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Sunday, 12 January 2020

Electoral housekeeping

There were many rumours last week of the government bringing forward in the very near future a Bill to tackle some much overdue electoral housekeeping. Two potential changes were outlined in the manifesto - the roll out of voter ID at polling stations, and the ending of the 15 year limit on the entitlement of overseas voters to participate. Two further changes were not mentioned but will be of much greater interest to many people.

The first is postal voting. Formerly restricted to expats and members of HM Forces overseas, and to the housebound sick and disabled, the numbers involved were negligible. Then came Blair's pollution of our democratic institutions. In December the volume reached 38% of all votes cast - of 31.8m votes cast, 12m were postal votes. Objections are twofold. Primarily is the extent to which postal votes can be abused by vote harvesting, personation, coercion or diversion. No reliable figures are available on the extent of this, but then, if abuses were successful, they would not easily be discovered. The introduction of photo ID at polling stations without having restricted postal votes will of course only vastly increase the numbers of postal votes, and we must ask ourselves whether we want an electoral process in which 75% of ballots are cast in a way that evades all the scrutiny, security and transparency of polling stations, votes and boxes. The second and more minor objection is that the act of physically voting - the polling station, poll card, interactions with polling officials and fellow electors, recognition that those voting with you may be voting for another candidate and so on - is in itself a powerful reinforcer of local democratic identity, one of the parade drills of the Little Platoons.

The second change is to initiate a fresh boundary review, but this time based on the existing 650 parliamentary seats rather than the somewhat aged review on Cameron's instructions that sought to reduce the number of seats to 600. The registers of electors on which the Cameron reviews were based are now even further distant, and were Cameron's review to be recast on the 2019 registers it may produce different boundaries. However, fundamentally I object deeply to Cameron's attempts to reduce the numbers of MPs by 50.

In 1922, the first election carried out within our current national borders, we had 615 seats for a population of around 44m. We now have a population of some 66m. In addition, the centralisation of the State since the Great War has meant that MPs now have very much more on which to legislate. Before that time, water, power, gas, health, hospitals, almshouses, welfare, roads, lighting, transport, planning, public health, licencing, education and policing were funded, designed, managed and delivered locally by democratically accountable members and bodies. Whilst I will campaign for parliament to divest itself of many of the powers accreted over a century, we still need 650 MPs - if only for the great reforms that the Prime Minister must introduce to get our nation and people back upon an even keel.

25 comments:

r_writes esq. said...

I would like my MP to represent my local interests, which obviously means that it is quite a brief list.

For instance s/he is NOT responsible for my Coca Cola purchase decisions, or how much money I take out of my bank account on a particular morning. Perhaps s/he might want to make a decision about un/necessary infrastructure decisions though, something they don't have a clue about (even though everyone else seems to?)

Citizen triggered local binding direct democracy on the other hand is really very specific to my personal interests, but not to everyone else's, the point being that there are a couple of checks to ensure fairness and equal weight to the arguments (aka democracy). The first being that the voter chooses what to vote for and when, if at all, which can really upset a functionary with something to hide... The votes, necessarily can specify the amount of localness that is required for a particular idea... it could be nationwide, or just enough to cover one tower block in Hackney (or something).

DeeDee99 said...

I disagree with the proposal to scrap the 15-yr limit on those living overseas participating in our democracy. If they have not lived in the UK and experienced the outcome of 3 governments they had the opportunity to vote for they cannot "hold them to account." Someone who has spent 15 years living outside the country should not be allowed to vote on a government which those actually living in the UK have to accept, whether they support it or not.

There is an argument that 650 MPs can now be justified since Parliament will now be genuinely responsible for a myriad of policy areas which are being recovered from the EU. However, Constituencies must be equalised with a standarised +/- that applies to ALL Constituencies, including those in Scotland, Wales and NI. That means re-working the boundaries.

And - since Scotland, Wales and NI have their own Parliaments and some of the policy areas recovered from the EU's control will be transferred to these Parliaments, if re-working the boundaries results in fewer MPs from these countries/regions, SO BE IT. They should not have over-representation in the National Parliament where they can interfere in matters which only affect England.

And then there's the House of Frauds, which should either be fundamentally reformed, with 65% of the donors, cronies, failed/rejected politicians and celebrity dross kicked out, or be abolished entirely.

John Downes said...

I take your point about the 650 MPs. However too many of them are Scottish. There needs to be a sharp reduction in the number of Scottish constituencies represented at Westminster. To do that might give rise to a reduction of 20 MPs, and these seats should either be abolished in their entirety or redistributed to England.

DiscoveredJoys said...

Perhaps a more pointed plan would be to set 600 revised constituencies for the next General Election (but not implemented until then) but hold another review to validate or change those revisions before the next GE? It would concentrate the minds and re-assure the electorate that the House of Commons was not just a posh club, funded by the taxpayer.

I don't believe that there is a *need* for 650 MPs. Yes many do sterling work - but there are some that are only seat warmers. So try a Parliament of 600 (or less) and see how it goes.

Plus I agree wholeheartedly with voter ID and reduction in Postal voting.

JPM said...

It's voter suppression plain and simple.

Take your ZHC worker, on unpaid 24/365 standby, waiting for the 'phone to ring to drop everything and dash out for an eighteen hour shift at the drop of a hat. ("We will never be dictated to by the EU", says wage slave Leave voter)

There are many other workers, who cannot predict where they will be on polling day too.

They need a postal vote.

But, hey, it looks like they voted Leave or Tory now, doesn't it, so who cares?

DiscoveredJoys said...

@JPM

18 hour shift? You have invented that to make a point - unless you can direct me to a source of data outside your own fevered imagination.

Anonymous said...

JPM said @ 10:24

'It's voter suppression plain and simple.'

No it isn't. I voted when as a member of the Armed Forces my work commitments were 24/7 somewhere else. You just have to make the effort and in my case the government granted me something special because it was impossible for me to physically be at a my allotted polling station on polling day. My old Nan had her last vote from a chair in her back room because she couldn't walk very far at 94. In her case the government granted her something special because she couldn't negotiate the stairs into the station.

Blair increased the access to postal voting for party political reasons - approximately half of New Labour's new core vote were not permitted to engage with, well let's just say male strangers? If you think voting should be effortless to the point of not going out or not diverting your life for 5 minutes then what politics is it you're wanting that's worth so little Furthermore you should have no right to vote in a country you're not a citizen of. Period.

Steve

Smoking Scot said...

Wholly agree that Scotland's over represented in Westminster. For sure we've got a whole bunch of islands, but it's the central belt that's the problem. Do we need 7 MP's for bits of Glasgow and 6 for bits of Edinburgh, especially as our population has been static for yonks.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Westminster_constituencies_from_2005

Also agree the 15 year rule should remain. Expats do usually have kinsfolk back home, some have property and a good many have investments, so yes - up to a point they have a valid claim to representation. But not after one and a half decades.

I believe we'd still be in the EU if they'd been allowed to vote in the referendum, though in fairness many don't even bother with their existing rights. Some have left with no intention of ever returning.

With that rule, it ain't bust, it don't need fixing. Same with government pension increases. They know the rules, so quit with the whinging.

Dave_G said...


It's pointing more and more towards ID cards. I used to have an automatic rejection of even the principle of ID cards but now, with all the ID-ing we interact with these days - even shopping (loyalty cards) - I now see no real objection to discovering precisely who is a resident (legal) and who isn't and thereafter allow those registered and ID'd people to vote however they wish - postal, internet, supermarket checkout, polling booth whatever.

It (c)would cure many societal ills if we knew who was 'entitled' and who wasn't and that's not just for voting.

Along with whatever number of constituencies they decide upon, having the ability to 'recall and remove' is paramount - simply allowing the system to grow without objection or restraint seems irresponsible giving-away of powers to the politicians.

Banning MPs from second employment? Lobbying? Payment linked to average wage? Second homes (paid for by the taxpayer) belonging to the COUNTRY? Central accommodation? Distributed (or at least, relocated) Parliament. This list is quite extensive.

jim said...

I doubt Boris has got the time or inclination to bother about postal voting or boundary reviews. The one is only of interest to those who obsess about the occasional brown councillor getting in by a whisker (all Tory now) and the other is lost in the mists of time, Turkeys/Christmas.

Boris's main problem is steering a course between sucking up to the Yanks, sucking up to the EU, sucking up to the Chinese and not going bust. He doesn't need any unnecessary aggravation.

Now I can remember the town councils of old. That was a time when planning decisions were made by a dubious collection of councillors, local builders, solicitors and landowners. We got rid of that approach for very good reason, remember T Dan Smith and dozens like him up and down the land.

Then remember the old Watch Committees. A curious confection of the great, the no-good, the holy, the mad and the police. Remember the publicans's cars queued up outside the police station unloading cases of Scotch and crates of ale when licensing time came round. Remember Mary Whitehouse, we don't really want to go back to that sort of small town oppression.

Mark Wadsworth said...

"The introduction of photo ID at polling stations without having restricted postal votes will of course only vastly increase the numbers of postal votes,"

Exactly, you have nailed it.

Bill Quango MP said...

ZERO HOUR KONK-TRACKS!

It’s sweet that labour still want to fight the failed battles of yesterday.
Perhaps general Haig could be your new leader? He was very keen on using the same tactics over and over.
Convinced that next time, “ things would be different.”

Personally, as an employer, of just a few years ago, of 600 people, I never used zero hours, as I didn't like them. They are not for everyone.
But, thanks to the state’s insistence on employers paying a heavy tax for employing people, and making employer’s pay people more each year for doing the same job, workforce numbers were cut. And, of course, so were hours.
Instead of a forty hour week, twelve to twenty hours was the normal.

Which is essentially what zero contracts actually are. As anyone who actually employs anybody, would know.
Even the imperialist-capitalist-bourgeois-Kulaks at Sports direct, had a zero hours policy that was really meant twelve hours minimum. Forty maximum.
I know.

I worked for them for a while.
Their court cases revolved around their failure in procedures. Where people, on an hourly rate, were made to wait at work, unpaid. Sometimes up to a half hour. In and out, these people could, and did, successfully claim they were owed an extra hour a day, each day they worked.

If you want to know why sports direct kept them unpaid, I can tell you. But you probably won’t like the reason, JP. As you are a sensitive troll.

BTW, 18 hour shift is possibly a MY Hermes, extreme, extreme, example. But to take an extreme example and suggest it applies across the entire uk, all the time, would be...well..It would be the reason you keep losing.

People can smell the bull as it piles up.

JPM said...

Brevity, is the soul of wit, Bill.

I often worked eighteen-hour stints, in another life, away from home, and at short notice too.

It wasn't a bad job, mind.

John Brown said...

I disagree with the proposal to scrap the 15-yr limit on those living overseas participating in our democracy.

I think 15 years is a sufficiently long period of time to determine if a voter still has the right to influence the election of a UK government.

But at least these ex-pats have 15 years of potential voting and is far more than that offered by the SNP for their previous and proposed next independence referendum where only the residents of Scotland are allowed to vote thus giving the vote to any and all nationalities but not to any Scottish born person who is no longer living in Scotland.

The SNP very carefully say that it is “the people who live in Scotland” who should have another independence vote and never “the Scottish people”.

I think that an independence referendum should not be held along these lines and it is about time our government made it plain that it does not believe that Scottish people no longer living in Scotland should be disenfranchised. At least our 15-year rule should apply.

Span Ows said...

I can think of loads of reasons why we SHOULD keep the 15 year rule.

Voter ID essential but yes, postal vote reform (i.e. cut by about 95% of current to those that actually NEED a postal vote)

600 MPs or fewer is MORE than enough. Bring in English only votes for English only legislation.

Trim HoL by 700 or more. Should be 'a senate' with 100, absolutely no need to be the 2nd biggest 2nd chamber in the world that it currently is.

No second homes. Stay at a travel lodge and claim expenses by all means.

etc.

Span Ows said...

im at 12:12 ..."[postal voting] is only of interest to those who obsess about the occasional brown councillor getting in by a whisker"

Jesus wept.

Span Ows said...

FFS

typo in 20:03 comment: should read "reasons why we SHOULD END the 15 year rule.
typo in 20:05 comment: should read jim at 12:12

JPM said...

The Joseph Rowntree Trust has some interesting analysis of the purity of UK elections"

http://www.jrrt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Purity-of-Elections-in-the-UK-2008.pdf

That was long before the recent shenanigans too.

Span Ows said...

Thanks JPM. Really! :-)

JPM said...

The 2008 report expresses concern about the scope of postal voting for fraud, rather than about detected levels, which it mentions as relatively minor. And that concern has since been very largely addressed. However "cultural" pressures are another matter, and probably remain so.

It also concerns itself mainly with voting fraud, and the recent very serious allegations about campaign fraud are not covered at all, so it must be read in that light.

Span Ows said...

I agree. To go from an average bobbling around 2% postal votong seems about right (severly disabled, forces abroad etc.). That went from @2% to 5% in 2001 and 15% in 2005, now we see it is approaching 40%. Love to seea breakdown of that on a political party basis. I would halt PV now, completely, 100%. Then whomever wants it can reapply, which for UK residents would be judged one to one, interview etc., at the place of residence. Take time and money but do it.

The 'scope' for campaign fraud as well.

JPM said...

I gather that Tory postal votes are a larger share of their poll than that of other parties, but hard facts are not easy to find.

That is because the elderly in rural areas, and who do not drive find them more convenient than getting to a polling station for one thing, I seem to recall.

Yes, students use them too, but there are more old than there are students.

That might explain the cooling off of the campaign against it.

Nessimmersion said...

A fairly straightforward solution would be to stipulate if you are still paying british tax then you are entitled to vote. If you have paid enough years NI to get a full pension, then you get that full pension and the right to sodding well vote as long as you are alive. If you pay your dues, then the entitlement remains. Trying to shave off corners here & there is the mark of the feral bureaucrat, which these sceptered isles are overe blesswd with already.
Entitlement to postal vote- classic example of bureaucratic incompetence or feral bureaucracy is continually having to explain that youbare working on an offshore oil rig, it's only been 40 yrs and they still can't grasp it, mind you it's possibly because the majority of the workforce are scottish net taxpayers so that doesn't fit the narrative.

Niall Warry said...

Are you aware of The Harrogate Agenda?

http://harrogateagenda.org.uk/Default.aspx

JPM said...

Ness, if you use the No Taxation Without Representation rule, then our fellow UK tax-paying Europeans here should have been allowed a vote in the referendum and GE too.

Shouldn't they?

Niall, the Harrogate Agenda implies a super constitution above the constitution, decided by unspecified people, but apparently the authors of the Agenda.

It is a nonsense on that basis.