Thursday, April 01, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Returning Officers Threaten to Strike Over Election Counts

The row over election night counting threatened to worsen last night, as Returning Officers revolted over Government plans to force them to hold counts on election night itself, rather than the next day.

I can reveal that more than 100 Returning Officers have signed a letter to the Electoral Commission threatening to withhold their services if they are forced to count overnight. They don't use the word, but essentially they are threatening to go on strike! If they carry through on their threats ballot boxes could remain unopened for days if not weeks, and the result of the general election might remain in doubt for some time.

It has emerged that under an obscure piece of legislation passed by Parliament in April 1921, it is impossible to remove a Returning Officer once he or she has been appointed. Only in the event of their death can they be replaced. This means that once the election is called and their appointment is confirmed they have to remain in office and no one else - including the Electoral Commission or the Ministry of Justice - has jurisdiction over the conduct of the poll on the day or the count itself.

Ministers are said to be considering emergency legislation which could be introduced into the Commons next Tuesday and forced through Parliament before it is prorogued on Thursday. This legislation would enable the Electoral Commission to take over the functions of any Returning Officer, who, for whatever reason, was failing to carry out his duties.

I tried to get a comment from the Electoral Commission but they were remaining tight-lipped, as was Jack Straw's special adviser, Mark Davies.

There is even a suggestion that the dispute might even prevent the Prime Minister from announcing the election, as expected on Tuesday. Sources close to Number 10 are saying that the Prime Minister has ordered Jack Straw to get the situation sorted by the weekend but if he is unsuccessful, Downing Street strategists are now looking at having to hold the election on 13th or 20th May. A complicating factor is that the local elections, by law, must take place on 6th May. Parliamentary draughtsmen are looking at whether a clause could be inserted into any emergency legislation to enable the local elections to be delayed until any Thursday between 13 May and 3 June, the last possible date for a General Election.

I will try to get further details during the course of the day.

22 comments:

alex_the_tory said...

This is clearly an april fools. Nice try though

Tcheuchter said...

April 1 anyone?

The Last Of The Few said...

01/04/10 - You can do better than that !!!

Unsworth said...

Cui Bono?

Ann said...

Is it April 1st?

gawain said...

Poisson d'Avril!

stephen said...

good april fool iain

Colin said...

I'll admit it, Iain, you got me! Mostly because I'm off on holiday from 14th May onwards, so any suggestion of a non-May 6th poll gives me the jitters!

el-sid said...

On a serious note, this got me thinking. Is there any reason why an election _has_ to be on a Thursday, other than custom?

It's just that in the current circumstances, any kind of uncertainty about the election result could have very real effects on the economy. That seems a dangerous game to play just for the sake of "custom".

If we had the election on a Friday then we'd have 58 hours breathing space before the markets opened. Given the state of the economy and the significant risk of there being a hung parliament, it's got to be a no-brainer, no?

Man in a Shed said...

Have to admit you got me with this one - I had a full head of steam for a rant in the comments section until I saw the other comments.

Dooh !

Squiffy said...

Nice try, the one in the Guardian is hilarious.

I can just see Gordon Brown putting David Cameron in a head-lock. I guess he may start giving him Chinese burns and threaten to have a game of Craven with him rather than have an election.

Roger Thornhill said...

Must be April Fools.

It is like Teachers striking because they have to stand in front of a class of kids...


...er, hold on...

pete-s said...

Iain, the sad point about the joke is, that given how ludicrous the country has got, your scenario is entirely plausible.

FX Man said...

You get my vote for this [even though it may not be counted for several weeks]

The Real April Fool:

http://fxbites.blogspot.com/2010/04/april-fool.html

Moriarty said...

Sky News are running a good AF gag. They're claiming that petrol has gone up to nearly £1.20 per litre.

Ha ha ha. You nearly got me there!

zeno said...

It's almost as funny as Gordon's joke about declining immigration. He's a wag, that one.

WV - 'knuent', which is about as close to an obscenity as Iain allows!

Penfold said...

good oh.

The Grim Reaper said...

el-sid said "On a serious note, this got me thinking. Is there any reason why an election has to be on a Thursday, other than custom?"

Contrary to popular belief, there is no law saying that elections must be held on a Thursday. It's simply a tradition that seems to have taken hold in this country, that's all. Legally speaking, an election must take place on a weekday. It can't take place on a weekend nor a bank holiday.

The Fat Councillor said...

Best political April fools joke so far. I am obviously totally gullible and I read it with mounting rage, never suspecting it was real.

Oops. Your Fat Councillor is going for a dip to cool off.

CROWN said...

totally got me with that one.

I hate April the 1st

matthew.oliver said...

Further el-sid and the Grim Reaper, the Government have just had a consultation on this very issue.

http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/cp1308.htm

Wrinkled Weasel said...

I believed it.



I'll get me coat.