Saturday, March 06, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Straw Backtracks on Election Night Counts

Having bowed to pressure a few weeks ago to force councils to hold overnight election counts, it appears that Justice Secretary Jack Straw has had a rethink.

Nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that the new Government clause to prevent Friday counting was completely watered down at the Report stage this week.

If you look at the latest version of the Constiutional Reform and Governance Bill online (section 90) you will see that the clause that caused all that excitement recently has been removed.

All the Returning Officers now have to do is take reasonable steps to try and start the count overnight now (hold a planning meeting?). If they decide not to do so the only sanction is that they have to write to the Electoral Commission within 30 days explaining why they didn't. Here is the relevant amendment...

NEW CLAUSE 37 - Parliamentary elections: counting of votes

'(1) Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) (parliamentary elections rules) is amended as follows.

(2) In rule 44 (attendance at counting of votes) after paragraph (5) insert-

"(6) In making arrangements under this rule, the returning officer shall have regard to the duty imposed on him by rule 45(3A) below."

(3) In rule 45 (the count)-

(a) after paragraph (3) insert-

"(3A) The returning officer shall take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes given on the ballot papers as soon as practicable within the period of four hours starting with the close of the poll.";

(b) after paragraph (7) insert-

"(8) The Electoral Commission shall issue guidance to returning officers on the duty imposed by paragraph (3A) above."

(4) After rule 53 insert-

"Counting of votes: statement by returning officer

53ZA (1) In a contested election, if the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers did not begin within the period specified in rule 45(3A) above, the returning officer shall before the expiry of the period of 30 days starting with the day on which the poll closed-

(a) prepare and publish a statement giving the information specified in paragraph (2) below, and

(b) deliver it to the Electoral Commission.

(2) The statement must-

(a) specify the time at which the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers began,

(b) describe the steps taken under rule 45(3A) above, and

(c) explain why the counting of the votes given on the ballot papers did not start within the period specified in rule 45(3A) above.

(3) Where a statement is delivered to the Electoral Commission under paragraph (1)(b) above, the Commission shall specify in any election report they produce that a statement has been delivered to them under that paragraph in respect of the constituency to which the statement relates.

(4) In paragraph (3) above "election report" means a report under section 5(1) or (2A) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in relation to the parliamentary election in question."'.- (Mr. Wills.)

Word hasn't got round the Returning Officer world about this yet, I understand, but when it does it would be reasonable to expect something like 60 to 80 to happily write the Electoral Commission a letter about their decision to count on Friday. They are not the most dissident set of people but you do get the impression that on this they are willing to die in the ditches.

The appalling thing is that no one - MPs, journalists and bloggers alike - seem to have noticed this sleight of hand by Jack Straw - or perhaps, more accurately, his civil servants. And we call this parliamentary scrutiny! Surely to God someone in the Commons should have been paying attention. It went through on the nod, with no debate and no vote.

I understand - although I haven't seen it - that a letter has been sent out by the AEA to Returning Officers explaining why Michael Wills, the Justice Minister, has agreed to the new amendment. Although surprisingly nothing appears on their public website.

It is not just the EROs who need certainty, it is the broadcasters. All the main broadcasters will have something like 100 outside broadcast vans in various leisure centres and school halls on the night and Friday if necessary. Many are being imported from overseas as British broadcasters don't have enough to go around.

The lack of certainty over who is counting when is causing huge logistical problems for Sky, ITV and the BBC. If there are significant numbers of counts on the Friday it makes the difference between planning a 14 hour broadcast and a 20 hour one, with all the resultant consequences of staffing levels, hotels etc.

At some point, decisions are going to have to be made.


Redbridge Blue said...

Another classic example of Labour's sleight of hand. There ability to say one thing, mean another and then do something else is unparalelled. Following Gordon Brown's "disingenuous" ( display at the Chilcot Enquiry, nothing should surprise us, yet we hang on like an abused wife to the notion that they mean what they say.

Count the votes straightaway Jack. Every hours delay will damage the pound, skew the markets and hurt Britain.

And please God, let's hope the country rubs the sleep from its eyes and sees Labour and the Scottish mafia that is running Briiain for the charlatans theyare and send them scurrying back to Kircaldy.

John East said...

I wouldn't worry too much about inconveniencing the media, Ian. I'd worry more about Labour being given another 24 hours to count their postal votes with no media being present.

joshuachambers said...

Hmm, Straw did say at the time of the debate that he wanted to send a message to returning officers - and also that he was putting it in to send a message, he didn't say anything stronger. Not sure this is backtracking at all.

joshuachambers said...

From politicshome:

"Mr Straw said that Labour would hold a free vote and that Parliament should send election officers "a clear message" on this.

He admitted that the wording of the clause may not be perfect and require revising but he did not want to leave this until the report stage of the bill."

Norfolk Blogger said...

As I have pointed out before Iain, the answer to this is in Tory hands. In Norfolk all the overnight counts are being done by the non Tory run councils. All the Friday counts are being done by Tory councils.

You can see where the problem lies.

Iain Dale said...

Nich, for once, take off your party political blinkers. The decision lies in the sole hands of the Returning officer and is not open to political influence. A council leader does not have the power to step in to reverse it.

I would have thought an aspirant councillor would have known that.

Q said...

How exact does this post decrying the laziness and incompetence of parliamentarians and their unwillingness to provide the most basic oversight square with yesterday's post about how those salt-of-the-earth hard-working MPs are soooo deserving of a bit more of my money?

Not a sheep said...

Come on be fair, there are postal votes to be thought off, ballot boxes to appear or disappear. This all takes time to do properly.

Ian said...

All it does is allow the Labour Party to fine tune their success in Operation Glenrothes.

trevorsden said...

No doubt brown wants to hang on to power 12 hours longer and dodge the point where he concedes.

In any event the real story is Brown calling the chiefs of staff past and present a bunch of liars.

Kieran said...

Well spotted Iain.

An election result is a lot easier to
manipulate if you have an extra day to do it in.

Hythlodaeus said...

Is it that no-one has noticed this or is it just that you are one of the few people who is actually bothered by it?

A vast number of other countries take time to count their votes properly, using fresh, alert staff rather then starting late at night and going on until the early hours. Amazingly, it doesn't result in bias, over stretched media or the fall of democracy.

It's also worth pointing out that by delaying the count until the next day in some of the more rural areas, it means that ballot boxes won't have to be transported by helicopter at great expense and that all the votes will be able to be counted at once rather then most of them being counted and the final result held up on the basis of a few boxes.
I suspect, and this may well be of interest to the Tories at the nest election, that staff will be much better prepared for recounting, being less tired at mid-day after a night's sleep then at 3AM.

George said...

Well, what did you expect Iain?, fairness, fairplay, honesty.
Good grief man this is Labour, this is pissed orff civil servants, people who don't give a damn. If we were colonial yankees we would thinking conspiracy.
More prosiac is that Labour don't give a toss, it keeps them in power for an extra day and will allow a deal to be struck with the power brokers within the Lib-Dems or some other minority party that will keep Gordo floating and a bunch of pretty nasty half-wits holding the levers of power.

Is there still time for a further amendment to this Act to make it decent and proper?

Word Verification, NERVANA.
Is that a nervous state of total ecstasy.
Living in a paradise on a major global earthquake fault line.

John M Ward said...

Indeed, Iain, I'd be suspicious that the reason those specific Norfolk-based Returning Officers wish to defer their own Counts might be for dubious reasons.

After all, there'd be no benefit in overnight fiddling with ballots in the areas where the "right" result is already likely/certain to happen...

Roger Thornhill said...

Typical Labour.

Backtrack then slip it in later when we are not looking.

And Strawman rattles on about Rule of Law? His instinct, as with Harman, is to subvert it.when convenient.

John M Ward said...

If Hythlo-whatever was right, this would have been a problem since polling and counting began; but it isn't. The clue is there.

Especially with modern technology, it is now easier to do what has been done for decades (at least) without significant problems nationwide.

Of course, if that previous poster is trying to suggest that today's Count officials haven't what it takes to cope any more, well..

DespairingLiberal said...

I think "slippery" is the defining word when one thinks of Jack Straw. Rarely was a man more suited to being a politician.

On the actual issue, isn't the problem postal votes? It would be good to hear what you think on this point. I've heard that the problem is that the government has not put in place the machinery or budget to expedite the growing problem of doing the required checks on postal votes on time. If so, it's a classic of non-joined-up government with one hand not having a clue what the other needs and also of requirements being placed on local authorities for which they are not funded, another NuLab favorite.

Anyone know more?

trevorsden said...

Why just why all of a sudden do we need to change countless decades of custom and practice?

On the subject of the election - Mr Smithson over at is speculating that there will not be a budget before the election - one obvious reason being that Brown and Darling cannot agree on its contents.

A bit of a change from when Brown was chancellor when he told nobody what was going on until they heard it in his speech.

Who is responsible for naming the budget day? I suppose the PM as chief Lord of the Treasury can veto Darling.

tapestry said...

The government will have chosen their Returning Officers carefully enough. The informal networks such as Common Purpose will be in place to ensure the election result is the one required by the government.

Banana Republic? That would be a let-off from what is coming. This is dictatorship.

Gordon Brown is Britain's taste of history's evil, as the coming election will demonstrate.

The Pound won't be on a par to one Dollar, more like 10 cents.

Iain Dale will be in the tower and his entrails fed to the ravens, when he points out that the marginals were all counted the next day.

Next time they won't even pretend to rig an election. This one could be the last democratic act we ever see. Elections as theatre only from here on. People will be shattered by what is to happen next.

Tony Ferguson said...

Iain I am not sure that I entirely agree with your comment above. Whilst you may be technically correct as to who makes the decisons, the returning officer is usually a senior officer of said council who will be in regular meetings with senior members of the council who can (and do) express opinions on everything from the location of polling stations to the time and place of counts. The officer does not have to respond but a pragmatic officer will engage in the debate I am sure and take note of such opinions

davidc said...

shifty straw rats out - nothing to see, move along

The Purpleline said...

This is not a surprise, it is well known that Labour wish to have more time to ensure they do not lose marginal seats.

Expect in 2011-12 to see many court cases where Labour activisist and local party members are in courts with Voting and postal fraud charges against their name.

If the Conservative party were to state now that in their manifesto they will hold a judicial inquiry into the Iraq war and the death of Dr Kelly,with the result binding on whether to charge them with war crime offences at the hague or through our courts for willfully sending tropps into battle without proper funding then the party would win the election with a landslide.
Brown was very worrying yesterday, he talks like we have a world government in place, we do not, and we must fight to stop that happening.

The Purpleline said...

Iain- I think you should write an open letter to the UN asking them to come in and monitor our election.

Perhaps we could have some of Obama's Black Panthers (thugs) assist us as they did him. NOT!

I see watching Glenn Beck that all charges against the Black Panthers movement have been dropped.

If uou gerrymander the population and employ most of the idiots in the public sector then you win the election it is one of the oldest tricks in the book and next to complete prostitution the second oldest profession a labour politician. I cannot wait and will state on here with fear of prosecution that should Brown get in there will be major disturbances this summer. I am not wishing for it, just stating my belief, the drak forces teh Queen spoke about are working very hard behind teh scenes to ensure Brown wins

Indy said...

Does this not indicate that the GE will be held to coincide with local government elections - which, along with the postal vote issue, is surely what is behind returning officer concerns about managing overnight counts?

StraightMan said...

Count the votes straightaway Jack. Every hours delay will damage the pound, skew the markets and hurt Britain.

And please God, let's hope the country rubs the sleep from its eyes and sees Labour and the gay mafia that is running Briiain for the charlatans theyare.

Man in a Shed said...

Labour now see that the election could be stolen after all.

If those holding Friday counts are Labour marginals then we must assume the election has been fixed.

miko said...

Brown is just trying to delay the day of his political execution.

Let him have another day.

But let the day he is finally driven out of Downing Street, be declared a National Holiday.

Perhaps it could be called "Freedom From Labour Day"

Manofstraw said...

Count the votes straightaway Jack. Every hours delay will damage the pound, skew the markets and hurt Britain.

And please God, let's hope the country rubs the sleep from its eyes and sees Labour and the jewish mafia that is running Briiain for the charlatans theyare.

cassandra said...

Its opperation rig the vote and stuff the ballot box, marginals suddenly turn out to have more votes in the boxes than voters in the area, postal votes mass produced and 'other votes' somehow lost.
The average ballot box holds the equivolent of the win lose margin for many constituencies, thats just one ballot box making the difference!
Does anyone think that cheating is beyond the political classes? A political class that has turned lying and cheating into an artform.
Overnight counts have nothing to do with cost savings and H&S b*ll*cks and everything to do with having ballot boxes sitting in a empty room away from prying eyes.

Socialism is built on lies peddled by liars, they lie and cheat because they believe the end justifies the means, they will do ANYTHING to further their cause, no trick is too dirty, no smear is too ugly, no crookery is too crooked for them, if they can steal the election you just know that they will try.
If the Tories had any sense they would man every ballot box store door untill the count begins.
All it takes to swap/stuff/rig a ballot box is a couple of minutes.

ianthegun said...

The longer they can get between the polling day and the count, the easyer it will be to alter or fix the election. We have already seen now it would work in Birmingham council elections.

Ian said...

The BNP have asked for their own seals to be placed on ballot boxes on close of poll (the parties are entitled to under the Ballott Act.

It might be impractical for every box in every marginal to be so sealed although we should try but we should demand that at 10.00 p.m. we see (and seal) the postal ballot boxes.

Tony_E said...

I am deeply concerned that there is another motive behind this.

The widespread use of postal voting on demand has already been shown to invite fraud, late counts could be another way of achieving the 'right' result.

They never did find all the paperwork in Glenrothes did they?

tapestry said...

Blair invited international election monitors in to supervise the 2005 GE. Their recommendations were completely ignored.

Andy JS said...


(a) 134 of the Tories' top 200 targets have confirmed they are counting on the night.

(b) 10 of the Tories' top 200 targets will begin counting on the Friday if the election is on May 6th, but on the night otherwise.

(c) 19 of the Tories' top 200 targets will begin counting on the Friday.

(d) 24 of the Tories' top 200 targets have told the Electoral Commission they haven't decided yet.

(e) 13 of the Tories' top 200 targets have not responded to the Electoral Commission's request for information on this subject.

Just Wonderful said...

Having watched the debates on TV and noticed how carefully he chose his words during the debates I am not in the least bit surprised. The Labour Party are very good at giving the press a nice headline to placate the voters while pushing through legislation that is entirely different.

In parliamentary debates Jack Straw dissembles, stumbles and bumbles along whilst giving the appearance of being sincere. I honestly think the only thing he is sincere about is his desire to get re-elected.

................................. said...

Yes Iain, it's very important that the count happens as soon as the polls close.

But please stop getting your knickers in a twist about the broadcasters! The reason it's important is emphatically NOT so that the BBC, ITV and Sky can plan their flippin' schedules. It's important because the British people have the right to know who their Government is as soon as possible.

Going on about planning election night TV is just idiotic. No wonder people think us political types are weird.

Just Wonderful said...

I could have finished off my previous post with the phrase... Straw is a turd, but thought that may have been too harsh. Then I thought again. Actually Straw is a turd! He only has Labour and his own self interest in mind. If he had any class he would have taken Brown down, but self interest ruled the day. Coward!

DespairingLiberal said...

All you conspiracy theorists (most of them pretty barking) have missed an obvious plot - that the "government" (who - civil servants? highly placed MI5 officers?) have decided that it would not be sensible to announce a hung parliament and then have the City take a resounding battering the following morning. This gives "them" an extra day to spin things and take control. They did this before remember, the weekend of the big bank failures.

Thatsnews said...

Labour are good at this sort of stuff.

A pox on them and their union backers.

Andy JS said...

Sounds like they're counting on the night in Iraq.

If they can do it, I think we should be able to do it as well!