The government's corruption of the electoral process continues apace

by Stephen Tall on October 7, 2008

Two sad news stories today which will attract very little media coverage but which speak volumes about the declining integrity of democracy in the UK.

1. The entirely expected merging of the 2009 Euro elections and English local elections on a single date.

The BBC reports:

The government is to press ahead with plans to hold the 2009 English local and European elections on the same day. The change, which must be approved by both houses of Parliament by 7 November if it is to take place, would see both polls take place on 4 June.

Martin Land launched a broadside against the move back in May here on Lib Dem Voice:

Some people might think [merging the two elections] is logical enough. After all, the elections are only four weeks apart, and some civil servant with a preference for neatness has decided that these two could easily grouped together, especially now there is little risk of Gordon calling an election before 2010.

But I think this should be opposed, root and branch.

The local elections which risk being delayed in 2009 are mostly the County Council elections. The County Council elections for 2005 were held on the same day as the General Election. As they were in 2001 and in 1997. This means that electors in these areas have not had an election to these important local authorities where the issues could be discussed, unclouded by other elections, since 1993!

2. Triggering by-elections with undue haste disenfranchises voters.

Again, from the BBC:

The speed with which parliamentary by-elections take place could be preventing voters from taking part, the Electoral Commission has warned. People sometimes only have two days to register for a ballot, it added. The commission wants the minimum time between calling and holding general elections and by-elections to be increased from 15 to 25 days.

We all know why by-elections are called as quickly as possible – because the defending party is worried that any delay will allow opposition parties to mobilise their activists and cause an electoral upset. The impact on voters or democracy is a secondary consideration. You can read the Electoral Commission’s full report here.

Lib Dem bloggers Darrell Goodliffe, Alex Folkes and Duncan Borrowman have all posted their views on these issues.

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No comments

Right….as I say it’s possible holding them on the same day as the general might happen again…..i see what is being said about the length of wait but we are talking an additional month here..

Also, what about the benefits in terms for the Euros?? Isn’t it true that it is hard enough to get people to vote in them so a move that might encourage that is a good thing?? The fact is if they were held a month apart then next to nobody would vote in the Euros…

Point 2 is more relevant I would say and something that clearly does demonstrate the need for the executive to be regulated and to be restricted in how it can manipulate these things…

by Darrell on October 7, 2008 at 6:34 pm. Reply #

Gordon Brown’s instinct is to postpone all elections as long as possible. Glasgow East has reinforced that prejudice.

The Glenrothes date and the move of the local election date demonstrate Gordon B’s present position. He will do nothing to implement the Electoral Commission report because his instinct against reducing his room for manoeuvre is even stronger.

All we can do is attack his decisions/non-decisions; as so often.

by David Heigham on October 7, 2008 at 6:39 pm. Reply #

Ok, but am I the only one who is pleased that the Euros will get more attention then they normally would…this was done in 2004 too and it did boost turnout then…the fact of it being done before kind of mitigates against it being a product of Brown’s desire to delay…in fact I think it might be quite the reverse…i think he now thinks he can be in a strong enough position by June to go the to country…

by Darrell on October 7, 2008 at 6:42 pm. Reply #

I think Martin Land was right. Holding local and Euro elections on the same day serves to devalue both.

by Paul Griffiths on October 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm. Reply #

I could not disagree more.

The idea that two elections should be held 5 weeks apart is outdated nonsense. It really is black-and-white era thinking.

The CASTING of these votes is no different in either case for the millions of ordinary voters who don’t spend endless hours on blogs and forums. The COUNTING may be different, but that is of no bother to voters at all.

I cannot fathom one good reason why two expensive elections should have 5 weeks between them. Yes, 2004 had some flaws. But the alternative is to ask hundreds of local authority staff to churn out money and effort across 3 or 4 months with no absolutely clear benefit.

Having the two elections on the same day makes perfect sense to me. It seems only to be confusing to people who want to stay stuck in the past.

by Liam Pennington on October 7, 2008 at 10:27 pm. Reply #

The election in danger of getting drowned out is the Euro election not the counties. In my view holding them on the same day is the sensible thing. Euro elections have bad enough turnouts as it is, if they are a few weeks after other elections people will be demotivated, voter fatigue, those lost likely to turn out are the most strongly anti EU.

by Duncan Borrowman on October 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm. Reply #

1. I don’t think the decision should be made on the pro or anti-EU nature of the likely electorate (although agree with Duncan that the lower the turnout the higehr the likley anti-Europe vote), but I do agree that holding two elections a few weeks apart where turnout tends to be only around 30% is hardly going to inspire greater voter engagement.

2. On the by-election issue, surely the best solution is to take the timing out of the hands of the defending party. Just set a standard approach (say, 8 weeks after death/resignation). Of course, you need to give the electorate every opportunity and incentive to register (and a by-election might help drive people onto the electoral roll which is great). But the days of the Tories or Labour delaying a by-election for months are long since gone. This is probably because they realise the longer the run in, the better the prospects are for the LibDems.

But it’s also a good outcome. Constituents have a right to be represented and there really isn’t a good reason why any seat should have to be vacant for 3 or 4 months – even if it would help the LibDem by-election team if it were.

by Mark Littlewood on October 8, 2008 at 4:31 am. Reply #

I certainly agree with the second point above. Labour are keen to delay any by-election, having seen the amazing impact that short-term bursts of opposition campaigning can have on the mood of voters in Crewe and Glasgow.

by Letters From A Tory on October 8, 2008 at 9:34 am. Reply #

I’m torn. On the one hand, I do think a combined date is better for the electorate and better for turnout.

On the other hand, it spreads our resources much more thinly and means we’ll do all our campaigning in winnable or defending wards, whereas for the Euros we really need to take the opportunity to get into those areas that are ‘safe’ for a different party and pick up more support there–I live in a target ward, so I’ll be campaigning here in the next locals, but several very local wards are safe Tory where we get a couple hundred votes–we could expand on that, but we need a reason to go in there.

Having the Euros later would mean we can campaign in our target wards and mention the Euros, then switch a campaign afterwards into areas where we don’t normally do much but the votes would matter more (and would arguably be easier to pick up).

Ah well, the point is moot, combined date it is then.

by MatGB on October 8, 2008 at 10:40 am. Reply #

The electoral process is corrupt. The big changes that are needed are 1) The introduction of STV or Power Preference Voting as it should be called 2) Ban on company donations 3) Fair coverage rules in the media extended to all year round. 4) Reform of postal voting

Whether the County and Euro’s on the same day is rather unimportant by comparison and worrying about it doesn’t help shift the debate onto the real issues.

by Mouse on October 8, 2008 at 1:02 pm. Reply #

I suggest the abolition of postal voting!

I agree that different elections should be held separately. But in a practical sense having the County elections in June with a fine sunny month of light evenings in May will be to our benefit.

The issue about the timetable for parliamentary elections is about the timetable, not about calling parliamentary by-elections quickly or slowly. The (sensible) pressure is to bring them into line with the longer timetables for council, European etc elections.

Tony Greaves

by Tony Greaves on October 8, 2008 at 1:20 pm. Reply #

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