Saturday, 8 May 2010
The Need for Electoral Reform
The photocopied paper notices on the wall outside say it all. Inside the village hall - which doesn’t have a telephone - there are a few elderly people behind a trestle table (one is aware of a sub-text of knitting, thermos flasks and sandwiches). When you approach, one takes your name and checks it off the list, another writes your name down on a sheet of paper alongside the number of your ballot paper (no secret votes in England) and another tears off what looks like a strip of raffle tickets. The booth is a rickety fold-up plywood affair. There’s a blunt pencil stub attached with string and a tattered print-out pinned up that tells you not to vote for more than one candidate, but nothing to show you whether to tick or cross or otherwise mark your ballot slip correctly.
It is all gloriously amateur and redolent of Miss Marple films of the thirties and forties. No one asks me to prove my identity. I could tell them I was Mrs W.W. from number 34 and they wouldn’t be any the wiser (unless she’s already voted). It’s frightening.
So, given this atmosphere of complacency, the lack of stringency and antiquated procedures, it’s not surprising that there were severe electoral irregularities, or that officials couldn’t cope with large numbers of people turning up after work to exercise their democratic right. In our constituency, people were turned away because the local council hadn’t processed their registrations in time (They have had since March 20th!).
The problem is that we still think we have a proper modern democracy in Britain. But what kind of democracy allows a quarter of the population to vote for a party that then has only 10% of the seats in Parliament? We live in a country where large chunks of legislation never go through Parliament at all, but are simply signed into law by the Queen as ‘Orders in Council’, after being put in front of her by the Privy Council (well named as it’s an unelected private club chaired by Lord Mandelson). We live in a country where you can be arrested and imprisoned for years without trial, without even being told what you are supposed to have done, and without the right of appeal or Habeus Corpus. You can thank Tony Blair for that one. It’s supposed to be justified by the threat of terrorism, but has caught many innocent people. We live in a country where half the Parliamentary body is unelected and consists of hereditary peers, and life peers created by successive governments. Our judiciary is appointed by the government and we don’t have a constitution - simply a hotch potch of traditions and ‘gentleman’s agreements’ that have developed over the years.
It’s time for a change - for real democracy in Britain, or, shamefully, some third world countries are going to be able to say that they are more democratic than we are.