Another of the more poisonous aspects of Tony Blair’s disastrous prime ministership is, finally, beginning to attract the attention it deserves. Writing in the London Times, Libby Purves has this to say:
Almost nothing else matters. Not as urgently, anyway. Yesterday’s exhaustive 100-page report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust ought to put every minister, editor, campaigner and citizen on red alert. For it is about democracy…When rot affects the democratic process the ship of state has a hole in its hull…And rot there is: largely unheeded. As the report remarks with deadly blandness: “Outside of ministerial circles, there is a widespread view that a fundamental overhaul of UK electoral law, administration and policy is urgently required.” Just read those first four words again. The report…traces how the mechanics of British elections have been neglected and then vacuously tampered with, until public confidence in the process is the lowest in Western Europe…largely the crisis is the result of “reforms” swept in by new Labour without caution, reflection or wariness of human nature. Postal voting “on demand” was cavalierly introduced for the first elections of the millennium, though, as the report dryly observes, the claimed benefit of increased turnout and social inclusion has been greatly exaggerated. It also says that “the likelihood of fraud occurring could – and should – have been predicted on the basis of evidence of growing proxy vote fraud during the 1990s”. Had there been a snap election last year, the postal dispute and backlog would also have disenfranchised several million. Postal voting has been a disaster. High-profile frauds have been prosecuted in Peterborough, Birmingham and Lancashire, but are probably the tip of an iceberg. Don’t listen to me if you doubt it – listen to the judges who waded through the evidence…Officialdom, [one] says, shows “not simply complacency but denial”. Indeed: government spokesmen just say that “appropriate safeguards” are in place. They clearly aren’t. Postal voting fraud is even worse than roll-stuffing, because real people are denied their voice. Government says postal voting is “more convenient”. You betcha. It is convenient for patriarchs and “community leaders”, bullies who gather up the votes of weaker members of their group and deliver them to the desired candidate.
Dispiriting reading. I note, however, that Ms. Purves believes that the changes to the voting system introduced by the Labour party were implemented “without caution, reflection or wariness of human nature.” Maybe, but that strikes me as a most charitable explanation.