At Cambridgeshire County Council’s Full Council on the 21st of May 2013 a proposal to move from the “strong leader” and cabinet model to a committee system was debated. The proposal had been introduced by Liberal Democrat Cllr Kilian Bourke who argued it was the right thing to do following the election results which had left no one party group with a clear majority on the council.
Shortly before the vote on the matter Barbara Ashwood, the newly elected Liberal Democrat councillor for Trumpington, left the chamber. When the results of the vote were shown however there was a vote cast using the electronic voting button at Barbara Ashwood’s seat. After Conservative councillors highlighted that a vote had been recorded in the name of an absent councillor, Cllr Bourke admitted to having voted twice, once using his own voting button and again using Cllr Ashwood’s.
Cllr Bourke said:
Chairman, if I could explain…. Cllr Ashwood when she left asked me to push the button
This was met with an outcry from the chamber, and shouts from members seeking to raise points of order.
The video of Cllr Ashwood leaving the chamber does not show her communicating a request to vote on her behalf, never mind her voting intention, to Cllr Bourke, who was speaking at the time.
The vote was a close one, with the 32 Conservatives who wanted to retain the strong leader model being opposed by the Liberal Democrats, Labour, UKIP and Independents. Together all the opposition groups total 37 councillors; however Cllr Bourke would not have known how close the vote would be until the results came in as UKIP claim not to operate a whip in local government and the independents would have been similarly hard to call. Cllr Bourke might well have thought he needed every vote he could get to push his motion though.
The significance of the vote was increased by the fact it was first opportunity for opposition groups to overturn the wishes of the Conservatives for sixteen years.
As it happened, the combined opposition groups outvoted the Conservatives, even when the vote cast on Cllr Ashwood’s behalf was discounted.
Cllr Bourke’s pressing of another councillor’s buttons was far from the only farcical element to the vote. A number of unrecorded votes were corrected due to problems with the electronic voting system. The electronic system was abandoned completely later in the meeting, after newly elected leader Cllr Curtis was forced to address the chamber to announce he was “not flashing”. A council officer blamed “ribbon cables” coming out of the back of the voting buttons, and suggested training councillors not to knock them out.
Responses to Cllr Bourke’s Behaviour
Cllr Mac McGuire said:
I believe we should seek the advice of the legal officer as to the actions by Cllr Bourke
Chairman of the council, Kevin Reynolds, said:
I would like to think it was done in good faith… we need to move on … the simple fact of the matter is that if anyone is not in the room when the vote is taken then that vote cannot count.
Chairman Reynolds asked Cllr Bourke to apologise; Cllr Bourke said:
A new member asked me to vote [inaudible].
I do apologise but I just want to make it clear that I was not aware that was not [inaudible].
Result of the Vote
Cambridgeshire County Council now has a policy of moving to a committee system from May 2014.
The exact motion introduced by Cllr Bourke is not currently available online. Cllr Bourke significantly amended the one which had been distributed in the meeting papers and none of the documents tabled at the meeting have yet been posted on the meeting’s page on the County Council website. The controversial vote was on a Conservative amendment seeking to negate its effect, and defer the decision until after consideration by a committee.
More Farcical Voting by Elected Representatives From Other Chambers:
- CBS 42 Investigates – Texas State Representatives Pressing Each Other’s Buttons
- Voting – Russian Style
- Even issuing cards to elected reps doesn’t help in this Parliament
In addition to the edited highlights embedded above; I have made my full, thirteen minute long, video of the escapade available on YouTube.