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Labour councillors go against own party on plans to expand the Senedd

25 Oct 2023 5 minute read
The Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Rory SheehanLocal Democracy Reporter

Labour councillors in Flintshire have spoken against party plans to expand the Senedd and called for a referendum on the issue.

Flintshire Council cabinet members, long-serving Mold East Cllr Chris Bithell and Shotton West Cllr Sean Bibby have spoken out against First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour Mark Drakeford’s controversial proposals to increase the size of the Senedd to 96 members.

Consultation has opened on a bill to expand the Senedd along with plans to decrease terms from five years to four years and change the voting system from a mix of ‘first past the post’ and proportional representation (PR), to PR only using the D’Hondt formula.

This would create 16 large constituencies in Wales with six members representing each one. The consultation closes in early November, but concerns have already been aired that this could give more advantage to the largest political parties and would come at a huge financial cost to the public.

Debating the bill at a full meeting of Flintshire Council, Cllr Bithell did not hold back in opposing the proposed changes.

“Drawbacks”

He said: “I don’t know where to start really because there’s so much here that I oppose.

“It’s complicated and it’s vitally important the public know what they’re voting for and the voting method that’s going to be used.

“The more explanations have been given, the more the word ‘fiddled’ came into my mind in terms of getting a result.

“First past the post has its drawbacks as far as some people are concerned, but in any competition there are winners and losers and this system seems to me to allow everyone to be a winner.

“A few years ago we did have a referendum nationally on this and it was overwhelmingly rejected.

“I’m very conscious as a historian it was PR which got the Nazi’s into power in Germany – they came in as a minority party in a coalition and the tail ended up wagging the dog and in control, and I’m very concerned about the possibilities of where this could end up.”

Cllr Bithell said he also feared residents would be left unclear about who to go to with problems.

He added: “The other thing I’m concerned about too is the cost of this. With an additional 30 members in the assembly, it doesn’t stop there – there’ll be officers and people who serve those members of the Senedd and that comes at a considerable cost.

“Can we afford this at this moment in time? I don’t think so.”

Concerns were also raised by another Labour councillor putting party politics aside, Cllr Bibby, who felt there are more democratic systems that could be adopted than what is being mooted.

He said: “One thing that really concerns me is I’m very unhappy with the idea of closed party lists.

“Those sitting in the Senedd should also have an individual mandate from the people that sit there. I don’t think closed party lists are very democratic.

“If we are moving to a full proportional representation system, a single transferrable vote as used in Ireland where the voters are able to select individual candidates is far more democratic.

“I think it really disadvantages independent candidates where the public wishes to support them.”

He added: “Given the current mood music of the financial situation we find ourselves in, members of the public may be asking a very valid question – is this the right time to be pursuing such a considerable change in the Senedd’s make up?

“Is that money better spent on frontline services? That’s where the priority needs to be.”

Cllr Bibby also felt the issue should be put to a full referendum.

Opposition councillors were united with those across the council chamber, with Buckley Pentrobin Cllr Mike Peers, an independent, saying the public want more money spending on frontline services, “not more politicians based in Cardiff”.

He added that no evidence had been provided for the need to increase the Senedd and feared a reduction in constituencies could see the number of councils in Wales could also be reduced.

Buckley Mountain Cllr Carol Ellis (non-aligned) said: “We’ve seen criticism of the Welsh Government in the last few weeks spending money on the 20mph, we’ve got hospitals with nine or ten ambulances outside.

“With the pressure on budgets I don’t think it’s a very good idea and I could not support it in any way.”

Wrexham Council leader Mark Pritchard (Ind) expressed his opposition to the proposals earlier this month, saying: “They’re looking to introduce more MS’s. It’s as if the world’s turned upside down in Cardiff, I just can’t understand it.

“There’s always a political time to do things and this is not the time to do what they’re doing, and I do think they need to review it.”

Flintshire Councillors will have a workshop on the consultation before the authority issues its response to it.


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Paul ap Gareth
Paul ap Gareth
7 months ago

No mention of the 2011 referendum? You know the referendum that changed the Assembly into a Parliament with full law making powers. The referendum that is the democratic underpinning of this reform. As Wales now has Parliamentary powers we need enough politicans to properly scrutinise the legislation.

The Siambr was built to hold between 60 – 100 politicans knowing that as more powers were given to the Assembly more politicians would be needed. then in 2011 we voted for more powers, and now that change is belatedly happening.

Michael David
Michael David
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul ap Gareth

The NHS and Transport are going well. NHS Waiting list and mismanagement. Transport for Wales, M4 relief road and electrification of the railway all going to plan. Drakefords Wales Labour couldn’t run a bath nevermind the country. 20mph OMG 🤣🤣🤣🤣

Michael David
Michael David
6 months ago
Reply to  Michael David

and another 36 of the numbtees

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
7 months ago

Absolutely staggering view of history seems no voting reform is right unless the Labour Party can win. On the question of cost there are over 1200 councillors and 22 local authorities in Wales time for a cull perhaps? Starting in Flintshire

Richard E
Richard E
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Thomas

At least 3 or 4 too many Councils and too many councillors per se .

Sally-Anne
Sally-Anne
7 months ago

Yeah… you don’t want more democracy and oversight do yer? Too much of that means less chance to make a mint on the Council Gravey Train System. Having too many members of the Senedd hanging out is bad… one of them might get bored and finally start looking into what goes on in the local councils and looking into why they are always broke and why there are so many people working for councils who come from the same family and we may even have light shed on the tendering processes that always seem to go to the biggest scumbags… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
7 months ago

As a Labour Councillor Chris Bithell would know a plan to increase the size of the Senedd was in his own party’s manifesto going into the last senedd elections – where have his objections been till now? And with regards to his nonsensical comments about the use of proportional representation to elect Senedd members is he unawares that PR is already used to elect a third of Senedd members? While his bizarre claims that using PR leads to the election of a ‘nazi govt’ will come as something of a surprise to the scores of countries across Europe (and indeed… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Leigh Richards
Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago

Congratulations to Cllr Bithell for this demonstration of Godwin’s Law! Not only has he plumbed new depths of desperation, but has as well just proved himself dishonest in both his basic arguments and in his deliberate misrepresentation of history, in a pretty despicable attack on the idea of proportional representation. He completely ignores the fact that all the while the FPTP system is gradually delivering fascism in the UK at a central government level – the present Tory government isn’t Nazi, but it is certainly enabling the far-right and when the next UK General Election is called, I won’t be… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Padi Phillips
Riki
Riki
7 months ago

Oh look, more Traitors that are fine with Wales having such a small voice, if any at all.

Michael David
Michael David
6 months ago
Reply to  Riki

Let’s have a referendum on independence to put it to bed that Wales do not want independence. End of.

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago

Cllr Mike Peter’s said that ” no evidence had been provided for the need to increase the Senedd”. I wish these people would do some research before saying these things. Below is a report of a Senedd reform document giving said evidence.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&opi=89978449&url=https://senedd.wales/senedd-now/news/clear-and-compelling-evidence-that-the-senedd-is-too-small-committee-on-senedd-electoral-reform/&ved=2ahUKEwjv0t6x4ZGCAxX9QEEAHT-SDqwQFnoECB8QAQ&usg=AOvVaw3fb9MRKnnheCQa6teUvNE7

Llyn
Llyn
7 months ago

The problem is that however much people on here want to see more MSs (and I agree there needs to be more) it is not a popular move, especially now and there’s no amount of whataboutery that can get around that fact. I would advise MSs to leave it.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
7 months ago
Reply to  Llyn

Parties who stated in their manifestos for the 2021 Senedd elections that they were in favour of a enlarged Senedd won three quarters of the seats Llyn – there is a mandate from the Welsh people for this.

Alun Gerrard
Alun Gerrard
6 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

What mandate? There has never been a mandate. What is your version of a mandate?

R Griffiths
R Griffiths
7 months ago

Let’s have a referendum to cut the number of councillors in Flintshire and cut their expenses, the tea and biscuits allowances while we’re at it. That will save a fortune.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
6 months ago

If the Flintshire Labour councillors want a smaller Senedd than proposed, they should argue for 5 MSs per constituency, giving a total of 80. There is no way the status quo of 60 is acceptable.

Colin Thomas
Colin Thomas
6 months ago

I have no problems with an expansion of the Senedd if the people of Wales vote for it, it should be the people who vote to have more politicians not politicians. The Welsh Government talks about rebalancing representation by compensating us with more Senedd members after the loss of MEPs and the future loss of Welsh MPs as a result of boundary changes. This argument is flawed as every person in Wales has five MS representatives and one MP, in England each person has just one MP. There is a legacy here as any enlargement will benefit Labour most of… Read more »

simon m hughes
simon m hughes
6 months ago

It’s not a question of too many MS numbers it’s the fact that we are in the middle of an economic mess with interest rates high, food prices are high, fuel high, NHS in free fall, police service third rate and a dictator as a leader who is now turning his gaze to women’s rights? Here’s an idea the present crop of MS are told that their only occupation is that of representing the people of Wales and not second or third jobs lining their pockets. That would go a long way to reducing expenditure as they will not have… Read more »

Michael David
Michael David
6 months ago

Lol, give Labour enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.

Alun Gerrard
Alun Gerrard
6 months ago

Why do our politicians wake up from the comfort of their warm beds? Talk to the voters and stop using our money, not their money to benefit the people and to not fund political parties. We live in dangerous times and the enemy is within. There is an Islamic political party now…I hope their is a prayer room in the Senedd.

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