In Uncategorized on January 18, 2011 by grahamharrowell

Last week at PM’s Questions a jolly Tory chap asked Cameron whether he’d be changing the law to require that trades union strike ballots were approved by a majority of those eligible to vote rather than a majority of those who voted. Interesting idea I thought. Presumably the honourable member intends to pursue the same policy in respect of his own seat. There would of course be very few MPs at all if such a level of support were required to get elected. There isn’t much danger of the law changing in that way, not only because no MP is going to be that interested in electoral reform but also, I imagine, because they’d have to get the measure past the House of Lords, that great defender of democracy.

The Lords are this week busy holding up the Bill on the referendum on proportional representation. As a pillar of elected legislature the non-elected chamber has been staying up late in the hope of blocking the programme. Presumably they fear that if this one gets through they’ll be the next to be rendered more democratic and, perish the thought, subject to the whim of the electorate.

I have been a fan of PR for some time but now look forward to voting against it in the referendum just so that I can spoil Clegg’s party. I hope you’ll join me.

PR is a funny thing. Apart from the different variations it also brings with it the benefit of not having to stay up all night watching Dimbleby and an army of reporters waiting for the count to finish. Our Irish friends have PR. Once the votes are counted you ask them who’s won. “No idea,” they say. “We’ll probably be able to tell you after the weekend.” That’s always providing nobody opens the door and a breeze blows over all the little piles of ballot papers and they have to start counting them again. They also have the phenomenon of both candidates getting elected.

In the UK it’s very easy to vote. Indeed, our European cousins are very uncomfortable with the lack of obstacles. Unless you go to some considerable trouble to avoid it you are put on the electoral roll and all you have to do is turn up. Indeed if you want to (and you get up early) all you have to do is wander into the polling station give the name and address of a mate who isn’t such an early riser (or who’s on holiday or in jail) and you get a ballot paper which you take to the booth and deface with the stubby pencil on a string.

Contrast this with France where the Republic requires you to make a much more determined effort to be a good citizen. You need to decide at least six months in advance that you want to vote. Some time before Christmas in the year before the election you report to the town hall clutching your dossier which contains copies of all your documents as well as the originals. Once you’ve shown you identity papers there is the question of the gas bill. This is the passepartout in France without that, or the electricity bill, you do not exist. Once you’ve justified your existence and have been registered, you go home and wait for the postman to deliver you elector’s card.

When the elections roll around you will receive the election addresses of the various candidates along with little slips of apper bearing their names. Polling always takes place on a Sunday. In some elections, such as those for the President, you have to set aside two Sundays as there is a preliminary round where people vote with their hearts and candidates jostle for prominence and then a second round where things get serious and you have to amke a sensible choice.

At the polling station you line up to meet the man in charge and present your identity document and your elector’s card. The two are scrutinized and, if you are accepted, your name is scored out on a list held by a second official. The man in charge holds onto your card but gives you an envelope which you take off to the polling booth, stopping en route to pick up one of those slips of paper with you preferred candidate’s name on it. You pop this in the envelope in the privacy of the booth. Nobody picks up just the paper for their favourite. That would give the game away. So people pick up papers for all the candidates and hten discard the ones they don’t want. Some pick up as many as they can for their choice in the hope that this will signify to other voters that one candidate is more popular than the others and that they will vote for him and some pick up handfuls of papers for rival candidates in the hope that this will prevent anyone voting for him.

You then return to the official he checks your card again and in a loud theatrical manner announces your name to the assembled multitude adding, as you cast your envelope into the ballot box, “has voted!” He then hands you card to a third official who checks off you name again, stamps your card so you can’t go round again and gives it back to you. All very labour intensive.

So, I look forward to electoral reform in the UK. Will we have the Irish model with French embellishment? Or will we go for the Belgian system where you are spared a government and the whole shebang is run by sensible civil servants?


One Response to “Ballots”

  1. We won’t have anything run by civil servants because they will all be on the dole. It will probably be up to the Big Soc to do it all.

    The French system is great, transparent and fair. And they ask you if you want to help count the votes, like a good system.

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