Various votes

news: Various votes

APRIL AND May see a number of key elections across Europe. Two of the most important will have taken place on the continent: one in France and the other in the Vatican.

The vital vote in France is on May 29, when the country votes on the proposed EU Constitution. At the time of writing, the polls point to a clear “No”. This might save the UK from the bother of voting in our own referendum, given the Treaty has to be ratified unanimously and it only takes one country to kill it off. We wish the French well!

The Vatican vote has been fascinating, watching the College of Cardinals seek divine inspiration to help choose a worthy successor to John Paul the Great. Only time will tell if they have done so, given that the previous Pope was such a hard act to follow. But, there have been some interesting asides from this particular election. For example, it was clear from the start that, whatever the result, there would be a 100 per cent turnout of the electorate, there would be no postal voting and no question marks about the validity of the outcome.

Maybe there is a lesson here for the UK: certainly, no other election in Europe at present, that I know of, is using a system so condemned by its own national Electoral Commission.

Last year, in the European Parliament elections, the UK government pioneered postal voting in four regions across the country, despite the advice of the Commission saying a trial in just one region would be more appropriate. The government also changed the law so that postal votes would suddenly be allowed without having a signature from a third party to confirm identity – a policy that the Electoral Commission has since declared is an “open invitation to fraud”. Indeed, this was an invitation eagerly accepted in certain council wards in Birmingham, apparently aided and abetted by their local party.

Since then, the government has belatedly agreed that the postal voting system does indeed need to be changed, and changed with some urgency – but only after the May General Election.

One has to wonder about the motivation of keeping such a shabby system in place for yet another election, and also wonder how much ammunition this decision provides to those who simply distrust all politicians of whatever party.

Meanwhile, one distinctive aspect of the papal election, of course, is that the holder of the top job, once elected, holds the position for life. I suppose we should at least be thankful that Tony Blair has not changed the UK system to include this idea as well…

From Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP and Conservative Spokesman for Employment and Social Affairs