What a finale for the final days of Tony Blair?
On the day after the historic decision by the Commons to back a 100% elected House of Lords there’s news this morning that the Welsh and Scottish elections as well as the English local council elections on May 3rd could be scrutinised for vote tampering and fraud by a European Human Rights watchdog.
If this happens the UK would be the first western democracy to have its electoral processes scrutinised in such a way by outsiders.
According to the Guardian the delegation from the Council of Europe that visited Britain last week is to recommend that May’s elections be overseen by external monitors because of fears of electoral fraud.
At the heart of the issue is the Labour belief that it suffers most from low turnouts and this has been the driving force behind the series of measures designed to make voting easier.
If more people can be persuaded to vote, it is reasoned, then Labour will do better. That is why one measure after another has been pushed through by ministers without cross-party support and, in many cases, against the strong views of the Electoral Commission.
An analysis of the all postal voting experiment in large pars of England in the Euro elections in 2004 showed that Labour did comparatively better in regions where this system was in place. The main exception being the East Midlands Region where Robert Kilroy-Silk (remember him?) headed the list for UKIP – his party at the time.
The body behind the probe is not the EU but the Council of Europe. This was founded in 1949 and consists of 46 nations. The conditions for membership are pluralistic democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
From the political perspective the problem for Labour is that this comes on top of the cash-for-honours probe and would provide useful ammunition for the party’s opponents.
You can almost hear the SNP’s Alex Salmond taking this up to bash Blair, and Brown as well. Under-statement, especially when it comes to rubbishing Labour, is not a Salmond characteristic. In May, of course, there’ll be little point in spending too much effort on Tony – all the fire will be on Gordon.
Meanwhile in the Labour leadership betting the price on the Chancellor has tightened to 0.25/1.