Monday, 20 April 2009

Why postal votes can help not hinder democracy

A lot is being written about the Erith and Thamesmead selection process, but there was one line of argument which struck me as being particularly in need of perusal. In some of the print coverage of the postal vote accusations, it suggests that the large number of party members registered to vote by post in the selection must signify that something dodgy has happened. (The Labour Party meanwhile has commented that the number was not unduly large). Even if it was a larger amount than usual, is this necessarily a bad thing? Obviously if the allegations were true that people were filling in forms before approaching members, that's wrong and against Party rules. Though the investigation by the Labour Party has concluded that there was no irregularity. So, given that we try and maximise the postal vote in normal elections, why shouldn't we do the same in selections?

But it was a comment by Susan Press in Saturday's Guardian which really got me thinking:
Democracy should be about making a choice and people can't make a choice if they are not hearing the candidates speak and answer questions.
The current rules state that you can only have a postal ballot if you know you can't make the hustings. And I thought, actually, if you've made your mind up about who you want to vote for, why shouldn't you have a postal vote? We all know things happen last minute - children get ill, you have to stay at work late - so why should you be disenfranchised from voting for your parliamentary candidate, one of the few powers local Labour members have, just because we have an outdated notion about needing to be at the hustings.

If the candidates have done their job properly you should know all their views backwards! If they haven't knocked at your door four times, had inordinate amounts of cups of tea, explained their position on the electoral system, Trident, Iraq and the recession, and sent you a nice card afterwards, they haven't pulled their finger out. Of course it would be best if you could hear everyone give their stump speech - after all, we know politicians perform differently on a one-to-one and it's always good to see if they crumble in front of a bigger audience - but if you have heard all the candidates' views and want to be on the safe side I think you should be allowed to request a postal vote without needing to give a reason.

I think this presenteeism represents a wider problem with the way the party operates. Unless you can make your branch meeting or GC it's hard to have a say in the way your local party works. And yet we know that online forums give people who live busy ordinary lives the opportunity to get involved, yet we don't allow for proxy votes or give people systems to debate without turning up to the church hall every month. I think we need to get a little bit more savvy about the reality of peoples' lives and make it easy for them to participate in key decisions in the party, not harder.


  1. Sorry, I can't go along with this. A postal vote is not a secret ballot, it is one that can be monitored by your employer, husband, party official, random campaigner...

    Hilary Clinton did worse where there was an open caucus than in similar towns where the ballot was secret.

  2. A postal vote is a secret ballot and if your employer is monitoring it I would report them to the Electoral fraud unit!