As the Liberal Democrats prepare for their conference, I hope enough of them will be tugged by the Democrat side of the equation to make an issue of the government’s preparations for the planned boundary changes.
I refer not simply to the redrawing of boundaries, loaded though this is in favour of the Tories, but to the wanton disregard for the fact that as many as 10 million voters could fall off the register, something on which neither of the governing parties appears to have uttered a breath of concern.
The change is being driven by the fact that ministers have decided that there should be no compulsion to co-operate with electoral registration officers trying to compile an electoral register. If the same politicians were election observers in a developing country, I’m sure they would have to say something about it.
One of the few things Tony Blair and I fundamentally disagreed about was my view that we should have compulsory voting for local and national elections (provided there was a ‘none of the above’ slot on the ballot paper), alongside better education on citizenship and politics in schools. This is a massive step in the opposite direction, virtually a plea to millions of our ctiziens to drop out of the political process.
It is bad enough that the Tories are trying to rig the system in their favour, but even worse that they are devising that system so that people more likely to vote against them – the poor, the young, and ethnic minorities – are made to feel it is ok not just to give voting a miss, but to give up the chance to have it. Indeed, there is a positive incentive NOT to get on the electoral register, because it is a sure fire way of avoiding jury service (so much for the Big Society).
If they were not part of the government, I have no doubt that Lib Dems of old would see this as a cause worth campaigning for, and a wrong worth exposing. The Electoral Commission has expressed its concern. But politicians and party activists need to do likewise, and the Lib Dems conference is a good place to start.
It might help if I tell you which department, and which minister, is overseeing this nonsense. The Cabinet Office. And Nick Clegg.