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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Tories have changed the rules for next week’s South Yorkshire mayoral election to make it more likely they’ll win

Candidates have described the change to the voting system as “antidemocratic” and “hugely disappointing”.

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Oliver Coppard was elected as the incumbent Mayor of South Yorkshire in 2022.

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.

The upcoming election for the next Mayor of South Yorkshire will be the first to take place since the government changed the electoral system to one that will make it more likely that Conservative Party candidates will win.

Elections for so-called ‘metro mayors’ across England used to use the Supplementary Vote (SV) system, which allowed voters to express a second preference if their first choice of candidate was knocked out of the race.

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Conservative candidate Nick Allen said the change made elections "simpler and easier" for voters.

But in 2022 the Conservative government passed legislation to switch to the First Past The Post (FPTP) system for all mayoral elections, including the upcoming vote in South Yorkshire on 2 May.

The switch to an FPTP system makes it more likely that Conservative candidates will win in metro mayor elections across the country, even if the majority of voters do not want a right-wing mayor. This is because voters for progressive parties are more likely to vote for other progressive parties under a preferential system such as SV.

Because there are fewer major right-wing parties (Reform UK have not put up a candidate in South Yorkshire), Conservative candidates are more likely to win under the FPTP system by splitting the progressive vote, even if a majority of voters opt for a progressive candidate.

The change to the voting system is unlikely to affect the result in South Yorkshire, where Labour incumbent Oliver Coppard won 43.1% of first preference votes in 2022, compared to 16.5% for the Conservative candidate and 13.4% for the Yorkshire Party candidate.


David Bettney, SDP candidate, said the change was "antidemocratic".

But in tighter races in Greater London, the West Midlands and the Tees Valley, the switch to First Past The Post is likely to benefit Conservative candidates and could tip the overall result in their favour.

The UK is one of relatively few countries in the world that still uses FPTP in elections. Most other countries in western Europe have switched to more proportional voting systems, which sees outcomes more accurately reflect the votes of the electorate.

The Institute for Government think-tank has said that the changeover for mayoral elections has "handed power back to the major parties," adding that it risked "allowing party political interest to trump public interest."

Poll position

Now Then asked each of the five candidates for Mayor of South Yorkshire to outline their position on the change in the voting system. We’ve listed their responses below in alphabetical order.

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Labour incumbent Oliver Coppard said he was against the move.

The Conservative Party candidate Nick Allen, a councillor in Doncaster, told Now Then that he supports the move.

"The change was introduced to bring PCC and Mayoral elections in line with English local council and Parliamentary elections which are First Past The Post,” he said. "The old system was not immune to criticism either as many people found it confusing and this was demonstrated by the fact there were always higher levels of spoiled ballots or rejected votes. Keeping things at First Past The Post means that elections are simpler and easier for voters to take part in."

He also said the move reduced costs as less resources were needed to count the votes, adding: "I do not think that this change unfairly supports any particular political party, or candidate, to be honest I doubt anyone could sustain a serious and intelligent argument about that."

David Bettney, a Mexborough-born businessman and candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), told Now Then that First Past The Post is "antidemocratic," whether in mayoral, local or general elections.

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Green candidate Douglas Johnson said the UK had one of the world's "least progressive voting systems".

"It just creates massive voter apathy," he added. "Even most Tory or Labour voters don't like their party, they just hate the other party more. It has reduced politics in the UK to: vote for your least worst option!"

The Labour Party incumbent Oliver Coppard told Now Then that he was against the change in the voting system.

Sheffield councillor and Green Party candidate for mayor Douglas Johnson told Now Then that the UK has "one of the most centralised governments in the developed world and one of the least progressive voting systems."

"Progressive campaigners have long campaigned for proportional representation," he continued. "Until recently, modern voters were offered a glimpse of that with a Supplementary Vote system for mayors and for the London Assembly. It is disappointing the government has now slammed shut the door on even this modest reform."


Hannah Kitching said the Lib Dems were "hugely disappointed" by the change.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on Barnsley Council, and their candidate for mayor, Hannah Kitching, told Now Then that her party were "fully committed to electoral reform and a move to more representative voting systems, specifically proportional representation."

"We have been fighting for this for decades," she added. "We were therefore hugely disappointed by the regressive step of changing mayoral elections from SV to FPTP."

In total, four of the candidates for mayor opposed the move to First Past The Post, with only the Conservative candidate supporting it.

Democratic roll-back

The change in the voting system to one that many democracy campaigners see as old-fashioned, unfair and regressive comes at a time when other aspects of democratic reform have stalled or gone into reverse.

As part of the same 2022 act which changed the voting system for mayoral elections, the Conservative government introduced mandatory photo ID for elections, claiming that this was required to tackle voter fraud despite Electoral Commission data showing this is a virtually non-existent problem in UK elections.

Research by the Commission found that people without photo ID were "more likely to be from disadvantaged groups, such as those who are renting from their local authority (17% of whom did not have the correct ID), those renting from a housing association (10%), those who are unemployed (14%), those from lower social grade (8% of those who are DE social grade), and those with lower levels of education (7%)."

Figures from 2021 also showed that while 24% of white people in England did not hold a full driving licence, this rose to 39% for Asian people and 47% for Black people.

In addition to this, there are concerns that AI generated images, videos and audio clips could become a serious issue for the upcoming general election, and that the government has not done enough to prevent this threatening the integrity of the vote.

Residents of South Yorkshire will be able to vote for the next mayor on Thursday 2 May, with local elections taking place in Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham on the same day.

Learn more

The election for the next Mayor of South Yorkshire takes place on 2 May. You will need a valid form of voter ID if voting in person. The location of your polling station is listed on your poll card.

The mayoral election will use the First Past The Post system, meaning that you can only vote for one candidate. This will be different to the last election, where you could vote for a second candidate.

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More Democracy & Activism