On May 4 there will be an election for a metro mayor, who will have the power to dramatically affect transport, planning and skills training issues in Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset. The metro mayor will have a budget of £30m a year, mainly from central government.
We make no secret of the fact that this devolution could and should have been handled a lot better by central government. The three councils reluctantly accepted the cash with conditions, and North Somerset actually refused to join in. It is vital that whoever is elected to the position can work with all the councils, as well as having good contacts with central government to get things done.
Partly because of the fact that Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrat candidate and ex-government minister, is so much more experienced and better known than the Labour or Tory candidates, Ladbrokes have made the Lib Dems even money favourites for a win. Local media seem to have it as a close race between Conservatives (11/10) and Lib Dems, with Labour quoted at 7/1 and others at 50/1 or more. Some confirmation of the accuracy of those odds comes from the news that the Greens are having to put out public appeals to try to raise their deposit, and from reports of infighting and campaign difficulties within the Labour camp.
Whatever the party you normally vote for, it is vital that the unusual voting system is explained, as during the other times it has been used locally, there has been widespread failure for electors to get the most from the system. Every voter is entitled to a first and second preference: the first preference votes are counted and the top two candidates go through to a run off. All the votes cast for candidates not in the first two are then looked at, and if their second preference vote is for one of the two candidates still in, their vote is added on as if it was a first vote.
A hypothetical example of five sample votes cast:
· One vote for the Conservative candidate, who finishes first on first preference.
· One vote for the UKIP candidate, who is eliminated but whose second choice of Conservative gets an addition.
· One vote for the Lib Dem candidate, who finishes second.
· One vote for the Green candidate, who is eliminated but whose second preference adds to the Lib Dems.
· One vote for the Labour candidate, who is eliminated but whose second preference adds to the Lib Dems.
For these five sample votes, the Lib Dems beat the Conservatives 3-2 but of course nobody knows for sure who the top two will be, so the second vote may not count. Not putting a second preference clearly reduces the chances of influencing the top vote; expressing a second preference cannot harm your first choice.
So you can vote for whichever party you want, but still have an influence upon the result if your first choice is out of the running.
Why would anyone make the effort to go to the polling station or register for a postal vote and then not fully use their right to choose? This is not a proper proportional voting system, but in this election the second preferences could still make all the difference.
Gary Hopkins is a Liberal Democrat Councillor for the ward of Knowle.
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