Thousands of voters were 'swindled' in local elections, says watchdog

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Indy Politics

Hundreds of thousands of voters who turned out at last month's council elections were "swindled" by a system that put control of a dozen councils in the hands of the "wrong" party because of a mismatch between votes cast and who got elected.

That was the claim made yesterday by the Electoral Reform Society, which published a 110-page booklet called "The Great Local Vote Swindle" , analysing the election results. Its analysis shows that the Conservatives "won" the contest in Kingston upon Thames, with 41 per cent of the vote, but it left them with only 21 council seats.

The Liberal Democrats took 39 per cent of the vote and won 25 seats, enough to give them control of the council for four years. The Lib Dems also became the largest party on Brent council, ousting Labour, although they only attracted 28 per cent of the vote compared with Labour's 35 per cent.

Labour also won the biggest share of the vote in Birmingham ­ 31.5 per cent ­ but ended up with fewer councillors than the Conservatives, who had 26 per cent of the vote.

One of the big gainers from this "chaotic" system was the British National Party, which won 12 seats in Barking and Dagenham despite having picked up fewer votes than the Conseravtives, who won only one seat. In Stoke on Trent, a BNP candidate won a council seat on less than a quarter of the votes cast in that ward.

A big loser was the Green Party, which won more than one fifth of all the votes cast in Hackney, but ended up with only one councillor out of a total of 57.

Ken Ritchie of the Electoral Reform Society told the House of Commons yesterday that a single transferable vote system, in which voters list candidates in order of preference, would avoid these anomalies.

He suggested that the conditions for changing the voting system would be ripe after the next general election, when it appears that the most likely result is a hung parliament.

The ERS analysis suggested that if May's results are repeated in a parliamentary election, Labour would lose 150 out of its 200 most marginal seats, denying them control of the Commons and reducing the number of their MPs to the lowest level since Michael Foot led them to defeat in 1983.

There is evidence that voters are now voting tactically to defeat Labour, by backing either a Tory or a Liberal Democrat, depending on which has the better chance of winning in their area.

But the Conservatives, who took about 40 per cent of the total vote in May, are not strong enough yet to form a a majority government, having made no significant gains in the north.

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