Saturday, 7 May 2011

Two election questions

I have a couple of questions that I'd genuinely like to hear some answers to. One's for any Lib Dems out there, the other for returning officers.

1 The Lib Dems have repeatedly said that a coalition with the Tories was the only real option open to them, other than trying to force a second election last year. Now I can understand that they didn't want to prop up a beaten Labour Party, but what was stopping them agreeing to support a minority Tory government on a bill-by-bill basis? It would have allowed them to temper the worst excesses of Cameron and Osborne, while remaining true to the principles still held by the majority of the Lib Dem rank and file. It might even have proved popular with the electorate, given that it would have involved actual debate and compromise, rather than Lib Dem MPs being used to steamroller ideologically-driven policies through Parliament.

OK, so the Tories might not have wanted it, but had they then forced a second election, the country could have drawn its own conclusions. As it stands, in return for an AV referendum they were never going to win (partly because even many supporters of electoral reform, myself included, can't see that AV is much of an improvement on FPTP) and a few cabinet posts for Clegg and his cronies, the Lib Dems are committed to supporting policies they never advocated. Individual MPs can still rebel, but it's much harder to do so inside a formal coalition. All I've heard from Lib Dem frontbenchers on this is that the country didn't need uncertainty. Oh yes, because the current arrangement is so stable, isn't it?

To argue, as Clegg and others have done, that their manifesto was for a Liberal government, not a ConDem one, and that they're not therefore breaking any promises, is a barefaced lie. They knew when they drew up the manifesto that the only situation in which they'd be able to implement any of its policies would be as part of a coalition, formal or otherwise. If any of them genuinely believed there was any likelihood of a majority Liberal government, then they're too deluded to be allowed anywhere near  any sort of power.

2 At every election - general, local, European, whatever - since I moved to my current home in 2000, I've been approached on the way into the polling station by canvassers from one or other party (the three main ones, plus the BNP), asking to see my polling card. On every occasion, I've asked who they are, and what business it is of theirs, and have been told "Oh, we're allowed to" (note that they don't answer the first of my questions).

Well, no, I don't think you are. I was under the impression that the law guarantees a secret ballot, so surely that means that whether or not you vote (until it becoms compulsory, which I'd have no problem with), as well as how you vote, should remain secret? A colleague has pointed out that it also creates the impression that you have to have a polling card to vote. You don't. It speeds things up, but you don't need it.

If they're so convinced they're allowed to do this, why do they do it in such a shifty fashion, without first identifying themselves (there have been one or two honourable exceptions)? In almost every case, it's done by someone wearing no party rosettes or similar, and in a manner that suggests they're election officials.

So, perhaps someone with experience of election administration could explain why canvassers are allowed to continue doing this? In the meantime, I'll continue telling them to mind their own business.

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