Dominic Grieve slams the threat to democracy posed by possible cuts to election costs
12.30pm update: The Guardian reports that Jack Straw has ruled the proposals below as "simply unacceptable". He is quoted as saying:
"These proposals are simply unacceptable. The exercise has therefore ended. Democracy has to be paid for."
1pm update: Dominic Grieve has welcomed the climbdown, but added:
“We welcome the fact the Government has been forced to drop these alarming proposals that threaten our fundamental democratic principles. The Government must now publish this report at the earliest opportunity so the public can be sure they are not trying to hide anything else.”
will unnerve anyone who takes the view that you cannot put a price on democracy.
The Ministry of Justice's "elections efficiency savings working group" - comprising civil servants, council chief executives and local elections officials - has come up with proposals to reduce the cost of running elections.
And among its more controversial proposals are to investigate reducing the number of polling stations and to consider closing polling stations an hour early at 9pm instead of 10pm - with minutes of a recent meeting of the working group concluding that “reducing the polling day by three to four hours” would be needed to generate savings.
The reduction in the number of polling stations - as The Times points out - would hit rural areas the hardest and effectively reduce people's access to the democratic process.
Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, has given this reaction to the proposals:
“There is no more fundamental right in a democracy than that people should have the ability to choose the people who represent them. We must ensure that this right is not jeopardised.”
See here for a full list of what it is under discussion.
Meanwhile, those backing the Save General Election Night campaign will also be alarmed to hear that the group has been discussing a plan that "would see ministers 'mandate' daytime counts to save on staff and accommodation costs".
An MoJ spokesman quoted by the LGC played down the document as an "internal working document" and said that Jack Straw viewed “the drama and excitement of general election night as a vital part of our political heritage, and we would not wish to see this tradition lost”.
This is the second time that we have heard positive noises on the subject from those speaking on behalf of the Justice Secretary (see here for the first) - but I would rather hear them from the horse's mouth.
I have argued throughout the campaign that the reduction in the cost attained by counting on the Friday rather than the Thursday night would be negligible and that in any case you cannot put a price on the increasing public detachment from the process that would result from such a move.
Yet according to the LGC, David Monks, the chief executive of Huntingdonshire council and chairman of the Society of Local Authorities & Senior Managers’ electoral matters panel, "insisted the democratic process could not be treated as sacrosanct".Jonathan Isaby