Fenland named by Electoral Reform Society as top of their ‘rotten boroughs’ on two counts - and candidate apathy is blamed for putting us there

FDC candidates

FDC candidates - Credit: Archant

With 12 councillors being elected without a vote being cast, Fenland tops the list of the Electoral Reform Society’s ‘rotten boroughs’.

Fenland is also top of a second list compiled by the society of councils which have the highest number of guaranteed councillors for one party before any voting has taken place.

In the case of Fenland District Council that means Conservatives can be guaranteed to secure 15 of the 39 seats up for grabs on May 2.

The top ten ‘rotten boroughs’ by council area: Councils where the highest number of councillors will be elected without voting taking place:

1. Fenland (Cambridgeshire) = 12 councillors

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2. Rutland = 8 councillors

3. West Suffolk = 8 councillors

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4. Wychavon (Worcestershire) = 8 councillors

5. Lichfield (Staffordshire) = 7 councillors

6. Ashford (Kent) = 6 councillors

7. Blaby (Leicestershire) = 5 councillors

8. Melton (Leicestershire) = 5 councillors

9. Sevenoaks (Kent) = 5 councillors

10.South Holland (Lincolnshire) = 5 councillors

Councils which have the highest number of guaranteed councillors for one party, before any voting has taken place:

1. Fenland (Cambridgeshire) = 15 councillors

2. South Holland (Lincolnshire) = 13 councillors

3. West Suffolk = 13 councillors

4. Rutland = 12 councillors

5. Sevenoaks (Kent) = 11 councillors

6. Lichfield (Staffordshire) = 10 councillors

7. Melton (Leicestershire) = 10 councillors

8. North Kesteven (Lincolnshire) = 10 councillors

9. Blaby (Leicestershire) = 9 councillors

10.Wychavon (Worcestershire) = 9 councillors

“Large parts of England are effectively democracy deserts, with hundreds of thousands of potential voters denied real choice in this May’s elections,” said a spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society.

“New research ahead of next month’s vote shows 300 council seats in England have been guaranteed for one party or individual before a single ballot has been cast, weeks before the May 2 polling day. The democratic disaster affects around 850,000 potential voters.”

The spokesman said nearly 150 councillors will win their seats without a single vote being cast, because candidates are running totally uncontested.

“They’ve already ‘won’,” he said. “Around 270,000 potential voters in these ‘democracy deserts’ will be denied their democratic right of expressing a preference about who will represent them locally.

“But parties or independent candidates have also been guaranteed an additional 152 seats through multi-member wards going ‘under-contested’ – i.e. where a lack of competition means that at least one seat in the ward is guaranteed for a particular party or independent candidate. There are around a further 580,000 potential voters in wards like these.”

There are 74 councils in this round of elections which have either uncontested seats or ‘guaranteed party seats’ where a party is certain to win. That means if you live in England, there’s a fair chance your area will be affected.

There are big regional differences. The East Midlands has the highest number of uncontested seats, followed by the East of England, West Midlands and the South East in close proximity.

The spokesman said: “Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet hundreds of thousands of people are being denied the chance to exercise their most basic democratic right and have their say on who represents them.

“The result is councillors who have no proper mandate from the people they serve. This lack of democratic competition is bad for scrutiny, bad for local services and bad “for democracy.”

The Electoral Reform Society says the reason is fairly simple – and it’s solvable.

“In England, elections use the ‘first past the post’ system – where all votes that don’t elect the winner are effectively thrown away,” said the spokesman. “Over many decades, areas become effectively single-party fiefdoms – ‘safe seats’ that seem impossible to challenge.

“We’ve all heard “X party could put a rosette on a donkey and still get in here.” Equally, we’ve all heard: “Your party can’t win here.”

“It turns out, under first past the post, it’s often true – and parties take note, refusing to put resources into ‘unwinnable’ seats. That means whole areas can become electoral wastelands, with voters ignored and denied real choice.”

The society wants to move to a proportional election system which means “the era of rotten boroughs” would end.

“A more proportional system would end the crisis of local ‘one party states’ and open up our politics at last,” said the spokesman.

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