New Senedd voting system wrong, says ex-Home Secretary
Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has expressed major concern about the proposed electoral system for the expanded Senedd.
Lord Blunkett, who was a major figure in Tony Blair’s government following Labour’s landslide general election in 1997, has taken issue with the “closed list” system, under which people will vote for a political party rather than individual candidates.
Academics and others have argued that the system gives too much power to political parties because of their ability to decide the order of candidates on their lists, and leaves voters without the opportunity to choose which candidates they want to favour, as would be the case in an election based, for example, on STV (Single Transferable Vote).
In a letter to a UK newspaper, Lord Blunkett stated: “Proposals endorsed by three of the four major parties represented in the Welsh Senedd, involving a dramatic expansion of the number of members, has seen a focus on the £18m price tag. However, there is a much more fundamental issue which deserves UK-wide attention. Namely, the proposed method of election and a dramatic expansion, within the UK, of proportional representation.
“The ‘closed list’ system, which involves electors voting for a party, not for representatives of individual constituencies, has profound implications. It does, of course, as all such proportional systems entail, break the link between the constituent and the individual representative. But it does so much more. It embeds, in aspic, the power of party leaders to determine who gets a preferred position on the list put to the electorate, cutting out the local party membership from the internal democratic process.
“The danger to recruiting and maintaining party membership is obvious, but so is a route to a form of top-down politics, which further erodes genuine democratic participation.”
The closed list system was included in a package of measures that together make up the Senedd Cymru Reform Bill, which was recently introduced formally at the Senedd. It forms part of the Cooperation Agreement negotiated between the Labour Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.
Under the Bill, the number of Senedd Members will increase from 60 to 96; future Senedd elections will use the closed list system; there will be a return to the Senedd being elected for four-year terms; the Senedd will be permitted to elect a second Deputy Presiding Officer; the maximum number of Welsh Ministers will be increased from 12 to 17, with potential to increase to 19); provisions will be put in place for reviews of Senedd constituency boundaries to be undertaken; and candidates to, and Members of, the Senedd will have to be registered to vote at an address in Wales.
Wales will be split into 16 “super-constituencies”, each of which will elect six MSs.
The Bill does not include two major reforms previously recommended with a view to improving diversity in the Senedd – the inclusion of gender quotas for candidates and the collection and publication of candidate diversity information. These will be taken forward in a separate Bill expected later this year.
A Senedd Reform Bill Committee was formed in July, chaired by Deputy Presiding Officer David Rees, the Labour MS for Aberavon. Also on the committee are Welsh Conservative MS Darren Millar, Plaid Cymru MS Heledd Fychan and Welsh Labour MS Sarah Murphy. Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds MS can participate as a non-voting member.
The committee’s role is to scrutinise the government’s proposals, and it will be doing that initially between now and January 19 2024, its deadline for producing a report.
On October 5, Counsel General and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mick Antoniw will be questioned at the committee. At later meetings the committee is expected to hear from Presiding Officer Elin Jones, academics including Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University, who chaired the expert panel that looked at the case for expanding the Senedd and other interested parties.
The aim is for the Bill to receive Royal Assent next summer and for its provisions to be implemented at the next Senedd election in 2026.
A further Bill, aimed at creating gender balance in the Senedd, is due to be published before the end of 2023.
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