Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics and it certainly has been for the Penistone Yorkshire First campaign this week. This time last week we were getting together the relevant nominees to allow our Yorkshire First candidate, Wayne Chadburn, to get onto the ballot in Penistone West and for Penistone Town Council.
A week later, after managing to get 10 nominees for the borough council election and the two for the town council seat, Yorkshire First will not only be on the ballot for Penistone West, but we have our first ‘elected’ representative – for the 6 seats for the Penistone ward of Penistone Town Council, there were only 6 nominations which means that Wayne Chadburn has officially become Yorkshire First’s first ever elected representative when he takes his place on Penistone Town Council after May 7th.
Of the 4 wards that make up Penistone Town Council, only one will have an election. Of the 22 parish/town wards within Barnsley, only 2 will have elections. In all the others, the number of nominations didn’t exceed the number of seats and hence, like myself, a number of parish and town councillors have been elected without the need for an election. To us this is a tragedy for the state of democracy in the United Kingdom and particularly for the status of town and parish councils. The councillors that do sit on parish and town councillors, unlike councillors at borough, unitary or county level, do not get any allowances and work incredibly hard for their local communities. However they have, over time, been stripped of any sort of power or real influence. This has to change. Yorkshire First is all about devolving power to the lowest practicable level and our town and parish councillors should have much more influence over local issues that they currently do. They should have a major say and influence over local planning – after all they are more in touch and affected more by local planning issues than most councillors who actually make the real decisions on borough, unitary or county councils. Currently they can make their ‘observations’ but these are often ignored by the planning committee at the higher council level.
The other thing that became clear this week is the archaic nature of our electoral system. I’m not even going to get onto the joke of an electoral system we have (more of that in a later post I think) but the actual nomination system is a system straight from the Victorian era designed to satisfy the needs of a two-party state. Just getting a new political party, an emblem and a message which would go on a ballot paper is unbelievably tedious, officious and is clearly designed to put off citizens forming a new party. If you, dear reader, ever get the chance to meet the Yorkshire First leader, Richard Carter, please ask him about the hoops he and his team have had to jump through to get the party to a state where they are able to contest a number of parliamentary and local council seats.
If you want an exercise in frustration and tediousness (is that actually a word?) then try to get yourself nominated to go onto a ballot paper. You have to collect your nominations – which is fine, I think this may be the only sensible part of the process. You then have to fill in a number of forms being very exact with what you write. If you are wishing to stand for a political party, you have to get a form signed (and it has to be an original) by your party nominating officer. You then have to attend in person to get your forms checked carefully by the electoral services office (at this point I want to say how impressed I was with the way the people at Barnsley did this – they administer a ridiculous system and actually make it function and they do it with a smile on their face!) where the officers go through the form carefully, checking wording, nominees, party affiliations etc. If you are standing for a parliamentary seat, you then have the small matter of parting with your £500 deposit. This is one of the largest barriers put in place to try to strangle new parties at birth. It is the one thing that stopped us here putting a candidate up in Penistone and Stocksbridge – so in a way the system works well in strangling democracy! Why there can’t be a system in place where if you can attain 50 or more nominations (which would be a serious job to achieve – believe me when I tried to get 10!) and this is sufficient to get on the ballot paper? This of course would change the dynamic of elections and prove how ridiculous our first past the post electoral system is.
In a first world country, the fact our electoral system is built on such an archaic, anachronistic system designed to deter independents and smaller parties, should be an embarrassment. Of course it works in the favour of the large parties so unless we the people force the issue, nothing will change.
I am very proud to be Yorkshire First’s first elected representative and extremely proud to be able to call myself (eventually) a Penistone Town Councillor, but my ‘election’ has really highlighted the gaps at the base of our systems, gaps our two-party system do not want you to see because the system works in THEIR favour.