Elections

Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has welcomed a government announcement that future elections will be ‘first past the post’ – but his opponents say the move is “unfair”.

Government ministers confirmed this week the new system would be introduced, calling the current ‘alternative vote’ method – which gives people the ability to rank candidates based on a ‘1, 2, 3’ preference – “confusing and over-complicated”.

Chloe Smith, minister of state for constitution and devolution, said: “The government believes that first past the post is a more straightforward way of electing representatives, which is transparent to both voters and administrators and results in a more accessible system.

“The change will provide clear local accountability in a readily understandable way, making it easier for voters to express a clear choice: the person chosen to represent a local area will be the one who directly receives the most votes.”

Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones, who was re-elected to his position in May with 102,813 votes,  welcomed the change.

Mr Jones, who is chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “It is our accountability at the ballot box that enables us to be an effective, connected, and a credible voice for the public on policing and crime reduction.

“The current voting system is less well understood than first past the post and has an impact on the public’s willingness and ability to participate in PCC elections in an informed way.

“Adopting first past the post will ensure the outcomes of elections always accurately reflect voters’ views and preferences.”

The move has already come under scrutiny from organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society who called it an “attack on voters” and  said “far from improving accountability, [it] would undermine the legitimacy of those elected”.

Winners and losers from the 2021 PCC elections, from left, David Williams (Independent), Rosie Kirk (Labour), victor Marc Jones (Conservative), Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Escreet (Reform UK).

Rosanne Kirk, Lincolnshire’s Labour candidate who came second with 34,310 votes in the last PCC election, said first pas the post was an “unfair” system.

She said it benefitted the Conservative party by widening the gap between votes.

“It’s a fairer system with alternative vote,” she said.

“If you have the system as it is there’s a second choice, whereas if you go to first past the post it just suits the Conservative party in this area.

Ross Pepper, the Liberal Democrat candidate, who took 10,172 votes and came third in May, said first pas the post was “always an unfair system”.

However, he added: “While alternative vote is better than first past the post, it’s not the best system out there. I would always oppose any system that was unrepresentative of the people.”

He said engagement with the PCC election was “already low” and if people felt their vote was not going to mean anything then they would be further disengaged.

The turnout for the 2021 election was 31%.

“We need a system where people feel their vote counts,” said Mr Pepper.

“It’s almost like people have joined a job for life, it isn’t a system that’s democratic because its impossible for people to change it.

“For smaller parties it’s so, so difficult to make that break. Alternative vote was one step to break that system but there are so many other options out there.”

Councillors have suggested Stamford would be better off under a joint council with neighbours Rutland — instead of Lincolnshire — after a major political shake-up is proposing splitting the MP constituency from Grantham, while MPs argue Rutland should join Lincolnshire instead.

The Boundary Commission for England’s latest proposals, which bid to increase fair representation in national elections, revealed plans to split the Grantham and Stamford constituency. Instead Stamford would join Rutland in a new ward, while Grantham would remain separate.

Elsewhere, South Holland would be renamed the South Lincolnshire constituency losing The Deepings, but gaining several South Boston villages.

Harrish Bisnauthsing, Liberal Democrat South Kesteven District Councillor for Stamford St Mary’s, said the plans “make sense”, but suggested the national changes could also be reflected at a local authority level.

“It’s going to make Rutland closer to Stamford. which I’m pleased about because we have a very alike council and people. [It] will be very beneficial for Stamford.

He then added “Rutland and south South Kesteven [councils] coming together would make a nice new authority, probably bringing in South Holland, if you look further down the line.

“Lincolnshire’s too big, it’s too far away from Stamford to serve the town, and the south of this county, properly.”

The proposed new boundaries for Lincolnshire.

He said the Stamford way of thinking was closer to Rutland, and believed the councils would have a better way of spending and plenty of resources.

Conservative Councillor for Stamford St John’s, Susan Sandall said there had “always been mention” of the two authorities being the same area council-wise.

“Stamford seems a little cut-off because of our location. The people of Stamford look at it as it seems a good idea and we might get a little more done,” she said.

She said the new constituency might be “a little difficult” for the MP to cover the same areas councillors were, adding: “I don’t know how it’s going to work to be honest.”

“The people of Stamford want a well-kept town and the facilities available for social shopping, and that’s really more what they’re looking for.”

“The MP will still have concerns and will still be there when they have problems,” she said.

“The only thing is it’s going to be a little bit difficult for the MP himself if he’s covering a different era to that we [councillors] are working for.

“There’s always been mention about Rutland and Stamford being part of the same area council-wise.”

South Kesteven District Council Stamford Councillors Conservative Susan Sandall (left) and Liberal Democrat Harrish Bisnauthsing.

SKDC Labour Group leader Councillor Charmaine Morgan said the boundary review would lead to less representation in Parliament for voters and would not address the “fair allocation of resources” across the country.

She called instead for changes to the voting system, and said proportional representation would “make every vote count”.

“What we need are committed local MPs fighting for our communities. The current proposals overall appear less democratic rather than more.

“As we are currently ruled by a government holding a significant majority of seats but minority of votes, there is clearly something wrong with the current system.”

However, leader of South Holland District Council Lord Gary Porter does not think Stamford will leave Lincolnshire.

“Whether people like it or not, Stamford is in Lincolnshire and not Rutland. I find it difficult to see any changes coming there. They tried that before and it didn’t go down very well.

“They are proud of their independence over there. I don’t think this is a precursor to springing Stamford out of Lincolnshire.”

South Holland District Council leader, Lord Gary Porter.

Lord Porter did not think the changes to the South Holland constituency would make “much impact”.

“We have been working well with people in the Deepings and it will be a shame to lose them,” he said.

“But we also work well with the people in the south of Boston.”

He said he felt the constituency, which has been represented by MP John Hayes since its creation in 1997, would be “80% stable”.

Lord Porter added that any changes needed to be made based on scientific evidence rather than pure numbers and needed to ensure people did not lose their sense of the place they belong to.

South Holland and The Deepings MP John Hayes felt the boundary proposal would not change the political landscape in his area, however, did not agree with the name change.

“It would be much more sensible to call it South Holland and Holland Fen or South Holland and Swineshead.

“Names do matter, it’s a good way of maintaining continuity. I shall certainly make that case that South Holland should continue to be part of the constituency name.”

In response to the suggestions over Stamford, he said he was “always against boundaries crossing county lines”.

“Counties matter, Stamford has always been a part of Lincolnshire. It’s a Lincolnshire town and long should it remain so. I would rather have Rutland come and join us, not the other way around.

“County integrity matters. It would be great to have the cooperation of Rutland in Lincolnshire.”

Current MP for Grantham and Stamford Gareth Davies, who won by a majority of 26,003 in the 2019 elections, refused to comment.

MP for Rutland Alicia Kearns said: “Like residents, I will be taking time to study the proposals.

“Rutland, Melton, the Vale and our Harborough villages are uniquely wonderful, and any boundary changes must protect and enhance services, representation and support for our residents.

“I am committed to our communities as your representative in Parliament and continue to work as hard as I can to deliver the very best for all of us.”

The new Rutland and Stamford constituency and the wards it includes.

Councillor Mrs Patricia Bradwell, Deputy Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: “We will be looking at the proposals in detail including those for Stamford before deciding on our reply to the consultation by August 2. We’ll be responding in the best interests of the county as a whole and its residents.”

Other areas of the county will see further general boundary movements as a result of the major changes. These include:

  • Gainsborough loses part of Wragby to Louth and Horncastle (74,332 – 74,750)
  • Louth and Horncastle’s boundaries will see Chapel Orby and East Kirkby moved into Boston and Skegness (74,617 – 73,791)
  • Boston and Skegness’ will move back from Boston West, Brothertoft, Algarkirk, Holland Fen into new South Lincs constituency (66,250 – 71,680)
  • Sleaford and North Hykeham will see its Western, Northern and Eastern borders remain pretty much the same, though its electorate will go from 86,652 to 73,380
  • Lincoln would remain pretty much exactly the same, except a small square of land between Somerton Gate Lane and Lowfields Farm to the south leaving the Sleaford constituency. Its electorate at that point will be 74,128.

To the north of Lincolnshire, the Scunthorpe constituency will be extended to the Humber, taking in areas such as Winteringham and Whitton.

Former Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin.

Former Labour MP Nic Dakin, who lost to Conservative Holly Mumby-Croft in 2019, said he was surprised by the level of additional area, considering future housing growth, but did not think the move would “radically change the local political complexion”.

“They have quite strong connections to Scunthorpe, so it would make sense in terms of coherence of people,” he said.

“The areas that are being added tend to have Conservative representation at council level, but with reasonably close outcomes.

“But the area is winnable for both Conservatives and Labour.”

He said the key for Labour was to win back voters “we lost in the wake of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – neither of which were indicative of those voters”.

However, he refused to be drawn into confirming whether he would be standing again in 2024.

Grimsby MP Lia Nici said the merger with Cleethorpes wasn’t set in stone: “Grimsby is also going to have to change as we are a relatively small constituency.

“We have had boundary changes for the past 800 years. It may mean losing Scartho which would be a great shame especially as it is where I started my political career.

“The reality is to make sure I continue to work for my constituents and make sure I do a good job by campaigning and lobbying, should I be re-elected in the future.”

The proposals are now out for public consultation until August 2, 2021.

Former Labour Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Keith Hunter has reflected fondly on his five-year tenure in the role as he is replaced by the late-entry Conservative candidate Jonathan Evison after two election vote counts on Saturday.

Mr Evison, currently Mayor of North Lincolnshire, beat Mr Hunter after winning 74,534 votes compared to his 71,615. The turnout was 22% and the PCC job is to oversee the work of their local police force.

In a statement, Mr Hunter said when he first joined as PCC in 2016, “the Humberside force was at its lowest ebb […] and is now recognised throughout the country as the most improved force and one of the very best”.

He added: “The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) now has its own identity and role in communities, having moved beyond the old-fashioned, bureaucratic Police Authority model I inherited.”

Mr Hunter said he has “built for the future in a sustainable manner” with the introduction of a ‘smart contact’ system for the force to improve call handling and communication, a new building to house a new force control room and enhanced computer system.

It is a task I put nearly 40 years of experience into and I gave it my all. I hope and believe I added some value.”

Mr Hunter wanted to thank the Humberside Chief Constable Lee Freeman for his “outstanding leadership and support” as well as pay tribute to the volunteers, special constables, staff and other officers at Humberside Police.

“Elated” new PCC Jonathan Evison told Local Democracy Reporters: “There were no surprises given the national picture, although I came into the race late in the day.

“I’ve been on the Police and Crime Panel for seven years and I have good connections across the region.”

New Conservative Humberside PCC, Jonathan Evison. | Image: Supplied

In Lincolnshire, Conservative Marc Jones retained his PCC title with a 57% majority of the votes, from the first count.

Speaking to The Lincolnite, he said: “It’s very gratifying to have concluded today on the first count, that was a really positive thing for what I’ve delivered so far.

“But I’m under no illusions having spoken to many around the county there’s an awful lot more work to do.”

Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones.

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