Queen’s Speech (May 18 2005)
There were several proposed pieces of constitutional and electoral legislation in the Queen’s Speech – unfortunately no Representation of the People (Fairness) Bill, so the campaign goes on…
The government has responded to many of the concerns over vote fraud and the possible issues around the increase in postal voting, although its proposals could go further on issues such as individual registration. The proposed Electoral Administration Bill – and the stinging words of Richard Mawrey, the judge at the Birmingham Election Court, about ‘banana republic’ standards of democracy – are an overdue recognition of the risks in our under-policed electoral system. It imposes prison sentences for fraudulent handling of postal ballots, checkable signatures to verify the identity of voters, and bans the regrettable but widespread practice of having political parties handling postal vote applications.
Lords reform was also in prospect, but there will be yet another round of consultations and committee meetings on what must be the most over-analysed item on the constitutional agenda. Implementation of the admirable Richard report on the government of Wales also seems to face some hurdles, although more powers will be devolved to Cardiff.
Much of this seems welcome, as far as it goes, but for every ballot paper misused by fraudsters there are thousands that are casually thrown away by an unrepresentative system. Until this is addressed, we are still in banana republic territory, without even the saving grace of being a republic.