Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Labour slammed on Glasgow North East by-election delay and postal vote shambles

The Electoral Commission has criticised the Labour Government for leaving it almost 5 months to hold the by-election to replace former Speaker Michael Martin, who was forced to resign over the MPs' expenses scandal.

Labour's excuse, that the parliamentary Summer recess got in the way is not even half way to being plausible. For a start, they had several weeks' notice that Michael Martin was going to resign. They could have moved the writ on 22 June and had the by-election in mid July.

It's not as if the recess itself is a barrier to holding a by-election - the Livingston by-election was held in recess in 2005. Ok, there are some funny rules about advertising in the London Gazette, but it's not beyond the wit of anyone to do it.

We all know the real reason Labour delyed the by-election - there had just been the Euro election meltdown where James Purnell, Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint had resigned, the Euro and local elections had been a disaster for Labour and they knew fine that the almost certain loss of one of their safest seats in a by-election would mean the end for Gordon Brown.

The reason this was shameful was because, if you hadn't noticed, there's a recession on. People are losing their jobs. Pressure is put on Government departments like JobCentrePlus and the people who work there with a vastly increased workload. Mistakes are bound to be made. The intervention of an MP can literally make the difference between someone being able to eat that day or not. The people of Glasgow North East didn't have an MP to turn to in order to help them with benefits, CSA, immigration issues for more than a third of a year.

When it's suited them politically (ie when they were trying to stop our campaign gaining momentum in Dunfermline in 2006, they can call an election when the previous MP has barely been buried). Obviously that didn't work!

It's high time for those sorts of electoral timing decisions, and that of the General Election for that matter to be taken out of the hands of those with a direct interest in it - it should be done independently and within an agreed time frame, like it is in the Scottish Parliament.

Lib Dem Shadow Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said:

“By-elections should be called for the convenience of the public, and not for the political advantage of the party holding the seat.

“Reform of this is long overdue. Frankly, however, I doubt we will see any commitment from Labour to act on this. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

Just as an aside, we shouldn't forget the SNP's incompetence in all of this. Their attempt to move the writ just before the recess might have amounted to a bit more than showboating if they'd tipped off the other opposition parties about what they were going to do, as I wrote at the time.

It's also worth noting that Labour were also criticised for their failure to promptly deliver voters' postal vote applications to the Council in Glasgow. They held on to some of them for a whole MONTH and then handed them in just before the deadline. Political parties are supposed to hand forms in within 2 days. What if a form had been completed incorrectly? People might have been denied a vote if they were, for example, working or away on the day of the election. That's an absolute disgrace.

I'm sure the Liberal Democrats would be only too happy to support the necessary changes to the law to make by-election procedure quicker and more efficient and they could I think be rushed through Parliament before it's dissolved for the General Election. What's the betting that Labour won't bother to do it?

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