03 May 2010

A political rant

What? Politics? That's not what you expect from this blog, really, is it? Well I'm not ranting about politics exactly - more about the process that enables politics to happen.

There's a general election going on in the UK this week and, in theory, I have a say in who gets to run the country. Well, the person who will represent the constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East, where we used to live, anyway.

Or I would have, if the voting papers had got to me on time. They arrived today, four days before the election. The chances of them getting back to Trafford Borough Council by Thursday seem negligible.

I've just come back from our local post office, where I asked the manager, Betty, how much it would cost to ensure that my vote reaches Manchester by Thursday. She laughed in a somewhat sardonic manner and looked it up. "Eighty-one dollars," was her reply. EIGHTY-ONE dollars!!! That's over fifty of your British pounds.

According to the Voter Power Index, my vote is worth a measly 0.038 of a whole vote (as Wythenshawe and Sale East is a very safe Labour seat). But even if we'd used to live in Bangor, Wales, where voters are the most powerful (each vote the equivalent of 1.308 votes), I don't think it would be worth forking out $81 to make sure mine counted.

I had a card in the post last week which told me that the postal votes would be sent out on Monday 26 April and giving me a number to ring if I hadn't received it by Friday. As post usually takes a week to get here, I was not surprised when Friday came and I had no voting papers. So I rang the number.

"You're not on my list," I was told, when I finally got through to a human being who was able to help. I gave him my voter number. "Oh, that's a Trafford number!" he said. "You'll have to phone Trafford Borough Council."
"Will that do any good?" I asked. "Is there anything that they will be able to do for me if my vote doesn't arrive in time?"
"No," he admitted.
Wonderful. So I've been given the wrong number to call for help, I've been sent voting papers which arrived too late for me to be able to use and even if they had arrived in time, my vote would have been fairly meaningless anyway.

I've been following this election more closely than usual, perhaps because I still don't have a vote in Canada, so this is my one opportunity to engage in the electoral process. I think there might be an element of nostalgia involved, too. Perhaps other ex-pats have similar feelings.

So I've sent my vote by regular mail ($1.70) - not expecting it to arrive in time (though there is a very slim chance that it might). If enough votes arrive late from overseas voters, perhaps the electoral organisers will realise that by sending the papers out so close to the polling date, they are effectively disenfranchising thousands of ex-pat voters. Or maybe that was their plan all along...


Diana Studer said...

We were living in Switzerland, when the New South Africa had its first free and fair elections. Was told I could vote with my SA passport. When it came to making a cross - I couldn't vote without an ID book. But my chose-to-be-SA husband did. And what mattered then, were the people who voted for the first time in their lives.

Kevin Ashley said...

Two observations: one is that the UK postal vote system isn't really designed to handle overseas votes, as you've observed. Or rather, it wasn't adapted to do so when expatriates were included some time during the last Conservative administration. The deadline for registering was 15 days before the election, which gives little time to handle the applications and turn around the forms. My own council warns that postal votes may be sent out 4 working days before the election, which would be a challenge to return in time even if you were in the UK. The system was designed for those who were elsewhere in the UK, at a time when the postal system was more reliable.

Second, I can empathise. I applied for a postal vote for the first time and learned this weekend that my application had not been successful, which effectively means I'm disenfranchised unless I make an 800 mile round trip and lose a day's work on Thursday. There are a large number of people in the same position as me according to the person I spoke to in the council offices. What's more, their IT systems have been down all week, so they haven't sent out letters to people telling them that their application was too late, and the council website is offline so there's no announcement there. Judging by the amount of campaign literature we've received, I think our constituency is now a 3-way marginal so I'm doubly discontent.

That's my rant over as well!

Amanda said...

For such a fundamentally important part of living in a democratic society, it does seem that the process can suffer from maladministration all too often. A three-way marginal, Kevin? It's almost worth the train fare...

Anonymous said...

I have been feeling exactly the same as you Amanda and have been watching our British election closely. I used to do an overseas vote but I am afraid I gave up after a few years of living here because it always seemed like an awful lot of work to stay registered in the UK. I should be ashamed really because I am very politically opinionated and still don't get a vote here in the States being the eternal green card holder that I am. I have to say though I feel awful every election, both here, and in the UK, knowing that I haven't contributed anything, however small towards the outcome. Well done for doing your part!