Posted: Fri 3rd Nov 2023

Councillor “disgusted” by fellow member’s dismissal of alternative voting system /

A COUNCILLOR has said she was “disgusted” after another member described an alternative way of electing councillors as “dangerous”. 
Labour councillor Rachel Garrick was responding to comments made by Conservative Rachel Buckler, who wanted Monmouthshire Council to rule out any future use of the single transferable vote system, despite councillors having already agreed to do so. 
Councillors in Wales are elected by the first-past-the-post system, through which the candidate with the single largest number of votes cast is the one elected.
But the Welsh Government has given councils the power to switch to the single transferable vote system.  Known as STV, it allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, with a number elected to represent any one area. The system is intended to produce results which better reflect the range of support.
But Cllr Rachel Buckler, who was elected to represent the Devauden ward at a by-election last October after gaining 268 votes – 40 per cent of those cast and 58 more than the Labour candidate – claimed STV would “diminish the bond between the electorate and their elected representatives”. 
The Conservative councillor said: “Removing the link from local government removes what really matters. This is a dangerous road to travel and doesn’t do our residents justice to pursue it.” 
She added: “I hope members will stand up for their residents and vote to dismiss the threat of STV to accountable local democracy in Monmouthshire.” 
But that prompted Labour’s Caldicot Castle member Rachel Garrick to respond: “I have never, ever, ever heard a democratic voting system described as being dangerous. I’m disgusted somebody would say that in this chamber.
“STV allows a consensus to be arrived at. It’s absolutely terrible to suggest STV is dangerous it is a fair way of achieving representation which is more fair.” 
Cllr Buckler’s motion had also called for the council to direct the Labour-led cabinet “not to waste any further time or resources on this issue”. 
But Cllr Garrick, who is a cabinet member, accused Cllr Buckler’s motion of being “incredibly time wasting” as she said STV had already been rejected by councillors. A seminar had been arranged for all councillors before it was ruled out by the democratic services committee and the requirement for wards electing at least three councillors wasn’t considered suitable for Monmouthshire. 
Bulwark and Thornwell councillor Armand Watts said he had been sceptical of the introduction of some two member wards, but found he and Labour colleague Sue Riley, who now both represent their part of Chepstow, offer an “enhanced” service. 
Cllr Watts said: “I was a traditionalist and I had represented the people for 18 years and then Sue came along and spoiled my fun, but despite our differences, and Sue was a social worker which terrified me, we work really well together.” 
Closing her debate Cllr Buckler said she was thinking of more than two member wards which she said made it more likely some councillors would “not take accountability” but also said she “took exception to being insulted by another councillor” and asked for an apology from Cllr Garrick. 
The Labour councillor said she “did not understand” what Cllr Buckler was referring to in what was one of several disputes between the Labour and Conservative groups over procedures during the seven hour meeting. 
The council’s solicitor told Cllr Garrick she could consider making a code of conduct complaint after she said she was “really, really upset” by Cllr Buckler’s comments who had also said it was “disgraceful” that way Cllr Garrick responds to other councillors.  
The vote was defeated by 21 votes to 20 with the independents voting in favour of the motion with the Conservative group. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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