Limit voting rights

The government’s report on limiting voting rights has now been published. Dr Richard O’Shea, the Chair of the commission which produced the report is confident that it provides ‘the widest democratic exercise, consistent with ensuring that a vigorous electorate’. He adds: “Voting is an important right, and with all rights come responsibilities. The right to vote will therefore belong to all those who are able to shoulder the responsibility.”

The report “Widening Democracy: Ensuring a Responsive Electorate Fit for the Twenty-First Century”, contains a summary of the recommendations:

The franchise shall be enjoyed by all British citizens and resident Empire and Irish citizens as at present unless specifically excluded.  Those excluded will include:

Those under the age of responsibility, namely 21 years

Psychological research has shown that the adolescent brain reaches maturity only around the age of 21 years old, and while the age varies from individual to individual, testing each potential voter would be impractical and so an age limit should be established on the scientific average age of maturity. In girls this may be 19 years old and in men about 39 years, but 21 is a compromise.

Habitual drunks

No one drunk should be permitted to enter a polling station to vote, which is widely accepted.  Those who habitually get drunk may permanently affect their brains and with it their powers of reasoning and therefore their choice at the vote.  For those not physically damaged, the inability to control themselves is itself evidence of incapacity to accept responsibility. We have not considered in depth the effect this will have on existing Members of Parliament, but we will certainly be urging the full adoption of this section if the behaviour exhibited to our researcher in the Strangers Bar is repeated.

Drug users

(see ‘Habitual drunks’ above)

Patients diagnosed with certain mental health conditions

A defect in the mind preventing a voter from exercising reason would make him or her a danger to the rest of the nation, and so those conditions will exclude a citizen from the franchise.

There is no suggestion that all mental health conditions should exclude a citizen from the right to vote or to engage in the political process: otherwise there would be no MPs.

Students

(see ‘Habitual drunks’ above)

Civil servants (Grades A to D) and quangocrats

As they already have a strong say in the government of the country through their positions, stronger than voters, so allowing a civil servant the franchise in his or her personal capacity would be to give two votes, which is inconsistent with the principle of equal voting rights.  In addition, civil servants are net consumers of tax money rather than contributors and so would have their participation in the franchise suspended as a cautionary provision in advance of the forthcoming study paper on the principle of “no representation without taxation”.

Dog owners (other than farmers)

This is not a criticism of people who own dogs, and members of all political parties have expressed support for dog-ownership. However those who own dogs do not receive election literature: studies have shown that political leaflets dropped through their doors are instantly devoured by their dogs. Therefore dog-owners, if they go to the polls, do so with no understanding of the issues. This cannot be right if democracy is to work. Therefore the presence of a dog in the household must suspend the right to vote, unless the householder can prove to the satisfaction of the local authority’s election officers that they have a cage or other protection for their post or their filthy mut is kept muzzled at all times even indoors.

People who have no obvious letterbox

For the same reason as dog-owners: they are incapable of receiving election literature. Those European-style bolt-on boxes on the wall with a faux Swiss post-horn motif are acceptable, if poor taste.

People whose letterbox is double-sprung or with a hard brush

This reform had cross-party support and was urged on the Commission by volunteer activists.  Such a letterbox ensures that all political leaflets arrive mangled and often illegible, which is a waste of all the effort put into presentation and frequently leaves the leaflet illegible.  Further, the installation of such a letterbox shows a callous disregard for the safety of volunteers posting leaflets and for postmen.

East Enders

Residents of the Borough of Tower Hamlets will see a severe restriction on their current position:  henceforth they will be limited to one vote each.

Environmental activists

Aren’t you meant to be out hugging a tree or something?  Leave voting to the grown-ups.

Socialists

Because you’ve just misunderstood something; in fact everything.

See also

Election done – now what?

Well thank goodness for that: I was not elected, so I have no civic responsibilities. I like to think I was respected for ensuring that the democratic process worked, to make my opponent work for his seat and not seize it as a right. I prefer not to think of it as being massively publicly rejected by my neighbours.

I would quite have liked the (minimal) councillor allowance though.

Now my challenge is what to do now as some public service. I do have some civic charitable things I am working on elsewhere, and I am still cornered to help with a local campaign on a doorstep issue, which I will do.  There was that idea of a “keep fit this summer after you vegged for two years of lock-down” promotion, although there are better men to do that than I.

It is unlikely that I will be invited to negotiate a settlement to end to the Ukrainian War, which I could do if surmounting the credibility gap, so some things less earth-shattering is needed for my time and talent.

National government being such a mess, in spite of best intentions at the top, I will write policy papers.  They have usually been short interventions, as no one has shown a willingness to pay me for these.  A few full-length, bluntly worded papers are needed on certain topic, along with the usual fare.

In the dawns after the election I feel rested, but this should not  be a resting year.

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Books

Governing locally and its frustrations

Our tiring system of local councils was created in a political accident. Lord Salisbury wished to replace the Metropolitan Board of Works with an elected body like a giant municipal council, but had a minority in the Commons, and the Liberal Unionists would only support him only if he would erect elected councils across the whole country, from Cornwall to Zetland, which was done in 1888-9. They had other ideas to push too – the district councils that followed, just to ensure there is no escape from politics.

The system which preceded this revolution is perhaps better looked at in a separate article, but placed local administration in the hands of justices of the peace. These magistrates when sitting spent most of their time dealing with malefactors, and the rest on roads and bridges, policing and anything that had not been handed to public health boards, poor law unions and so forth. By all accounts, separating government from law enforcement was a tangled task and magistrates still sat as councillors and vice versa often in the same building. The system had been creaking and starting to break for decades so Salisbury’s accident had to happen at some point in some way.

It was not the first time the national government has tried to reform local government and found it created a monster. Hobbes recounts a reform by Cromwell:

The Protector, being frustrated of his hope of money at Santo Domingo, resolved to take from the royalists the tenth part yearly of their estates. And to this end chiefly, he divided England into eleven major-generalships, with commission to every major-general to make a roll of the names of all suspected persons of the King’s party, and to receive the tenth part of their estates within his precinct; as also to take caution from them not to act against the state, and to reveal all plots that should come to their knowledge; and to make them engage the like for their servants. They had commission also to forbid horse-races and concourse of people, and to receive and account for this decimation.

… Between the beginning of this year and the day of the Parliament’s sitting, which was September 17, these major-generals, resided in several provinces, behaving themselves most tyrannically. Amongst other of their tyrannies was the awing of elections, and making themselves and whom they pleased to be returned members for the Parliament; which was also thought a part of Cromwell’s design in their constitution.

– Thomas Hobbes: Behemoth

You can almost feel Cromwell’s frustration at lack of control. It is the eternal tension between needing to give power to local bodies, and then being annoyed that they are not your clones, and keep they making their own decisions. Legislation even today goes in a yo-yo between praising localism and then cursing and stopping it. The major-generals have not been called back, to ensure puritan rule, but Whitehall is pretty effective at the same job  nevertheless.

(The next ruler who tried to muzzle local magistrates was James II in 1688, and that was a move against established local power which saw him driven from the throne.)

The modern system is a frustration to central bureaucrats, but I think that is the point.

Voters may thinks Whitehall’s inner Cromwell is right to try to abolish councils wherever it can, as the constant elections are a bore. The weary electorate may wish the old system of unelected magistrates had continued. It  would make for unresponsive, distant administration with little care for the interests of those they are meant to serve, but it would mean we are no bothered by village politicians hammering on our doors. Those trudging endless streets with leaflets and a forced smile may agree.  In the cold as it is getting dark and yet another letterbox is hidden behind a bush or jammed, know that the Liberal Unionists are to blame.

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Books

Hammering long, long streets

I have not been involved in this local election campaign, except for being a candidate and hand-delivering more leaflets than is conceivable this side of sanity. It gets me out and about, which we all need after these weird years. It is cold on the streets this year: blazing sun and high temperatures, but a colder reception at the door.

Not from all though:  this is a friendly village. At the locals, it sends in a rash of salad-munchers, though come the general elections it is reliably blue, but reliability is now in short supply. Boris the rockstar PM is no more – he is a hunted figure, who has taken on a mantle of seriousness in place of fun and it does not play well. Anger over those after-work drinks is utterly illogical, without sense or coherence of reason, but it is real. Once the sheen has come off, we all suffer, and notice that the cost of living is rising and the taxes re rising too when we were promised, when they swore blind, that they would come down. How can a candidate in a little election fight against that?

I will do what I can, what I usually do – trudge the streets, hammering worn feet on hardened tarmac pavements, wondering how late I can post leaflets before householders get angry at the disturbance (the emails that came in last year about that were not friendly), spending lunchtimes and long evenings folding and stacking.

If nothing else, it shows me the variety of streets and made environments that I otherwise just skim over. The streets of identikit houses are not identikit at all, as householders remake them in their own image; the ex-council house with a new, smart porch and refurbished to look like a mini-mansion, and a Beemer parked at the front, or the house with a car collection (that must annoy the neighbours) or an ornate garden spread out at the front.  Scaffolding is in every street and that shows enterprise; even the new-built houses having extensions and personalisations. Whatever commentators have said over a hundred years about dull suburbs and mass-production houses, they are not any more, because every householder is an individual making their  house into a unique home.

Even so, I must turn back: I am still many hundreds of  leaflets away from being able to rest on the ‘bank holiday’ weekend.

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Books

Holes in the Blue Wall

You only understand an election if you talked to voters on their doorstep: distanced punditry is worthless. I was on the doorsteps in Edgbaston during the first Blair election, and was told there was no danger, surely, in true-blue Edgbaston? But it went red, and has stayed red. In Amersham, the party most in favour of HS2 has won on an anti-HS2 vote. Voices on the doorstep could have predicted this.

Voters do not like being taken for granted. They are not owned by any party – we have seen that in the North. Perhaps this time the local Conservative Association was too cocky? There was no frantic campaigning as has been seen elsewhere: the LibDems though were out campaigning months earlier, while the old MP was on her deathbed, which is obscene, but effective. You cannot expect votes just because you have had them before.

It was a by-election. Boris has a stonking majority, and the result was never going to change that, so a voter knew he or she could do anything and it was not going to overthrow the Conservatives in Westminster, so it is time to have a little fun, to shake things up.

There is reason enough and unavoidable wherever you go thereabout: just outside Amersham all along the roads the once-green fields and woods are now acre upon acre of industrial heaps of earth ringed with security fencing and ten-foot signs, filled with monstrous machines grinding the land away. This is the HS2 project. It not just a pair of steel threads across the hills, but needs the hills scraped away forever. In its wake too will come houses; thousands of indistinguishable box-houses and flats destroying what once made Amersham and its villages such a lovely place to live.

The Liberal Democrats support HS2 and support massive house-building, but they got in, convincingly, by claiming to oppose them. That is not so outrageous: it is a Conservative government which is leading the despoliation of the Chilterns.

Loss leads to loss. I knew Edgbaston only too painfully: once a solid Tory seat, now apparently permanently Labour: in the last two elections their candidate won more than 50% of the vote, when it used to be the Conservatives at that level there. Canterbury was a shock loss in 2017: as true a blue constituency as could be imagined; safe and with a big majority, but then Labour’s Rosie Duffield got in, by a tiny margin in 2017, and then two years later stayed there, with almost a 2,000 majority. Can Amersham and Chesham be won back? Once a constituency’s voters find they can vote another way, they think differently about their assumptions, and they can do it again.

This was an unusual one, with weird voting patterns skewed by the circumstances and a low turn-out, but nothing can be taken for granted. Look at Canterbury, and Edgbaston.

Do I want to write about this, and can I? I would rather be writing about the Sausage War. Still, it is the live topic of the day, so you must forgive my indulgence in my observations. Others who knocked on the endless doors of the villages may contradict me, and really I would prefer to hear from them.

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