I woke up this morning to various new stories alerting those unable to vote in Thursday’s election to the possibility of suing for financial compensation.
My initial thought was ‘What the..?’. But while I am in general slightly cynical – especially toward anything that has ‘spin’ at it’s core, such as politics – I’m not so arrogant that I think I know all the answers. So I’m currently scouting for other opinions.
I write from a privileged position: I was working from home on Thursday so ambled over to my fairly deserted polling station late morning, cast my vote and ambled back. Those with more restrictions on their personal time will not have had the whole 15 hours available to them in which to vote and will have had to try to vote as and when they could, or (attempt to) vote postally or by proxy.
There’re many column inches devoted to the whys and hows of this fiasco, written by people with far more understanding of the processes than I have, so I shan’t go over all that. Instead, it’s the compensation aspect I’m focusing on. At the moment, this seems to be mainly a trad-media story doing the rounds. By that, I mean it could be baseless, made up, or a light-hearted comment bigged up by the papers as a handy way to extend outrage in a direction of their choosing (I told you I was cynical). Or, it could be real.
Baseless or not, once the dailies pack that first layer of snow around a piece of grit and set it rolling, it may not be long before the cry for compensation is echoed in the living rooms of those disenfranchised on Thursday.
Compensation of some sort to those who were denied their chance is, naturally, expected. But is cash the best way forward? The sum seems nicely thought out at £750. Anything under £500 would be a laughable amount for the loss of your democratic right and £1000 would be too easily tallied up against the number of disenfranchised voters to a significant sum and damned as a blatant payoff. £750 is just enough for a nice weekend away, just enough to put a nice dent in next month’s bills, just enough to buy that thing you can’t really afford but really, really want. It’s ‘only £750’ and it’s ‘wow, £750’ at one and the same time. Tempting.
Personally, I think the right to vote is worth far more than a nifty bundle of cash. Money may talk but it doesn’t follow that what it says is valid. If this idea gains ground, are we inadvertently selling off our future rights? Instead of a review of policy and process, are we instead unwittingly committing ourselves to further bad practice in future elections on the understanding that if it all goes wrong again, never mind: at least we’ll get a pay out.
And then there’s the ‘proof’ aspect. Of all the people who queued and yet were not allowed to vote, how many of them received some kind of paperwork to prove they were there? How many people, who didn’t queue and had no intention of voting at all, now tempted by a free £750 gift will claim they did indeed queue? Who decides who was there and who wasn’t? For those who tried to exercise their democratic duty and were turned away, how well does the prospect of shysters joining this gold rush sit with them?
During the 10pm headlines of sit-ins and protests, there was talk of a need to declare a ‘false start’ and hold the entire election all over again. Although it would have been a logistical and administrative nightmare, that would have been the fair and proper way forward.
By the early hours of Friday morning, talk of a re-vote and re-count had all but disappeared.
The cash compensation element seems to me to be a sop, carefully packed in pretty PR paper. We know that the processes at some of our polling stations were a joke and the postal system was a farce. If we don’t find the punchline funny but are willing to pretend we do in return for a small financial payoff, what does that say about us, collectively, as a democracy?
What’s your vote worth to you?