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Jack Straw agrees with Eric Pickles on Thursday night election counts - but says it would be "inappropriate" for him to intervene on the issue

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I am back in the saddle after a memorable long weekend away (many thanks to all those who have sent Claudia and I congratulations on our engagement) and return with good news and bad news from Justice Secretary Jack Straw on the campaign to Save General Election Night.

Very early backing for the campaign to retain Thursday night counts at the next general election came from Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles, who sought the support of Justice Secretary Jack Straw, suggesting that he was best placed to write to Returning Officers to encourage that traditional practices be maintained.

I have now been given sight of the letter Mr Straw has sent Mr Pickles and it begins on a very encouraging note. The Justice Secretary states:

"I agree wholeheartedly that the drama and excitement of General Election night is a vital part of our political heritage. I no more wish to see this tradition lost than you do."

However, in referring to this letter to Returning Officers from the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, he goes on:

"Returning Officers are independent and very rightly so. Whatever my personal preference for as many election night counts as possible, which is as strong as yours, that does mean that as the Secretary of State with sponsoring responsibility for the Electoral Commission and for election law, I must not improperly seek to interfere with the necessary discretion of Returning Officers, or the capacity of the Electoral Commission to give advice as they think appropriate. To answer a question in your letter, it follows that it would be inappropriate for the Government to use its control of the purse strings to influence the judgement of the Returning Officers"

Click here to read his letter in full.

Eric Pickles has responded thus:

"It is disappointing that the Secretary of State is trying to wash his hands of policy on UK-wide national elections. It speaks volumes that no-one wants to take responsibility or be held accountable for this bonkers proposal to abolish general election night. Conservatives will continue to work with other political parties and the media to build a consensus in favour of saving this important and valued part of Britain's democratic process."

Mr Straw's stated position suggests that we will therefore have to continue to exert pressure on individual Returning Officers on a local basis in order to Save General Election Night. Councillors of all parties up and down the land have been doing a sterling job of raising the issue with local officials and highlighting the matter in the local press, and I hope they will continue to do that.

The Facebook group includes information which I have collated from people about counting times for about half the country's constituencies, and I will seek to update that later today.

As ever, do email me with news of anything happening in your area!

Jonathan Isaby

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