Civil Liberties

James Wallis, third year Political Science student at the University has contributed to us his second article.

Let me start by disclaiming that Civil Liberties are the one area of policy that I am most interested in right now. They’ve taken a battering under Labour throughout the last twelve years. They will struggle to do anything right on this issue in my eyes; Given their record I’m naturally suspicious. Even if you don’t agree with me on that, then perhaps you will agree that as rights go, the right to vote is a pretty important one. Essential, in fact, to the entire idea of a democracy. And so it is with dismay that I read this morning in The Times that the Civil Service have been looking at ways of making elections cheaper, regardless of how it impacts upon the 60 million people in this country who deserve to be given the fullest opportunity to use their vote.

The proposals have since been shot down by Jack Straw who has described them as ‘simply unacceptable’, and this is perhaps for your benefit as a reader because it prevents me going on a rant about the subject. However, I feel it actually opens up an even more important point.

The ideas which were being circulated included having fewer polling stations, closing polling stations earlier and replacing polling cards with a call centre. The last one in particular seems utterly ridiculous in that it would cause absolute chaos if you had to phone a call centre before being allowed to vote. The idea of closing polling stations earlier also seems bizarre given that they are threatening not to count the votes until the folowing day. One way or another they’re determined not to work for us.

Had a think tank compiled this report and had it shot down, it would not have worried me unduly. If it had been a leak from an irrelevant Civil Servant again, it would have been excusable. But this report has been seen by those in charge of organising elections and by local government Chief Executives. This raises two important points. Firstly, how could a minister not know about something, which changes something so fundamental to our democracy, being sent our for consultation. And secondly how did no-one object to the plans until it was leaked to The Times? Do the officials, many of whom are un-elected, really care that little about our democracy that they are willing to make it harder for us to vote in order to save what is, in terms of the national budget, peanuts?

I understand that all departments want, or perhaps need, to save money wherever they can because our government has destroyed our national finances. But saving £65 million at the expense of democracy seems utterly ridiculous. Today the Youth Parliament is meeting in the House of Commons. They would be free, which would save even more. Just saying.

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