Green councillor accuses Labour leader of choosing ‘petty party politics’ over leading on fair votes

Green party Assembly Member Caroline Russell

Speaking out: Green Party councillor Caroline Russell. Photograph: GLA

Sole opposition councillor Caroline Russell (Green) has accused the council leader of choosing “petty party politics” over the opportunity to be a country leader on the issue of fair votes and proportional representation.

Her remarks follow Islington Labour’s unanimous rejection of Cllr Russell’s motion calling on the council to support both proportional representation and the retention of voting rights for EU citizens, which she tabled at the full council meeting on 5 July.

The amended version of the motion, proposed by council leader Cllr Richard Watts, failed to include any mention of proportional representation.

It was this version of the motion that was passed, which only called on the council to support rights of EU citizens to vote and stand in local elections.

Cllr Russell told the Citizen: “Councils have the power to lobby government for change. It’s why the Labour council regularly puts forward motions on issues it has no direct control over, like indefinite detention.”

“The council had an opportunity to be a country leader on the issue of fair votes and proportional representation, but it chose petty party politics instead.”

“If local councils don’t speak up about their own situation, why should government even think there is a need for change?” said Cllr Russell, following Islington Labour’s move to scrap any mention of proportional representation that was put forward in her original motion [p53-54).

In the reply the council leader drew a comparison between Cllr Russell’s motion and the two motions that Islington Labour put forward at the meeting.

Cllr Watts said: “Islington Labour once again received the overwhelming support of local people at the local elections.”

“61 per cent of people backed our bold plans to make Islington a fairer place for all and I am very proud that Islington Labour was the only borough-wide party to increase its share of the vote.

“The substantive motion that was passed at Full Council rightly condemned the Government’s trial of requiring voters to present photo ID in order to be able to vote – this was not mentioned in the original motion.

“In the areas where the Government’s trials at the local elections took place, they disenfranchised thousands of people, and are particularly discriminatory to older people, younger people, BAME communities, trans people and disabled people.

“The substantive motion also made clear our calls for the government to guarantee the full rights of EU citizens living here, including their right to be able to take part in future local elections.

“We recognise differing views about voting systems, but the council has no power over which system is used and it is the government’s responsibility to answer questions about how the election system can contribute to increasing participation at elections.

“At the same meeting Islington Labour put forward a motion calling for parity of esteem between mental and physical health services in the NHS, and a motion calling for an end to indefinite detention – two very serious issues that matter to local people.

“I think the choice of topics for motions by the two political parties at the first Full Council meeting since the election speaks volumes about which party is committed to making a difference to local people on the issues that matter to them.”

In her original motion, Russell noted that Make Votes Matter and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform published a report last year that lays out many the party’s concerns with the First Past the Post voting system.

In May’s local elections,  Islington Labour garnered 61 per cent of the votes, and won 98 per cent (47) of the seats. The Greens got 16 per cent of the votes, winning 2 per cent (one) of the seats.

Cllr Russell has since said that “Labour could have benefited from proportional representation in 2006”.

In that year, the Liberal Democrats retained control of the council despite winning only 33.1 per cent of the votes, whilst Labour won 34.9 per cent of the votes.