Electoral reform campaigners have expressed dismay after North Yorkshire Council opposition parties rejected an appeal to field one candidate between them in a by-election for a traditional Conservative stronghold.

Pressure group Compass said “in an electoral system as flawed as first past the post”, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green voters were now likely see their vote for the Sowerby and Topcliffe division seat on November 30 “split and of no consequence”.

At the last council elections in May last year, Dave Whitfield, of the Green Party, stood as the sole candidate to challenge the Conservative candidate, Mark Robson, Sowerby Parish Council’s chairman and the leader of Hambleton Parish Council, and secured the seat by 81 votes.

Many onlookers credited Cllr Whitfield’s victory partly to him being the sole alternative to the Conservative candidate.

Earlier this year in the Masham by-election Liberal Democrat Felicity Cunliffe Lister won what had been a Conservative seat after neither the Labour or Green parties fielded a candidate, sparking fury among the council’s Tory group.

Following Cllr Whitfield’s resignation on health grounds, six candidates are set to contest the seat, including Dave Elders (Conservative Party); Stew Exotic, (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party); John Hall (Yorkshire Party); John Law (Green Party); Dan Sladden (Liberal Democrat); Helen Tomlinson (Labour Party).

Compass York and North Yorkshire said the rejection of its call to “progressive political parties” before nomination papers were lodged to put forward a single candidate, felt “really disrespectful towards the progressive voter”.

A Compass spokeswoman said: “Stand asides are not unusual in our politics. In 2019 for example Reform UK unilaterally stood aside for the Conservative Party rather than split the right wing vote.

“Why is the same strategy not available to progressive voters who want to maximise their chances of real representation in the North Yorkshire Council, where the current Conservative executive has absolute control of the policy agenda on a mere 41 per cent of the vote?

“Campaigning to avoid progressive tragedies is not anti-democratic, it is first past the post that is an undemocratic stitch-up which has no place in the UK’s 21st century multi-party politics.”

In response to Compass’ claims, Liberal Democrat insiders said the party’s campaign for the seat had been well underway before they were approached for a discussion.

The group’s leader on the authority, Councillor Bryn Griffiths, said he did not agree with the first-past-the-post electoral system, adding: “We are always happy to talk to people about potential by-elections.”

Councillor Kevin Foster, leader of the council’s Green group, said while there had been no formal agreement with the Liberal Democrats, his group had been “expecting them not to stand” in the Sowerby by-election, “returning the favour” from no Green candidate standing in the Masham by-election in February.

He said: “That’s democratic process and it’s not for us to tell people who can and can’t stand, but it proves the Liberal Democrats don’t support Compass whatsoever.

“I was very surprised the official opposition from the council ran against us in the election.”

Councillor Steve Shaw Wright, leader of the authority’s Labour group, said his group had rejected the approach of Compass as it wanted to field a candidate in as many divisions as possible.

Leader of the authority’s Conservative group, Councillor Carl Les said: “I am certainly not in favour of tactical voting. Definitely not.”