Saturday, 7 November 2015

Voters should know who is on the party list

Last year, the Electoral Commission issued a discussion paper on the format of the regional ballot paper to be presented to voters in the Welsh Assembly elections. The intention was for the EC to issue a recommendation in December 2014 and for the Westminster government to make a decision earlier in this year. However, it seems from this news item that the matter is still being weighed up.

The sooner we can do away with top-up lists for the general elections in Scotland and Wales the better. Unfortunately, they were the only form of proportional representation that the Labour Party would accept during the devolution negotiations in the 1990s. One can see the appeal to a party which believes in strong central direction. However, they also mean that when electors are casting their vote to enable a balance in the national assemblies reflecting the balance of opinion in the nation, they are buying into the parties' estimation of the best people for the job. We should at least enable voters to put a face and a reputation to each of the people on the list.

As Ceredigion MP Mark Williams, the deputy leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “Regional AMs of all parties work hard for the people that they represent, and build up personal name recognition in their own right among communities in their area. Not putting candidate names on the regional ballot papers, as was the case in 2011, weakens the link between the electors and the elected, makes our democracy more distant and faceless, and decreases transparency.

“That’s surely something that no-one can support.”

The list names were on the ballot in the first Welsh general election. Labour when they had majorities in both London and Cardiff had them removed for the spurious reason that they made the ballot paper too complicated. One assumes that the real motivation was that certain regional AMs - like South Wales West's Peter Black - were becoming too well-known in their own right. An indication of this is that the compromise of displaying the full list in polling stations was honoured more in the breach than the observance in at least one Labour-controlled council area.

Mark Williams is pressing Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb to make a decision.

Reinstating candidate names on regional ballot papers is something that’s supported by many organisations... The decision has been with the Secretary of State for many months, and all those involved need a decision as soon as possible in order to make arrangements for the upcoming Assembly elections. I do hope he will support our calls.

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