The debate on just how the voters will find out more about who they get to vote for made it to the floor of the House of Commons yesterday, with Shadow Justice Minister and TopOfTheCops twitter follower David Hanson MP putting a question to Home Secretary Theresa May:-
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):
Why has the Home Secretary ruled out a free-post leaflet or candidate booklet for police and crime commissioner elections? Will she now heed the serious concerns raised by the Electoral Commission that internet-only access to candidate materials will disadvantage the poor, the old and those in rural areas, and, accordingly, help to address the poor turnout, or is that the intention?
We of course looked very carefully at the arrangements that we would put in place for making information available to voters in the police and crime commissioner elections. Instead of providing a free-post booklet to every household, what we are talking about is providing internet access. However, that does not mean that there will not necessarily be literature going out, because individual candidates will have expenses with which they will be able to make literature available; and indeed, it will be possible, from the internet access, to ask for written copies of the information that is available on the website.
I don’t think the Home Secretary really is promising to provide internet access to every household -is she? – surely what she means is that everyone who already has internet access will be able to access candidate information via the internet, just like they can already, here. And when she says candidates have expenses, this neglects the point that these are expenses that are declared, not expenses that are claimed, a technical point those unfamiliar with the detail of British politics might miss. Candidates will not be given money by the government to spend on leaflets.
Sadly it misses the killer point that the Electoral Commission say they will produce and distribute a free booklet anyway, talking about the election and the voting system. It’s just that it won’t have candidate information in it – a bit of a missed opportunity.
Indeed, the Electoral Commission were concerned that people with no internet access would be expected to phone someone to print out candidate information and send it to them, but what the Home Secretary said is actually worse. How will people who don’t have internet access ask for copies? Read the answer again – “from the internet access”! So the Home Secretary thinks people without internet access can get past this problem by using that internet access they don’t have,mto ask for information or, in common parlance, press “print”.
What’s next? A book on how to stop being illiterate? A guide to how to be married while remaining a bachelor? (oh, come to think of it, she is already consulting on that one… 😉 )
This needs to be clarified urgently or, preferrably, scrapped.