Oliver Heald, Constitutional Affairs spokesman for the Tories, has rejected an Institute for Public Policy Research proposal for compulsory voting. The proposal has already been backed by Peter Hain and Leader of the Commons, Geoff Hoon. It comes after turnout shrank to 59% in 2001’s General Election and was only 61% last year. Turnout in local elections tends to fluctuate between 30% and 40%. Ben Rogers, from the IPPR, thinks that compulsory voting would stop parties pandering to their core constituencies and force them to appeal to those people who are currently switched off politics – not least the young and the poor.
On last night’s Westminster Hour Mr Heald said that compulsory voting was a cop-out from the real challenge of exciting voters with a fresher and more relevant politics. He also said that Britain would need a system of individual voter registration to make compulsory voting work and we were a long way from having such a system. He also suggested that revenue-raising may be behind the Hoon-Hain support for compulsory voting:
“At a time when violent crime is out of control and foreign criminals are roaming the streets, the police and courts have better things to do than enforce fines for not voting. Compulsory voting would be an unwelcome extension of the state into the rights and liberties of British citizens. Under Labour’s plans, honest citizens could face fines of £40 or more from zealous town hall bureaucrats for failing to vote. We have already seen how speed cameras and parking fines are being used to rake in ever more money, on top of soaring council tax bills.”
The Exchequer wouldn’t be the only beneficiary of compulsory voting if it was enacted at the same time as the Cameron-Tyrie political funding reforms. If compulsory voting produced, say, three million more voters for the Tories it would raise another around £10m for CCHQ.
Compulsory voting might give a jump start to a campaign that Peter Hitchens launched in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday (not online). Mr Hitchens (recently interviewed on ConservativeHome) believes
that Britain’s mainstream political parties are increasingly indistinguishable and that voters should start writing ‘None of the above’ on to the bottom of their ballot papers. Hitchens (thinking of this no doubt) wrote:
"Gallons of make-up, legions of hairdressers, brigades of snakeoil salesman imported from America and Australia will not save them from the mass withdrawal of our support. It may take a few years, but it really can happen if you want it to. And then it will be up to us to build new parties, ones that actually speak for us rather than ignoring us."