Rotten Boroughs

The Government report into what’s been going on at Rotherham is damning stuff.

Casey, the government’s lead official on troubled families, said the council lacked “the necessary skills, abilities, experience and tenacity within either the member or senior officer leadership teams”.

Concluding that the council needs a fresh start, Casey’s 154-page report said: “The council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures.

“The council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses without a sustained intervention.”

She also criticised the council’s deep-rooted culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring hard issues, writing: “RMBC goes to some length to cover up information and to silence whistleblowers.”

There’s a lot of blame to go round, but one root cause of these rotten boroughs is an electoral system that results in single party fiefdoms in any party’s heartlands, especially those of Labour. Don’t be distracted by the fact there are currently ten UKIP councillors in Roherham; they were only elected in 2013 after the scandal broke. Before that it was a monolithic one-party state run by the Labour Party.

You might assign some of the blame to an electorate who vote in local elections on national issues along tribal lines, without paying enough attention to what the people they elect get up to in office. But the bigger villain is the first-past-the-post electoral system, deeply flawed and anti-democratic at national level, and utterly unfit for purpose at local level. Even if Rotherham had remained firmly in Labour control, it’s difficult to believe the presence of a viable opposition group on the council would not have bought these terrible problems to light earlier.

The 2015 general election is likely to produce a second successive hung Parliament, in which the distribution of seats will bear little resemblance to the distribution of votes. Electoral reform for parliamentary elections is likely to be high on the political agenda. Does Rotherham make the case for parallel reform of local government even more important?

Electoral reform is sometimes dismissed as a pastime for political anoraks. But Rotherham demonstates why it does actually matter.

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