Was the postal voting experiment a Labour own goal?

Was the postal voting experiment a Labour own goal?

NOTE: Post updated 0815 Sunday


In an astute comment last weekend the Independent on Sunday political columnist, Alan Watkins, had this to say about postal voting:-

What is surprising is that the venture was embarked on at all. For the wisdom of the wise in Labour circles was always that postal voting benefited the Conservatives and the Liberals, as they were then named. That was because they were not only more conscientious naturally but more accustomed to dealing with envelopes and bits of paper in their daily lives.

We’ll have to wait until we are able to compare the changes in party shares in the Euro regions tonight to be able to determine whether Watkins was right. We do know that the experiment increased turnout but did it help or hinder Labour’s election performance?

    By pushing through the experiment against strong Tory and Lib Dem opposition a lot of political capital was at stake. Thus when the inevitable problems occured in the tight time-tabled process of printing, stuffing, mailing and addressing 14m packs the Government was blamed.

The lack of prior political consensus made the problems much worse and the issue itself became a major campaign issue. Because of the broadcasting campaign requirements for balanced coverage much of Labour “time” was spent trying to head off charges of gerrymandering and incompetance.

All this was happening 7-10 days before the election just when the vast majority of postal voters were filling in their ballots and having to go through the cumbersome process of the identity confirmation. Although the form-filling does not seem to have deterred voting it might be that voters were “blaming” Labour for having to go through the process.

    The postal voting row undermined Labour’s ability to exploit fully the UKIP threat to the Tories which was opening up the serious divides over Europe.

Ironically one of the main electoral beneficiaries looks as though it might have been the Liberal Democrats – the party that had been most opposed to the plan.

    All the Lib Dem Council gains were in the postal voting experiment. All the party’s Council losses were in the non-experimental areas.

The experiment covered all the metropolitan boroughs which are the largest authorities – four of which were lost by Labour. Of the non-experimental councils that was lost just one was a unitary authority.

What we do not know, of course, is whether the losses would have been the same if there had been no pilot schemes. Excluding Birmingham Labour had a net loss of 213 councillors in the Metropolitan Boroughs out of a total loss figure of 476 – a figure which include a large number where there was postal voting. In 2000 the Labour share was 38.4% in the metros and it will be interesting to see how much that has dropped and whether the margin is bigger or smaller than with all the local authority elections on Thursday.

The overall level of Labour support in 2000 in all authorities was 32.4%. At the moment the only party split figures we have are the BBC estimate of C-38, Lib-29 and Lab 26 which would indicate a Labour drop of 6.6%. One thing the increased turnout did do was to make it much harder for the BNP to get a foot-hold.

Tonight’s Euro results should give us an early answer. If, indeed, these do show that Labour does badly in the postal vote regions and the Tories and Lib Dems doing well are we going to see the parties reverse their positions. This has no direct betting interest although it will be interesting to see if Tony Blair wants a much wider scheme at the General Election.

BETTING UPDATE. In a market we have not featured before you can get 1.1 on Michael Howard being Tory leader at the General Election. Barring an accident or mishap this would seem to be the nearest things there is to a certainty.

MEDIA COMMENT. Do SkyNews understand the consitution? In their results coverage on Thursday and Friday this appeared:-

As Labour suffers losses in the local council elections, a Sky News/YouGov poll suggests that although Tony Blair would still be PM if the vote had been a general election – he’d no longer have an overall majority.

Somebody should tell Sky that if Labour loses its overall Commons majority then there is no certainty that Tony Blair would still be PM – or are we being softened up for something!

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