The surprise news that three councillors have suddenly resigned from Draycott Council means that a procedure to fill the empty seats must now be put in train. The council has already issued the ‘vacancies notice’.
What happens now? Well, the official line is: “If someone would like to see an election take place for the vacant posts, they must send a letter to that effect, under-signed by ten local electors, to the official Returning Officer (at Leek) by midnight on the 28th June. If no election is requested, the councillors themselves will decide who should fill the posts.”
Democracy & elections
On the face of it, a by-election is a good thing. Democracy thrives on electors having a voice in who they want to represent them. Leaving the choice to councillors is a poor second-best.
Also, Draycott Council, like all councils, sets aside a financial reserve, ready each year, so that it has all the cash it needs to pay for an election. (Village councils cannot carry out their own elections, but must pay a recognised authority to do it for them).
In the last twenty years, Draycott has only had two bye-elections, so the election reserve is pretty big!
The main stumbling block is that a by-election will cost around £3,500 – a third of the council’s yearly income. Elections are a good thing in principle, but some in the village argue that this is too much to spend, and would prefer no election to happen.
Elections have become more expensive since 2014 when Moorlands councils have had to pay the whole cost of them. The greater use of postal votes has also sent the costs of an election up.
Nevertheless, we should not be put off elections simply because they are not free. It’s an obvious thing to say but – Democracy is not free.
An election will occur if ten Draycott electors sign a letter saying they would like one to happen (and the letter is delivered on time!). They can do this even if they don’t know if anyone is going to stand.
Most people who live in Draycott, Cresswell, Totmonslow, Draycott Cross, Bromley Wood, Painsley and Newton will be ‘electors’.
If no election is called, ‘co-option’ occurs – the process whereby the four remaining Draycott councillors choose who should fill the empty seats.
Many democrats dislike co-option, which is too often a secret process whereby sitting councillors simply ask their friends to come and join them – also known as ‘cronyism’. Campaigners have been saying for a long time that village councils must have a protocol in place for co-option, one that is transparent and fair. But Draycott Council does not have one, so the four sitting councillors can – more or less – just do what they like, in theory.
(A local resident did draw up a co-option protocol intended for discussion at the council’s last meeting – but the council refused to give the document a slot on the agenda.)
There is one compromise to the issue of democracy vs cost – but it requires the community to trust itself…
And this is it: … when/if the election is called, and, as soon as it’s called, those who intend to stand should announce themselves publicly (maybe on the village Facebook page, and/or via a poster in, say, the bus-shelter at Draycott junction). The reason for this is that, in this instance, if more than three candidates come forward, they can then discuss among themselves which ones might volunteer to drop out, meaning an election-day would be unnecessary… and thus meaning no cost!
(If fewer than four candidates are on the ballot, no actual election is required, because the candidates are automatically selected for the three vacant places.)
It should be noted that, after a certain point (usually 18 days before the election date), candidates are not permitted to withdraw, so the discussions need to be quickly achieved.
However, such a compromise plan does rely on potential candidates being open with the community…
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