Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Action Point 1: Sack the Chairwoman of the Electoral Commission

The conduct of the general election in some constituencies was lamentable. It wasn't the politicians' fault. It was the fault of those tasked with conducting the election - the Returning Officers and the Electoral Commission. The chairwoman of the Electoral Commission has written and uttered many weasel words over the last few days, trying to excuse herself from any blame at all.

She must not be allowed to get away with it, and I suspect if there is one thing that unites Clegg and Cameron, it is a desire for the next election to be conducted in a more professional and proper manner than the last one was.

They should send a signal that the kind of unprofessionalism and the poor attitude we have witnessed will not be tolerated. How do they do that? Well a start would be to sack the chairwoman of the Electoral Commission and announce an immediate review into its conduct. Personally, I would close it down and return all of its functions to the Home Office so it is properly accountable.

And I would then look at postal voting and do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the terrible things that have happend in the past two elections can never be repeated.


DespairingLiberal said...

Well said - agree 100%. I thought she was utterly self-serving in her responses as well and seemed quite unfit to hold such a post.

However, it does also appear that the whole Electoral Commission quango has no real powers and seems to be largely a waste of money.

Snotrocket said...

Nice to know that my comment (yet unpublished) to an earlier post of yours, Iain, chimes so well with your thinking.

As the labour government put so many government functions out to un-accountable Quangos, it is well that Cameron starts the ball rolling by signalling his intention to start to hold them fully accountable in future.

Jabba the Cat said...

We need a few heads from the quangos and civil service as examples to keep the rest on their toes.

Philippa said...

I read somewhere that those unable to vote could be entitled to claim £750. I presume now that there will be about 10 million people who will claim that they were not able to cast their vote!

Faceless Bureaucrat said...

Damn right, Iain!

This woman is another Labour plant and in typical style, flails around blaming everyone and everything else for her own ineptitude.

The Electoral Commission has been unfit for purpose for years - how else can you win 307 seat (even in spite of built-in constituency boundary bias) and still not have a working majority?

As for Postal Voting, the fraud inherent in the current system is truly jaw-dropping. I was involved in a Local Authority campaign in London and was told that between February and April of this year one Asian candidate had brought over 116 members of his extended Family from Indonesia for a holiday in the UK and while here, they had all applied for (and received) a postal vote.

How is this possible? - as it happens, the candidate in question lost, but how many others the UK have won on the basis of bogus votes?

Time to say goodbye to the Electral Commission...


Roger Thornhill said...

If anything, the priority is sorting out the postal vote system, which is a knottier problem that what should be "just" an issue of good project management.

One almost wants to believe they screwed it up on purpose so they can come up with "modernisation", which normally involves many many babies and the odd cup of bathwater.

Simon Gardner said...

Good grief. I find myself saying “I agree with Iain”.

Though I don’t want to lose my postal vote thanks.

Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

Jenny Watson, the chairman of the Electoral Commission appears to be a serial quango-ist, former left wing activist, a "blame everyone but me" attitude and wallows in a culture of zero accountability and deluded entitlement.

And people are surprised when everything goes Tango Uniform?

Purge these vermin.

Sean said...

Two points, neither of which may make me popular.

1. Where are the women in the Cabinet? (You referred to the Chairwoman of the Electoral Commission which made my butterfly mind think of women in high posts)

2. ID cards and strict control on proxy/postal votes can go a long way to avoiding electoral fraud. Our current system is wide open to abuse.

Frugal Dougal said...

I agree: but also, we need to know who appointed her, on what merits, and what the terms of her contract were.

Doubting Richard said...

The word is "chairman", Iain. The word has no gender itself, and applies to both male and female holders of the post.

Null said...

Here here!

Mick Turatian said...

What exactly is the complaint here? I hold no particular brief for the Electoral Commission or its boss but it struck me that responsibility for the maladministration that occurred should be laid at the door of the returning officers and, by extension, their staff at polling stations.

The Electoral Commission is not responsible for ordering ballot papers in the correct quantities or ensuring that polling stations are adequately manned with competent people.

JohnRS said...

100% agree - Government should govern and not hand everything over to unnaccountable quangos. The EC shoulg be chopped - quickly.

I'd also want to see a thorough investigation into any poll where the number of postal votes was much different to the last election. Reports of households with 20+ voters and applications in some areas for hundreds of very late postal votes may, of course, be entirely innocent but I think a very speedy investigation needs to be carried out.

Unknown said...

Sack her? Far, far too moderate!

The Electoral Commission is an abject failure and most of Labour's changes to Electoral Law are in need of rapid repeal.

Abolition of the Electoral Commission is another contribution to the umpteen billion savings that George is looking for!

JMB said...

They will have to be careful who they replace her with, they could be accused of putting their own cronies into key positions if it is a Conservative (or Liberal) supporter. Might be best if they can find someone very neutral to avoid that.

I noticed that one Returning Officer has said that he will not be taking his £20,000 fee because of the problems.

Anonymous said...

Rodger Thornhill said: "If anything, the priority is sorting out the postal vote system,"

Easily done. Abolish it except for medical cases.

@Sean Haffey re: voter fraud - abolish postal votes and require voters to "dip" their finger in dye like the Iraqi elections. Also require people to present their voting card and driving licence/passport/student card etc.

These changes are easy to make and cost nothing.

wife in the north said...

re Sean: Where are the women in politics let alone in the Cabinet? Invisible.
re Iain's post on the head of the Electoral Commmission, I was astonished she was allowed to slide out from underneath responsibility by blaming the system and the local officers.

jailhouselawyer said...

I see that one returning officer has decided not to claim his £20,000 fee because of the fiasco. This is admirable. However, how many returning officers are there throughout the country, and why are they paid, in effect, 20k of taxpayers money for one day's work?

You have more faith than me in the Home Office being accountable!

Penfold said...

Agreed 100%.

A Lbourite in a safe Quango, yet another job for mate nepotism that we have known as a NuLab speciality.
Make her fall on her sword, and go, NO PAYOFF considered, just gross mismanagement, which should also be a hindrance to this bloody woman getting any other poublic sector job.

As for the voting.

Bear in mind that the polling staff are local council employees. They were deliberate in their actions. All know there will be cutbacks. So they worked to rule, at the slowest pace, enforced every nit-picking rule from the book and wasted time, deliberately, so as to frustrate voters.
They get paid cash for this exercise, cash money no tax or NI. There are plenty of people who would have been willing to do the job, more efficiently and a darn site faster and better.

Lauchlan McLean said...

First class comment. If Prime Minister and his Deputy act on your suggestion it will one of the first steps in persuading me and many others to return to the Conservative Party as active members. Under Lord Pearson poor old UKIP will slowly fade away.

RJF said...

Sean Haffey is unfortunately correct. ID cards would make a difference but an unacceptable one.

And, yes, she must go. She failed and tough times lie ahead. If you can't do your cosy quangocrat job then you have to go.

Lauchlan McLean said...

Can I add the name of that totally wretched woman making this country a laughing stock in Euroland Cathy Ashdon, Who did she blackmail in the Nu-Labour government by promising to not disclose a scandal if she was given the £300,000 unelected post.

Unknown said...

Surely it is important though that elections are overseen by an independent authority and not any government department - whilst the current lot can be trusted to run them fair it is surely best to have a system where they can't interfere easily in future should that change

Dave said...

to Mick @11.12
What is the problem?
This. If the EC aren't responsible for the cockups then what are they there for?
Another useless quango for labour placemen.
The postal voting scam must be ended, along with the idea that one can turn up and vote without having to show one's ID. Both open to fraud.

I just hope that Callmedave has the balls to root out the corruption and clean the system out. heaven knows it's needed.

I'm not holding my breath

Twig said...

The system is designed to be abused.
Why do we need postal votes on demand?

With Theresa May in charge at the Home Office I wouldn't pass the job back to them yet? (I wouldn't trust her to run a bath).

Evensong said...

I'm quite minded that you're going after the wrong target. Are you honestly surprised she appeared on screen to try and make sure the Commission got across their side of the story behind the issues when the last 13 years has been of a Government quick to adopt a sloping shoulders position?

The Electoral Commisson is a fudge with no effective powers or control. It was set up to push responsibility away from Whitehall and delay change, not promote it. As Jenny Watson quite rightly pointed out, numerous suggestions have been put to the previous Government and were just fobbed off.

Either get shot of the Commission or give it a real role in a root and branch reform of how parties are funded and the polling process. Only when that is done and the country has a voting structure that is secure and trustworthy can Cameron and Cleg begin to think about considering alternative voting systems such as PR etc.

Anonymous said...

The woman is stupid and does not know how an election works. She said that if there are queues of voters that extra people should be sent. You CANNOT increase the throughput with extra people, because it is a serial process. The check has to be made on a single list that you are a voter and have not voted, then you reference is given to the person who has the voting list which states what the number of your voting paper. This is so they can see at a later date who you voted for. It is not possible to run the same list checks with several streams, it would nullify the election process.

The only solution is to have small enough wards so that they are not overloaded. So Jenny Watson suggestion to sent extra people is so stupid she should be sacked now.

Unknown said...

I agree too, and I also think I further agree with your correspondents who have suggested abolishing it completely. It has manifestly and comprehensively failed in its sole objective to guarantee free and fair elections, both by failing to ensure an equitable set of seat boundaries (reminder: more than a million more votes and a greater share than Labour in 2005, yet nobody disingenuously tried to claim they didn't win that election) and that the election itself was conducted freely and fairly. When a QANGO completely fails to do its job, it's time to do away with it.

skynine said...

Action Point 2.

Go through all the Quangos and clean out the Labour plants. If they don't they will leave ZaNuLabour fifth columnist's in the heart of government to screw up implementation of government policy.

jdr said...

I have just spent far too much time reading both the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and the responsibilities of the Electoral Commission.

The Act specifies that it is the Returning Officer who is responsible for the running of the ballot. The rules say

29(1)The returning officer shall provide each presiding officer with such number of ballot boxes and ballot papers as in the returning officer’s opinion may be necessary.

The Commission is not responsible for carrying out any of the business of running the ballot, and the Act clearly refers to the opinion of the Returning Officer, NOT the opinion of the Commission.

The Chairman of the Commission is the wrong target.

Anonymous said...

The Electoral Commission will always fail since it doesn't have the right powers. You can have someone else unable to do anything about it next time if you like. But there are a thousand things we need to change about our electoral system: authentication, fraud, duplication, count times, role of electronic voting, contingency. There needs to be an enquiry with quite a wide brief.

Mick Turatian said...

JDR: The Chairman of the Commission is the wrong target.

Thank you. I was beginning to think that it was me that was wrong.

I marvelled at David Dimbleby and Nick Robinson spluttering with rage on the TV last Thursday evening and fulminating at the poor woman whom I rather admired for voluneering to give an interview.

Unknown said...

1. The Electoral Commission doesn't run elections, local returning officers do. Jenny Watson may/may not be the right person to run it but she can't be blamed for Thursday night's cockups at local level.
2. Postal voting on demand is incompatible with the secret ballot and invites fraud. Labour introduced it and the other two parties went along with it. The Electoral Commission can't be blamed for it, but it should be calling for the change in the law to be reversed.

Adrian said...

Glad to see you agree with me on this, Iain. :) The buck stops with Ms Watson.

Charlotte Corday said...

I have been trying for three hours to post on this thread, basically agreeing with all the points made by johnmmorrison7. (Also pointing out that my husband has been an election presiding officer and was not paid in cash, as George alleged, but was taxed on his earnings).

As, for some technical reason, I have been thwarted in my efforts to post until now, am I entitled to £750 compensation?

Newmark said...

pete-s 1.35 p.m. said...
"The woman is stupid and does not know how an election works. ... It is not possible to run the same list checks with several streams"

I have voted at polling stations where they have dual checking and ballot-paper issuing streams.

Nick F said...

The woman is a serial QUANGO-hopper, and a manifestation of the seeming exponential growth in the number of public sector bodies, organizations, and committees over the last 13 years.

Add to that the fact that she is plainly an idiot, and shouldn't even be put in charge of a primary school tuck-shop.

Osama the Nazarene said...

Didn't hear the woman but am prepared to assume you are right.

Haven't checked this comprehensively but have a feeling that most of the problems were in labour held council areas where they PROBABLY decided that Democracy was not that important and could concentrate any savings on electoral functions!

Anonymous said...


"pete-s 1.35 p.m. said...
"The woman is stupid and does not know how an election works. ... It is not possible to run the same list checks with several streams"

I have voted at polling stations where they have dual checking and ballot-paper issuing streams."

I said you have to have already made arrangements as to how the vote is to be split before hand. It is not something that can be done at the spur of the moment.

tory boys never grow up said...

Your new Liberal Democratic friends haven't taught you much about liberalism or democracy. For very good reasons the conduct of elections shoul;d be kept separate from the executive. At present the Chair of the Electoral Commission is not accountable to the Government but to a Speaker's Committee representing all the parties - so it would need a change of law to sack her.

I actually share your view that the Electoral Commission is an incompetent body and actually hasn't had the courage to say boo to the Returning Officers, who have resisted most steps to modernise our electoral process. But trying to make it accountable to a governemnt department would be a highly retrograde step. I am not sure any sensible politician would willingly accept the responsibility for the conduct of elections either - given the inevitable accusations when something goes wrong.

The Law that requires the Commissioners and staff not to have belonged to political parties in the recent past has actually resulted in a body with little understanding of how politics and elections actually work - and there is a lot to be siad for it being relaxed in favour of something which allows a balance of people from a political background.

McSweeney said...

As others have pointed out, the Electoral Commission does not run elections. Does Iain really understand that? I'd have thought he would do since he's been so involved in so many but still...

Two substantial points.

1. He wants it to be accountable. The whole idea is that it is independent! Again, I would have thought Iain would know that the Commission has a role in regulating party finance. Is that something that should be 'accountable' to the govt of the day?

2. Action point 1? Really? Number one? Not the economy or appointing a cabinet or anything of that sort? Number one on the list is to sack the chair of the Electoral Commission. Time to come up for air, Iain.

tory boys never grow up said...

Just to emphasise my point the linked story demonstrates why independent Electoral Commissions have a role - especially since it was only yesterday that a senior Tory was accusing the Deputy PM of Mugabe type politics.

Anonymous said...

Whilst the Chair of the electoral commission should carry the can for the travesty that occurred, there are also lessons to be learned. Being in Mcr Withington, the following should be looked into.
1. Mcr Withington has always had the highest turnout of the 5 Manchester constituencies. Was this allowed for?
2. Students tend to vote late - on the way to the pub. The problems were mostly in areas with high student numbers e.g. Fallowfield and Ladybarn.
3. Was lack of voting booths (2 per station) an issue?
4. Were there procedural changes? The clerks seemed to take longer than usual (there was local elections as well). Was this due to having the electoral lists in postal address order, rather than alphabetical order of name or street address?
5. Queues were already forming at 11am. Why did none of the clerks summon help? Or if they did, why was none available?
5. Also, why did it take much longer in Manchester Town Hall to count the vote? The result was at least 3 hours later than usual. I think this happened in lots of other areas as results seemed to come through more slowly.