UK Government plans to allow Assembly candidates to fight seats and stand on regional lists show ‘utter contempt’ for voters

Western Mail

For the last two Assembly elections in 2007 and 2011 losers could not become winners as they had previously been able to do by standing in both the constituency and regional list categories.

But the Government now plans to reverse the ban on dual candidacy imposed by Parliament in 2006 after widespread abuses of the system in Wales.

I readily confess to being one of the Welsh Ministers who, prior to devolution, took the original 1998 Government of Wales Bill through Parliament which permitted dual candidature.

But I never for one moment imagined the abuses that it would produce, and the antipathy which it would create.

Voters never understood that it was widespread practice, since the Assembly was established in 1999 up until 2007 for candidates rejected by a particular constituency to then secure backdoor election as Assembly members through the regional list and were then even able to claim to represent the very constituency that had rejected them.

The ban has affected all candidates of all Parties by preventing each one from having a two-way bet with voters. It does not advantage any party.

The ban simply puts the voters in charge by ensuring that, if they defeat a candidate in the constituency vote, that candidate does not get elected in defiance of their popular will.

I cannot see how such an elementary virtue of democracy can be disputed by genuine democrats.

At a time when the political class is held in lower repute than at any time in the history of British democracy, the very idea that the Government are proceeding to ensure election losers become winners is absolutely extraordinary.

It holds the electorate in utter contempt.

Prior to the 2006 ban regional AMs who lost a constituency vote, were able to work within the same constituency that had rejected them and effectively run a four year election campaign focussing upon high profile publicity campaigning while never having to confront the tough issues of daily representation by passing the buck to the constituency member.

The Government simply will not acknowledge the fundamental democratic abuse of dual candidacy which is that losers become winners, that voters are second guessed and contradicted by the system, their choices denied.

In Clwyd West in 2003 every one of the three losing party candidates nevertheless ‘won’.

In 1999, 17 out of the 20 regional AMs elected lost constituency elections. Voters had not voted for them, and yet 15 of these 20 had offices in the constituencies they failed to be elected in.

In the Conwy Constituency the Lib Dem AM Christine Humphreys came fourth in the popular vote, she had less than 10% of the vote in Conwy, yet still became an AM for the North Wales Region.

In Wrexham the Plaid AM Janet Ryder came last in the constituency with 2,659 votes – the constituency AM had 9,239 – and yet still Mrs Ryder became an AM through the backdoor.

In Ynys Mon the Tory AM Peter Rogers won 6,031 votes, third on the constituency list, the Plaid Cymru AM who won a majority had over 16,000 votes and still Peter Rogers became an AM for the North Wales region.

It is not a partisan argument but simply a truth to state these results are fundamentally undemocratic.

In the North Wales region during the 1999 election more than 215,000 Welsh men and women voted.

Were you to take a look at every individual who ran as a constituency candidate in that election, and collated their votes together, Christine Humphreys, Janet Ryder and Peter Rogers polled less than 6% of the total regional vote and yet still they became AMs for that very same region…

There is a simple question both the government and critics of Parliament’s 2006 ban cannot answer.

And it is this: If candidates cannot persuade voters to vote for them, why should they nevertheless be forced upon voters through the backdoor?

The people of Wales are entitled to an answer even if this Government cannot give it to them by ramming through this highly contentious, undemocratic and thoroughly objectionable clause in the Wales Bill which otherwise in its broad features enjoys a fair degree of cross-party consensus.

The fundamental point is that the Government of Wales Act 2006 put the voters back in charge.

If voters did not want to elect somebody, they did not have to do so. If they reject a candidate that candidate should not end up representing them. We should keep the voters in charge by opposing this change.