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Needed - new policies, not new voting methods
VOTING IN elections is at an all-time low; less than three in five of the electorate took part in the 2001 general election and local elections have only attracted an average of about a third of voters for some time now. Kevin Parslow reports on New Labour's attempts to overcome 'apathy'.
The government has introduced 'new' methods of voting in an attempt to increase participation: voting by e-mail, text messages or computer. None of these have significantly increased the votes in the two elections they have been tried.
However, the wider use of postal voting has seen a considerable rise in the turnout for local elections. In the 29 areas which had full postal voting, half the voters sent back their ballot papers, compared to an average of 35% in those which kept polling stations open.
Even in those areas 8%-10% applied to vote by post. The chief executive of Herefordshire, which had the highest turnout at 61% said: "Judging by our results, the traditional ballot box could be a thing of the past."
In fact, the working class fought for the secret ballot in the past. The 19th-century working class political movement, the Chartists, had this democratic demand in their programme. Previously, voting had been carried out in public, with voters bribed by the rich and powerful to support candidates of the ruling classes.
Everybody knew who was voting for whom. The secret ballot was vital to allow working people, who were gradually being given the vote, the right to vote for independent working class candidates.
But this is threatened because New Labour wants to 'modernise' the electoral system. Postal voting is potentially a throw-back to the past as sharp participants from the big political parties take advantage of the slack rules introduced by New Labour to manipulate the ballot.
There are several ways now that the ballot can be manipulated and it's the vulnerable in particular whose vote is being 'bought' by these political sharp practices.
In reality, the reason for the low turnout in elections is the similarity in policies of the major parties.
If there is no choice, how do you decide who to vote for? British elections (and European, for that matter) have been 'Americanised', where the working class has only representatives of big business to vote for.
Under Thatcher, the Tories introduced postal voting for all trade union elections because they believed that this would prevent the election of officials who would more accurately reflect the interests of the membership.
But this manoeuvre is wearing thin with the election of the "awkward squad", officials who don't always accept what the bosses dictate.
In the wider political field, the erosion of our democratic rights can be prevented if the trade unions withdraw their support for New Labour and organise independent, working class candidates with socialist policies for all elections. Then, there will be real choice in elections and there would be real enthusiasm to vote.
In The Socialist 10 May 2003: