MVM Worthing has been an active MVM local group since its launch on 22nd August, when they “occupied” Worthing’s multi storey car park as part of the MVM Summer Day of Action. Since then, they have been wondering… what would the share of seats on Worthing Council be if the local elections used a proportional system? Peter Cheng and Debbie Woudman, are co-organisers of the MVM Worthing group; Peter analysed the data and together they present their findings below: 

“It will take an act of Parliament to bring in a change to the voting system, but we think it’s worth asking how things could be different. Making the comparison gives us a feel for how PR works and will also increase local people’s awareness of the benefits of PR.   

We wrote to the Council’s Election Officer and they helpfully supplied us with a spreadsheet of data covering all the elections. Worthing Borough Council has 37 seats and is made up of 13 wards.  Most wards have 3 councillors and about 87,000 people voted in the 2016, 2018 and 2019 local elections for the current gaggle of councillors.  The share of the votes was, approximately: 

  • Conservative – 42%

  • Labour – 30%

  • Lib Dem – 14%

  • UKIP – 8%

  • Green – 7%

If the election was truly proportional, a little arithmetic shows that the share of the seats should have been: 

  • Conservative – 16 

  • Labour – 11

  • Lib Dem – 5

  • UKIP – 3 

  • Green – 2

If all these numbers are a little hard to follow, this double-ring diagram may help.  It shows how votes would translate into council seats.  The inner ring shows percentages of votes cast for each party and the outer ring shows the number of seats under PR.  As the size of the wedges for the numbers votes for each party is the same as the wedge for numbers of councillors the allocation is fair.

Worthing graph1.png

What actually happened in Worthing under First Past the Post?  This second double-ring diagram shows the actual distribution of seats.  

Worthing graph 2.png

Labour received one seat less than is fair; the Lib Dems won two fewer than fair; UKIP got two fewer than fair; and the Greens got none, even though they should have had two councillors.  Most strikingly, the Conservatives won 23 seats, an undeserved excess of seven seats, which means they have an overall majority on the Council.  On average 2,200 votes were cast for each seat, but in reality the price for a Conservative seat was cheap, at 1,500 votes per councillor.  UKIP’s seat cost over four times as much, at 6,800 votes per councillor, and Green votes were simply worthless.  

It is easy to calculate the fair PR number of Councillors. For the second of the double-ring diagrams, we imagined Worthing as one big constituency.  We even worked out what the result would have been under a different system of PR, in which each ward was its own “mini-constituency”.  That worked fairly well – all the parties would have been within 1 seat of the exactly proportional result, but with the wrinkle that UKIP who would have won no seats. 

A majority of Councillors for one party is significant and important, as that party dominates the Council: it can win every vote in Council it proposes and defeat other motions even when all the other parties unanimously support it.  As a consequence there is real discontent across the town with the performance of the Council, because the majority party are acting in partisan fashion and seem to be thoroughly discounted from views of many in our town.  This was recently brought to a head last month when a motion in support of Black Lives Matter, from the Worthing’s only ethnic minority Councillor, was put down by the tribal block vote of the majority

We feel sure that PR would make our Council more democratic and less of a victim to the narrow interests of a minority who arbitrarily won a majority.  We are certain fair representation of voters would lead to greater collaboration among our Councillors and better serve our town.  

If you would like help to calculate the fair distribution of seats for your local or district council send an email to makevotesmatterworthing@gmail.com .

What’s next: MVM Worthing are in the process of surveying their local councillors about their views on Proportional Representation; watch this space for the findings!

Peter Cheng and Debbie Wouldman, co-organisers of MVM Worthing”

In addition, if you’re a local councillor yourself and want to campaign for PR, please join the MVM local councillors network.