Monday, 8 October 2007

Democracy, ask me if I'm bothered

You could hardly have failed to notice that there has been speculation about a possible snap election in the UK, with the first week of November having been suggested as the most likely date. The press has been having seizures over this, discussing every possible factor that could have influenced Gordon Brown's decision. Factors mentioned have included the likely turnout at a time of the year when much of the polling would take place in the dark; polling in marginal seats; the state of the economy; the events at the Tory conference; the weather; and just about everything but the thing that seems, at least to me, to be the most important.

The problem is that if an election were called for November, then the December 2006 electoral roll would have to be used. People who had moved home since that date would be in danger of losing their votes. Estimates are that this could affect up to a million people (e.g. see here). Where this has been discussed at all, it has been looked on as a minor inconvenience that could affect turn-out, as opposed to a threat to people's basic democratic rights.

Now, surely any Prime Minister who would consider holding an election at a time when up to a million people could lose their vote is not fit to hold office. At a time when Gordon Brown is trying to wear the mantle of a statesman by publicly opposing anti-democratic regimes such as those in Burma and Zimbabwe, it's surely not too much to ask that he take a little care with our own democratic institutions. It's also sad that the opposition and media have failed to make any kind of issue of this. I would like to have seen an enormous banner headline somewhere, anywhere, saying "A million to lose votes in November poll".

Thankfully, Brown has now bottled it, but this episode seems to put the lie to his conceit that he's governing for the country, rather than the Labour party. And it's clear that the UK is in desperate need of electoral reform, if the fact that people move house every so often can create such problems for the current system.

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