the grounds that it might mean losing seats to the Conservatives. But it seems that the talk on the street does not match the reality.
At county level, where a third of seats are held by the Conservatives. 51% of all county councillors supported PR while 33% were opposed and 11% undecided. This was on the assumption that any Conservatives that did not respond to the survey were opposed to PR. The overall response rate excluding the conservative councillors was 95%.
Councillors also commented on their choices. While PR was seen overall as a fairer voting system where every vote counts, backing for it did not come without reservations. Councillors’ biggest concern was that the connection to a local constituency representative should not be broken, and they also feared that extremist parties might gain excessive power. On the other hand, some felt that the existing first past the post system exaggerates the power of the two main parties while PR would create a more collaborative political culture and so a less divisive society. Several also said that a switch to PR was needed to restore voter confidence in the system.
The Make Votes Matter Oxon survey suggests that in councils where Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens held a majority of the seats, the introduction of proportional representation would be popular. In South Oxfordshire, for example, where the Conservatives held 28% of the seats, 61% of all councillors supported PR at the national level, with only the Conservatives opposed. And Vale of the White Horse Council already passed a motion in favour of PR in 2019.
In the remaining two councils in Oxfordshire, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell, the Conservatives held 41% and 51% of seats respectively but that that balance shifted on 4 May, and so now we find that a majority of councillors in Oxford City, Oxfordshire County and all its districts are in favour of PR.
With the research completed, Make Votes Matter Oxon is now considering its next move. A strong contender is to bring motions in favour of PR to all of Oxfordshire’s six councils after the local elections. If passed, this would then add to the 25 councils in England who have already passed motions in favour of PR thanks to the work of the Councils For PR campaign.
The difficulty is that these votes may need to be brought by the Labour Group to succeed, and the group is resistant as PR runs counter to current party policy. Pressure could be brought to bear on the party to bring forward a motion through a public petition. Or alternatively, the Liberal Democrats could be asked to bring forward the motion with Labour councillors being lobbied to support it based on the views we now know them to hold.
But whatever route Make Vote Matters Oxon and Compass Oxon choose to take, their report demonstrates that backing for proportional representation in local government is high.
You can read the full report here.
Ed: The original version of this article was written before the local elections on 4 May but it bears out the findings that there is acceptance by all but conservatives for Proportional Representation (PR).
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