Thursday, May 01, 2008

Local Election Day

There are no local elections in Copeland today, but there are elections in many other parts of the country, including Barrow, Carlisle, London, and St Albans.

Some people, particularly in the media, will interpret the results as if their main purpose was some kind of "test" of Gordon Brown's government. Voters are entitled to cast their votes however they wish, but interpreting the results as a guide to what would happen in a general election is unreliable, because this is not one.

Voters are choosing who they think is best suited to run local government services in their area.

I have been to campaign with some of the local Conservative council candidates in Barrow and Carlisle: I think they would do a good job and I hope local voters in Barrow and Carlisle reach the same conclusion.

It seems far longer than a year since I stood down from St Albans council and was elected in Copeland. I see that one or two old friends are standing down in St Albans and other old friends are bidding to make a return. It is amazing to me how many new names are in the frame in these elections whom I have never met. I do notice, however, that the Conservatives in St Albans are putting up a good mix of both men and women from a wide range of backgrounds including some from an ethnic minority background.

I have always believed that candidates should be selected purely on merit and ability, and that if this is really happening there will be a diverse range of candidates coming forward: the fact that this appears to be happening is a good sign.

One other comment on today's elections. I am deeply alarmed by the conclusions of the Rowntree foundation about the security of the ballot, particularly the electoral register and postal voting arrangements.

Britain has long prided ourselve on conducting honest elections but in former times this was not always the case. In the 18th and early 19th century (later in Ireland) British elections were often corrupt, and only a strong campaign for free and fair elections backed up by severe penalties made vote-rigging unthinkable.

We have recently - and rightly - condemned Zimbabwe's government for trying to rig their Presidential election. We must also apply the strictest standards of probity to British elections. Arrangements to validate both electoral registers and postal and proxy votes must be tightened as a matter of urgency, and governments must stop ignoring the advice of the electoral commission.

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