For at least half a million people, this year’s London Mayoral Elections will be the first time they’ve voted. Even for those who have voted before, this election is unique in the array of options presented to the voter. In an effort to clarify what it all means for Londoners, and thus help understand what we are voting for, let’s start with the basics.
The London Mayoral Elections are held every four years. It may come as a surprise to many, given the size of London and its stature amongst world cities, that there have only been two mayors to date (May 2016). Both have served two consecutive terms (8 years each).
The position of Mayor of London did not exist before 2000, when the first elections were held subsequent to a referendum in the city. The inaugural elected London mayor was Ken Livingstone (Labour). The subsequent mayor, Boris Johnson (Conservative), is the incumbent for the 2016 election.
As well as voting for the mayor, the same day also includes an election for the London Assembly Party and the London Assembly Candidate. In layman’s terms, this means that on the 5th May, all Londoners eligible to vote will have four possible votes to cast (an X in four boxes). It is not mandatory to cast all four votes, or indeed any, but the make up of the body that effectively governs London depends on the counting of all of these votes. So let’s discuss what each of these votes is for and how the voting process works.
The London Mayor
The London Mayor typically represents one of the main political parties in the UK, although independent candidates can and do run for office. As such, there may be a tendency to vote for them on the basis of how you might vote in a general election. However, the Mayor’s votes are unrelated to national government, so it is an opportunity to vote for the person who you feel will represent the best interests for the city as you see them, irrespective of their party allegiance.
In general terms, the London Mayor is the mayor for London as a whole. Individual boroughs also have either ceremonial or elected mayors, but they are outside of the scope of this election and discussion. The Mayor of London’s functions consist of strategic planning (along with the 25 members of the London Assembly, which we’ll cover later) with respect to housing, transport, policing and the environment. Decisions within the powers of this elected office include the refusal or agreement of planning permission on strategic grounds, economic development and transport policy. An example of an initiative that was successfully rolled out by London’s first Mayor, Ken Livingstone, is the Congestion Charge. He also oversaw the Oyster ticketing system. Another more recent example is the £1 billion of investment pledged by current mayor, Boris Johnson, towards cycling infrastructure throughout the capital. Boris also introduced London’s cycle hire scheme. Boris Johnson happens to be a keen cyclist; Ken Livingstone is known to be an avid supporter and user of public transport. So, from these examples, you can see that the passions of the mayor and their related pledges may well contribute to things that affect your everyday life as a Londoner in the future, and the lives of generations to come.
The London Mayor voting process
Anyone paying any attention will have noticed from the leaflets coming through their letterboxes that there will actually be three ballot papers on May 5th. The vote for LONDON MAYOR is cast using the PINK BALLOT PAPER. We will discuss the other ballot papers shortly, but the important thing to note is that only the votes on the pink paper affect who is elected Mayor of London. The other ballot papers have no influence on the outcome of who will be named the next Mayor of London.
On the pink ballot paper, you will have two choices to make i.e. an X in two boxes. These represent your first choice and second choice for Mayor of London. Hence, you can vote for a Labour candidate for your first choice and a Green Party candidate for your second, or a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative. It is solely down to your preferences regarding the individual who will take the office of Mayor of London 2016-2020. You could also leave your second choice blank. However, both votes may be important in the final decision, in accordance with the ‘Supplementary Vote System’.
The Supplementary Vote System is one where a first and second choice are expressed by the voter. An absolute majority of first choice votes (meaning over 50% of total first choice votes cast across all candidates) leads to an outright win, but in the absence of an absolute majority, second choice votes come into play. So, if the result is 48% of first choice votes for the leading candidate, the second vote bears significant impact. In this instance, the two leading candidates (based on percentage of all first choice votes cast) are chosen to move on to the next stage, with all others eliminated. Then, the second choice votes for each of these two remaining candidates are counted and added to the total of the first choice votes for each respective candidate. The outright winner is the person with the greatest number of first and second choice votes combined. It is therefore possible that the candidate with the most first choice votes can still lose once second choice votes are counted and added to the first choice votes to make an overall total. Note that second choice votes for candidates who were eliminated at the first stage of counting are not included i.e. they too are eliminated, as are blank second choice votes. Hopefully, this illustrates the importance of the second choice vote for London Mayor. Also note that the second choice vote has absolutely nothing to do with who is appointed Deputy Mayor, which is an internal appointment by the Mayor’s office.
The London Assembly Party and the London Assembly Constituency Member
Now, as if this all wasn’t confusing enough already, you also have another two Xs to think about. One of these is for the London Assembly Party (the orange ballot paper) and the other is for London Assembly Constituency Member (the yellow ballot paper). It is important to realise that these offices have nothing to do with your local council. These votes do nothing to change who your local councillors are or which party controls your particular locality in London. Instead, they decide who sits on an overall governing body for London as a whole, from where strategic plans are made and then devolved to local councils for implementation within a particular remit. The importance of this body and its members is discussed below.
What is the London Assembly and what do they do?
The London Assembly is a group of 25 elected members that, combined with the office of Mayor of London, form the Greater London Authority (GLA). A number of committees have been formed by the London Assembly that cover budget, economy, education, environment, housing, policing and transport, amongst other areas. One of the key roles of the London Assembly is to scrutinise the strategic and budgetary plans proposed by the London Mayor. The Assembly has the power to amend the Mayor’s annual budget or reject certain draft strategies of the Mayor, requiring a two-thirds majority to do so. Put another way, if 18 of the 25 members of the London Assembly agree, they can change such plans provided by the Mayor of London. This shows the importance of representation within the London Assembly.
The London Assembly Constituency Member Vote
There are 14 member seats that correspond to the territorial constituencies which Greater London is divided into, e.g. Brent and Harrow, Barnet and Camden, etc. This ensures local representation within the London Assembly. When voting for your area’s LONDON ASSEMBLY CONSTIUENCY MEMBER, using the YELLOW BALLOT PAPER, you put an X for the individual you would prefer to see as a member of the assembly. The individual candidates are generally associated with a political party, but may also be independent. It is interesting to note that these seats have only ever been won by the Labour and Conservative Parties to date, being based on constituency representation, rather than proportional representation. This is more typical of the way that a general election would work. In an attempt to find a compromise that is more representative of how Londoners feel as a whole, the London Assembly Party Vote, discussed below, uses a form of proportional representation. Again, note that the person voted in for a particular London Assembly constituency has no impact on the existing local government for any related constituency, meaning that you could theoretically have a Conservative local council but a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Constituency Member for the part of London where you live.
The London Assembly Party Vote
When voting for the LONDON ASSEMBLY, using the ORANGE BALLOT PAPER, you put an X for the political party you wish to see a greater representation of in office, e.g. Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green, etc. as opposed to a particular individual for your constituency. The actual people that will sit on the London Assembly as a result of the Party vote are selected from a list of candidates for a particular party, e.g. Green, that is closed to the public vote (though the candidates on that list are named publicly). As such, you vote for the party’s manifesto as a whole, rather than personal attributes, such as locality, of the members. This vote accounts for the remaining 11 of 25 members of the London Assembly. These 11 seats are distributed using a form of proportional representation (the D’Hondt method), meaning that they will typically comprise of more than one party, according to the percentage of votes for each party out of the total number of all votes cast. Moreover, because the member seats won are based on the proportion of votes across all Londoners, rather than in a particular constituency as with the London Assembly Candidate, it is possible for smaller parties to win seats, such has historically been the case with the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the British National Party.
Where you place your four Xs is ultimately based on a variety of factors. Some may be driven by party allegiance, historical voting patterns, a true belief in an individual or a smaller party’s manifesto. Many parties make similar pledges, albeit with limited details regarding how they will succeed. You might then be inclined towards who you believe most. Or you might want to make an impact on the diversity of the London Assembly, to be more reflective of how you see London. Voting is a very personal decision, sometimes tactical, but an essential part of what we call democracy. The election for London Mayor is unique in its amalgamation of different voting and counting processes in an effort to be more representative of the entire population of our wonderfully diverse city. In spite of the confusion it can cause, it should also be applauded for the attempt to do it a bit differently.
Now, do your part to shape your city’s future and MAKE SURE YOU VOTE (and use all four of your votes)!
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