Councillors were accused of being "disrespectful" to voters at a fiery North Herts Council meeting last week.

The comments came during a debate on a motion supporting a change to the electoral system, which was passed by 22 votes to 14.

Cllr Chris Lucas (LD) and Cllr Ruth Brown (LD) proposed and seconded the motion, which stated that the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system currently used for general and local elections is "not a fair system".

It continued: "Council believes that there should be a move to the use of a system of proportional representation (PR) for local elections as soon as is practicably possible."

Cllr Lucas said that "democracy is not being served" by FPTP and that a system of PR in multi-member wards for local elections "would...produce a better mix of elected candidates whose views are closer to those of the communities they represent".

Cllr Brown said: "With everything this council is seeking to do in terms of youth engagement into democracy, the voting system works against us.

"If we want to increase engagement, we have to change our electoral system."

Several councillors from the Conservative group spoke against the motion.

Cllr Simon Bloxham (Con) said people "know and love" FPTP, and praised it for ensuring "a direct link between councillors and the ward and the people that they serve within that ward".

He pointed to a recent Electoral Commission survey, which found that 97 per cent of voters "found it easy to fill out their ballot paper".

The Comet: Cllr Simon Bloxham (right) speaking against the motion.Cllr Simon Bloxham (right) speaking against the motion. (Image: North Herts Council)

"Can you imagine the chaos we're going to get in 2024 if we go down this road?

"This is from the Liberal Democrat councillors that are here, and if they think that they're going to get elected from using PR, they've got about as much hope as they did when [former Liberal leader] David Steel asked for their party conference delegates to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government".

Cllr Ian Albert and Cllr Alistair Willoughby (both Lab) also spoke in favour of the motion.

Responding to Cllr Bloxham, Cllr Lucas said: "Is it any surprise that the Conservative group would not like to see a change to that system given that they've all benefitted from it for many years?

"Chaos, is Scotland in chaos? Is Wales in chaos? So you're going to insult the voters in those countries by saying that they are in chaos? I think that is disrespectful to the highest regard."

Cllr Gerald Morris (Con) opposed the motion and produced some Google results stating that PR is "usually a device for minority and often unpopular political parties to try and gain power. It usually produces weak coalitions and can result in indecision or compromises and legislative paralysis".

In response, Cllr Steve Jarvis (LD), joked: "I was interested by Cllr Morris saying that PR is supported by unpopular parties and results in weak government, probably with frequent changes of leader and cabinet ministers that are only in office for a few days or weeks.

"I therefore confidently expect the Conservative party to be wholeheartedly in favour of proportional representation, very soon."


Cllr Sam Collins (LD), the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Hitchin & Harpenden, said that "unfortunately, it looks like the Conservative party are moving away from [PR] because it makes them less likely to win".

The Comet: Cllr Sam Collins (back, centre) suggested the Conservative group were speaking out of self-interest.Cllr Sam Collins (back, centre) suggested the Conservative group were speaking out of self-interest. (Image: North Herts Council)

Cllr Ralph Muncer (Con) said that the Liberal Democrats raising the issue of "electoral reform...highlights how out of touch they really are".

"I've spoken to many, many people on the doorsteps...and not once, has the issue of electoral reform been raised.

"But I tell you what has been raised: the administrations proposals to cut waste services; the administration increasing car parking fees in our town centres; and the fact that under the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition here in North Herts you pay more and you get less for your money."

The Comet: Cllr Ralph Muncer (centre) spoke against the motion.Cllr Ralph Muncer (centre) spoke against the motion. (Image: North Herts Council)

He said that the government's response to a letter from North Herts Council would be "words to this effect: it's not going to happen".

Responding to Cllr Muncer, Cllr Lucas said: "He says its not a point that comes up on the doorstep. Really? So are you suggesting that our electorate aren't capable of having more than one conversation on more than one different matter?

"It is important to a lot of people and I think that you're paying a disservice to our electorate by suggesting that they're not able to deal with more than one issue.

"As for saying it's not going to happen, how can you be so disrespectful to the electorate and the democratic process?"

As the motion was passed, the council is now resolved to "call upon the UK government to commit to changing electoral law to permit the introduction of a PR system of voting".

Cllr Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg (Lab), leader of the council, will also write to the three local MPs "to ask them to call for a change to electoral law to permit a PR system of voting and promote the matter for debate in Parliament".