Are we about to have “cut-price” democracy?
Oh dear! Oh dear! Can they never get this right? Given current Labour poll ratings in the mid-20s you can understand that ministers are not relishing the coming fight but this morning’s front page lead in the Times sends out all the wrong messages.
There are plans to reduce the costs by slashing the number of polling stations and reducing the hours that they stay open. Guess which ones would suffer? Those in rural areas where, as no doubt it will be observed, there are fewer Labour voters.
There are also plans make it harder for fringe candidates to stand by increasing the deposit and to abandon the so-called “free-post” arrangement whereby every candidate at a general election is entitled to have one leaflet delivered by the Royal Mail to every voter free of charge. Instead there would be a booklet with contributions from all the candidates where the costs would be shared.
The minor parties without established ground organisations – the Greens, UKIP and the BNP – would probably be most hit.
Clearly all arrangements should be looked rat egularly and some of these are sensible – but the moment to tinker is not before a crucial general election but immediately afterwards.
For anything that Labour proposes is seen in the context of the coming fight and their “form” on things like the much-criticised lax arrangements for postal voting which it forced through and voter registration.
The default assumption is that they are trying to gain an advantage. These matters should always be the subject of cross-party consensus – as they were before 1997 – and it has been a massive mistake by ministers to have abandoned that principle.
An incoming Tory government is likely to have all sorts of plans to change the system and Labour might find that their go it alone approach while in power will mean that they are left out in the cold when its their turn to be in opposition.
Trust in the democratic process is a precious commodity. Lose that and who knows what will happen?