Not a huge post from me - just some remarkable statistics that really did make me gasp. Unbelievable one of the world’s largest economies, not to mention one of the oldest welfare states, could allow a situation to emerge where:
1.4 million people in the UK have been on an out-of-work benefit for nine or more of the last 10 years;
Income inequality in the UK is now at its highest level since comparable statistics began in 1961;
Social mobility in Britain is worse than in the USA, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark;
A higher proportion of children grow up in workless households in the UK than in any other EU country.
Iain Duncan Smith has a huge task ahead of him, and along with Michael Gove I genuinely believe he could go down as one of the great reforming ministers of recent history.
Jenny Watson has launched an inquiry into what happened. Well, it doesnt seem too complicated.
The scenes of voters being turned away at polling stations should not happen in a modern democracy. I don’t agree that just by turning up at 9.59pm you should expect to waltz straight in and vote, but some of the people turned away had been queing for hours and they should have been able to vote. Equally, the idea that some councils predict how many people won’t turn out before putting the necessary resources in place has a woefull, Ryanair/Travelodge feel to it and those responsible should be given a very strong dressing down.
However, she does have a point about one thing - the electoral roll framework, initially designed for 5m people, is now creaking under 45m records.
The electoral roll is the basis of an incredible amount of systems. From council tax to school allocation, it is used by a host of government departments and agencies who treat it as gospel. Yet the British electoral roll is widely regarded by experts as one of the most inaccurate sources of data going.
The frenetic drive to increase postal vote registrations from all parties has not made the situation any easier, and the current system is woefully ill-equipped to deliver secure and transparent elections, as some election monitors from Kenya noted.
The words of Marie Marilyn Jalloh, an MP from Sierra Leone, are particularly cutting: “[The British] system is a recipe for corruption; it was a massive shock when I saw you didn’t need any identification to vote. In Sierra Leone you need an identity card and also to give your fingerprint. Here you need nothing. In this respect, our own system is more secure than yours.”
The example of Alfie McKenzie, who at 14 very nearly cast a vote, is not an isolated incident - the continuing situation of students being sent ballot cards or postal votes for multiple addresses continues unabated. Not to mention the acceptance from all quarters that there remain a large number of ‘ghost’ voters, who for one reason or another no longer live at the address they have a vote sent to.
Let me make myself clear - the reason for low turnout is not the hugley impractical process of having to get to a polling station. It’s because people either don’t feel their vote will matter, feel the politicians on offer are all as bad as each other, or because for one reason or another they are not engaged by the political debate. Plus, there will always be some people, however depressing it is to say, who will simply not be bothered enough to vote.
As I watched the rejected ballots be sifted for my own constituency, there were several people who had opted to spoil their ballots (some in more creative and defamatory ways than others!) and I was reminded that one great principle of the British electoral system is the ability to spoil your ballot. (Not possible in e-elections or mechanical telling machines - unless you’re trying to vote for Al Gore in Florida)
The solution to this isnt a mammoth, national IT database, but if one local authority could pilot an alternative way of managing the electoral roll, and perhaps test some innovations in how the poll could work, we might improve participation and reduce the risk of fraud at the same time.
What kind of innovations? Well, here are a few points I think should be considered:
Fundamental reform in the way the electoral register is created and managed - perhaps using a ‘live’ database to cross reference, such as National Insurance or PAYE records - this should also include serious reform of voter registration processes
A tightening up of the postal vote system, restricting it to pensioners, the incapacitated and those out of the country on polling day
An ‘advance vote’ system where instead of postal votes, a single polling booth is made available (possibly at the head office of the relevant local authority) where people can vote in advance (ie between close of nominations and polling day) to remove need for postal/proxy votes
A formal ID check at polling stations
Serious consideration should be given to moving polling day to a Saturday or Sunday
During the election campaign, I was asked by Vibrations magazine to be their token tory for a piece on culture and the general election. I really enjoyed the conversation and (other than probably swearing too much) I hope I made some sense.
So, after a few hectic months, the time has come to reflect on the campaign and thank the dedicated group of volunteers for their support during the campaign.
We performed much better than the national swing of 5%, halving Yvette’s majority with a 12.5% swing - which was described as “astonishing” by no less than David Dimbleby. My dad was particularly proud of that!
It has been a real privilege to be the candidate, and it is deeply humbling for so many people to place their trust in me with their vote. I’ve enjoyed the experience enormously, from the street surgeries to the hustings events I hope I’ve been able to bring a few new people into the fold and strengthened the Conservative cause.
Whilst I was gutted to see both Wakefield and Morley be held by labour by such slim majorities, across the district I think we can be proud that we ran a positive campaign in the face of one of the most relentlessly negative campaigns an incumbent government has ever run.
I can honestly say I don’t know what comes next now - I’m lucky to have a job I enjoy, once again festival season will soon be upon me and I really, really do need to go on holiday. I’ve got a paper for the Conservative Technology Forum to finish, lots of thank you letters to write and the election in Thirsk & Malton to help with. Some people said some incredibly kind things to me during the campaign and I will take their messages with me into whatever avenue my life goes down next.
But for now, I’ll end with saying once again, to everyone who helped thank you very, very much and I hope this won’t be the last time I have the privilege of being part of the noble endeavor we call democracy.
Yesterday some of the team and I spent the day handing out copies of David Cameron’s contract between the Conservative Party and voters.
The contract sets out certain specific things in exchange for people’s vote.
It’s a contract that sets out what we will do as our side of the bargain. How we’ll make sure we’ll have good schools. What we’ll do to improve our health service. How we’ll make people feel safer on our streets. What our role is in getting the economy moving and making sure there are jobs.
Changing our political system to make it more accountable, open and local - including commitments to give people the right to sack their MP; cut the number of MPs by 10%; cut ministers’ pay by 5%; give local communities more power, and publish details of government spending and contracts.
Changing the economy to get it moving - including commitments to cut wasteful spending to stop Labour’s jobs tax; act now on debt; get Britain working by reforming welfare; reduce emissions and build a green economy; control immigration.
Changing society to help build a Big Society where everyone plays a part in helping to mend our broken society. This includes commitments to: increase spending on health each year; support families; raise standards in schools; increase the basic state pension; fight back against crime, and create National Citizen Service for every 16 year old.
In his speech launching the contract, David Cameron said: “We haven’t had enough accountability in our government these recent years, they say things and say things but nothing changes.”
“This contract will set out our side of the bargain, what we’re going to do. And I urge people to read it, to hold us to it, to make sure we deliver it as we all work together to build the stronger society, the faster growing economy, the cleaner political system that we all need to see in this country”.