Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Electoral Commission - Is It Fit for Purpose?

The Electoral Commission is again in the news.  Only the other day the Scotsman reported SNP ministers had been accused of deciding to exclude the Electoral Commission from running a proposed referendum on independence as part of a strategy to 'rig' the poll.  In his usual succinct manner Calum Cashley swiped the accusation aside and clarified the situation.

The Commission has now criticised Labour for breaking the rules on postal votes in last year's Glasgow North East by-election and for leaving constituents there without an MP for nigh on five months.  The report noted this was the longest timelag for 35 years in a by-election being called.

The SNP campaign co-ordinator Stewart Hosie said: "It's almost beyond belief a major political party would so blatantly breach the code of conduct on postal voting.

"Labour needs to explain why they held on to postal vote applications beyond the two working days allowed; indeed, why they did not submit some of them for almost a month."

Labour blames the delay on the Westminster recess and school summer holidays.

Most people interested in Scottish politics are aware that labour has a poor record concerning postal votes and marked registers but the Electoral Commission seems unable to take action against them.

Politics has changed in the past 25 years.  No longer are trust and dedication seen as part of a politician's make-up.  Politics is now a career to many, not a public service.  The public are viewed as a necessary evil while many politicians build their small empires.

The Commission want Westminster to review the rules regarding the timing of by-elections.  Is it time the Electoral Commission was given the power to punish individual politicians or parties for breaking the Code of Conduct instead of spending months compiling reports which are, at best, regarded as a slap on the wrist for offenders and no penalty?

Editor's note:  Tom Harris has rightly asked what Labour had to do with the missing marked registers.  I agree that they were not responsible for their disappearance in Glenrothes and therefore retract my statement but Labour must be fully aware of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report, published in April 2008, which specifically mentioned 'there are major failings evident in relation to the state of the UK's electoral registers' and his government appear to have done nothing to amend that situation.

 Shame Tom didn't give me his opinion of the EC's other accusations regarding postal votes and by-election timings.


Quiet_Man said...

The Electoral Commission in England are also responsible for the inbuilt bias for Labour throughout the constituencies here. That's why the conservatives need 10% more votes to simply break even down here because their constituencies are smaller than the Tory ones.
Whilst I wouldn't say the Electoral Commission are corrupt they have a tendency not to try and upset the status quo to all our (save Labour's) regrets.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I could tell you a load of horror stories about El Comm, but...

Witterings from Witney said...

Personally El Comm (to coin MW's phrase) should be subject to the 'wall and AK47' treatment!

subrosa said...

It's an organisation which doesn't appear to have any power yet it spends millions on investigations and reports QM.

I didn't know about the tory/labour constituency sizes. How very labour.

subrosa said...

Maybe you could tell just one Mark. Then again, it's not good for anyone's blood pressure knowing how ineffective this setup is.

subrosa said...

I really don't see why it exists WFW. You're right, another quango which should be closed. (I'm being polite).

Stephen Glenn said...

Quiet Man I believe you are getting the Boundary Commission mixed up with the Electoral Commission. The former looks are the constituecies the later looks at procedures relating to the count etc.

I would tend to agree with you, though the EC do commission reports which are useful tools as well as merely slaps on the wrists. When they do find something needs to be dealt with they can only recommend, not reprimand or punish, so maybe there should be more bite given to them.

That said the ultimate control of elections should I believe always be in the hands of the local returning officers. Under the observation of the political parties and the Electoral Commission

Tom Harris said...

"labour has a poor record concerning postal votes and marked registers"

Really? What, exactly, was the Labour Party's role and responsibility in safeguarding the marked register from the Glenrothes by-election?

subrosa said...

Stephen, that's the point. The EC may observe but is that a deterrent to fraud? It wouldn't appear to be so.

subrosa said...

Tom, I've been looking for info I kept about the Glenrothes registers and can't find it but my memory isn't that bad. Labour weren't interested in finding the marked registers although I believe they are or have been rebuilt.

As for postal votes, when I did the research for this post I was astonished how many labour councils had been affected by complaints. Have you any defence?

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