This piece was first published in the brilliant Colchester 101 magazine. Copies are available for free around pubs, shops and other public places in the town.
Did you get the chance to vote in the recent Colchester Borough Council local elections? Was your ward one of the twenty seats that were rotated in the rather bizarre Election by Thirds system that is operated in Colchester? Notice any change overnight?
Welcome to the new boss – same as the old boss.
No seats changed hands. A big civic congratulations to the seventeen Councillors who retained their seats, plus the three incoming Councillors replace their retiring colleagues from the same party. Colchester Borough Council is still made up of a ruling coalition of 26 LibDems and 7 Labour seats, with 24 Conservatives and 3 Independents in opposition.
So what the chuffers was that all about, then?
Accountability, keeping Councillors on their toes, and working for every single vote are the arguments in favour of asking the residents of Colchester to vote three years out of four in a ward rotation system. The electorate also has the chance to kick out any party that isn’t performing, rather than wait once every four years in the traditional all up for grabs system.
It can also lead to instability if the Council changes hands each year and there is insufficient time to implement the manifesto. Which may just happen to be very convenient for a local political party…
But here in Colchester and there is a tradition of consensual local politics. Some tribalism exists come election time, but when it comes to making Colchester a better place to live and work, most local politicians present a rather united front.
The coalition may be a little rocky at Westminster, but the current Colchester coalition between the LibDems and Labour seems to have found a positive, working compromise. Decisions are made in an almost apolitical vacuum with the good of Colchester genuinely being the driving force for local political policy.
Which all makes the farce and cost of mounting a campaign three years out of every four something slightly unnecessary. There is almost the danger of manufacturing division within what is a relatively unified borough. With major events such as the city status bid, the Carnival and the Colchester Free Festival all coming up, consensus politics is vitally important for our town right now.
Add in the uncertainty of economic funding from central government – something that all borough councils of all persuasions around the county are having to confront – and you can see how doing the dirty on your Colchester coalition partner on the door step can’t be a positive approach for the challenges that lay ahead for us.
And so if you did get the chance to vote in the recent Colchester Borough Council local elections, then here’s hoping that you actually took the opportunity to participate. Political apathy is even less preferable to Election by Thirds.
If you weren’t in one of the twenty wards that had the opportunity of a trip to the polling station, then no worries – your time will come round, sooner rather than later. But for a unified borough, I can’t but help think that we need a unified system of an election system.