View from the chamber: Camden shouldn’t be a one-party state
PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 March 2018
There is every danger that Haringey and Camden councils will end up as ‘one-party states’ after the May local elections, which would be very unhealthy for our local democracy.
Experts agree. The Electoral Reform Society estimates the cost to the public of councils with weak opposition at £2.6 billion a year. Transparency International have found that a council dominated by one party “creates a situation where there is much reduced accountability: the actions of councillors are not subject to the degree of scrutiny and criticism that would otherwise be provided.”
Few people would argue that one-party states are a good thing, but the decline of the Conservatives and Lib Dems in inner London shown by the recent YouGov local election poll, make it likely that Labour’s hold on our town halls will be strengthened in May in both Haringey and Camden. We might even see the complete takeover some Labour activists are working for, or get to a situation like that in Islington where, since 2014, the only opposition voice at all has been lone Green councillor Caroline Russell.
In Haringey there are currently 49 Labour councillors and just 8 Lib Dems. On Camden Council the Labour Party also has a huge majority: at the last election 40 Labour councillors were elected with only 14 from other parties, including me alongside two Labour councillors in my ward.
Haringey opposition councillors were vital in preventing the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) from being signed off in haste. In Camden I’ve been able to force the Labour administration to be more accountable on critical issues, such as getting the release of fire safety reports, and stronger measures to tackle polluted air.
People need a strong cohort of principled opposition councillors to speak up for them, check the numbers, put forward ideas, and raise questions about issues like air pollution and fire safety even when it’s uncomfortable for the administration. Only a decently balanced set of representatives can do that, but the council election system we have - which can be summed up as ‘first three past the post’ - means a real risk of monochrome, unchallenged council fiefdoms being elected in our part of London.
If we had a proportional system for council elections then, in Camden, the 16 per cent of Green votes in 2014, and the 15pc vote for the Lib Dems, would have elected eight councillors from each party. Instead we’ve had just me and Cllr Flick Rea sitting alone for our parties in the council chamber. As well as being bad for scrutiny, it leaves nearly a third of voters without a voice.
We will not have PR for the council elections this time either but, unlike for parliamentary elections, citizens do have three votes to cast for their wards. I urge people to think about using these votes to choose balance and accountability on the council, and help us all avoid the risks that one-party states can bring.