It’s one of those things I do, most years. For the greatest part, I can predict what I’ll be doing in March-and April. It started back in the 1980s. At the time we lived in Cheltenham[1] town. Putting leaflets through doors. Knocking on doors. “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of …….” was usually the introductory line. With prepared words not only did I remind the town’s residents that there was a local election in May but let them know the name of the best candidate.

I’m writing this as credentials. Yes, I know a thing or two about the nitty gritty of local elections in the UK. My experience has been accumulated over nearly 40-years. Lots of cold early spring evenings and weekend delivery rounds to get a message out in a short space of time.

One of the biggest changes, in terms of practical organisation, has been a change that has affected all parts of life. In 1985, everything was paper based. If I said: “Shuttleworths[2]” to a 21st century campaigner there’s a good chance they will not have a clue what I’m talking about. These were paper pads used to record names and addresses of supporters.

Local campaigning has undergone a digital transformation. However, in the British electoral system paper is still at the heart of everything that is done. The ballot paper is sacrosanct. Voters put a cross in a box set against a name and a logo. It remains inclusive in that there are few people who cannot manage that basic act.

In all my time campaigning, I can remember no voter fraud or corrupt activities. Yes, over enthusiastic, or idiotic behaviours pop-up now and then, as they do in all walks of life. It’s always an important function but also amusing to check spoilt ballot papers at an election count. A small number of voters can be creative in the insults and images they draw on ballot papers.

So, listening to last night’s Parliamentary debate on new Voter ID Regulations was distressing. The Conservative Government plan is to spend £180 million on solving a problem that doesn’t exist. This law is being pushed forward aggressively at a time when local Councils are cutting services due to lack of funding. The Local Government Association (LGA)[3] is saying that there’s not enough time to make the demanded changes before next May.

Ministers are ignoring such advice. Additionally, these regulations seem nonsensical. They impose new requirements on the operation of polling stations but do nothing in respect of postal voting. The natural suspicion for the forceful timescale is that this act is to suppress votes at a time when Conservative candidates are expected to loose in great numbers next May.

A further reason to be sceptical that Voter ID can prevent instances of electoral fraud is that convictions for voting offences have overwhelmingly related to postal votes, not personation at polling stations. Measure that create a barrier to voting in person will lower local election turnout. That’s a voter turnout that is as low as 29% of registered voters in my Borough.

This is a sad day for British democracy.




Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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