Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rotten Borough Politics

I have written previously about the corruption that was rife in our electoral system and even now one vote is very often not worth a vote. Why should we bother when most constituencies have MPs for life depending on which party is popular in that area? No UK parliamentary election has ever been won by one vote - or so I thought. But just now I did some digging, and found (at a story that in 1816 an election really was decided by one vote. It was in one of the "Rotten Boroughs", Gatting, that had three electors: first, the owner of the borough, who nominated his absentee son as Tory candidate. Next there was his son, who of course couldn't vote for himself since he was absent. The third voter, the butler, had a falling out with his master and would have voted for himself, but in the end he refrained from voting, so the absentee son won by one vote to none. I haven't been able to independently verify that tale, but it is an interesting one. Maybe the moral is that we should all vote or we'll be back to those even-more-rotten-than-what-we've-got-now boroughs.

I understand that the rules surrounding elections limit the amount that each candidate may spend. In Morecambe we are now on our fourth wave of Tory political posters. I know how they can afford to pay for all their leaflets and all their posters -it's because the posters are actually financed by Lord Ashcroft - but I'm not sure why one party is allowed to spend so much more than the others. At least, though, the posters are so bad that if they do actually influence anyone's vote, it's likely to be against voting Tory. When I think of how the money the Tories spent on those posters might have been spent on more effective campaigning, my inclination is to say "bring it on". Then, when I think of how Lord Ascroft doesn't pay UK tax on his offshore billions, and think of how much in services all these posters could have paid for if he did pay tax, I feel indignant again, until I realise that there's a positive side to all this - namely, Lord Ashcroft staying offshore.

Change the world


  1. Could be worse. I grew up in a Glasgow with 90% Labour councilors (who get around 51% of the votes). My councilor was my MP's brother and celebrated the new town hall by having a bust made of himself at public expense. Not only is there a correlation between safe seats and expenses, there's a correlation between cities on the decline and Labour rotten boroughs.

    How it works: the city is in a bad way. People are out of work. Labour says 'well we're the party of the poor, the unemployed and the downtrodden; that's you. Vote for us'. People vote for them and they either (a) do nothing or (b) make the situation worse through their incompetence. So the situation gets worse and therefore the Labour vote improves. If at any stage someone says 'you people are running this place into the ground' they are accused of 'talking down [Glasgow/insert name here]'. So more Labour candidates get elected and eventually they have even less of an incentive to bother trying to make things better. They have such an overwhelming council majority most of them don't even bother to turn up for meetings and when any other councillors do exist and show up meetings are rushed through with as little discussion as possible. So things get worse and Labour get more votes.

    It's said that the Republicans in America argue government is corrupt and inefficient, go out of their way to prove this when elected and so end up stronger as a result. The 'if things are bad for you vote Labour' mentality people have had drummed into them allows Labour to do a similar thing. It's no coincidence that it's not until cities like Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull and Sheffield managed to shift their Labour councils that things started really improving. Sadly I think it'll take a while until this can happen in Glasgow.

    I realise by saying this I sound like some kind of right-winger but I'm really not. It doesn't give me a thrill to see us in coalition with Tories in Leeds, but if you're actually left wing (if you actually care about poor people) then being a Labour rotten borough is one of the worst things which can happen to a city.

    ((I think if party finance - esp the Brown story - came up in the debates it would be useful to point out (a) we have the greatest number of individual donors and (b) unlike UNITE, Ashcroft, the manager of Stagecoach donating to the SNP, cash-for-questions, cash-for-honours there's no reason to think that any of our major donors personally benifited as a result of their donation.))

  2. The winner in the 2010 election by a record margin will be truth - the "none of the above" party.

    Most people dont bother voting because they are able to think for themselves and have the intelligence to work out what a con trick the whole process is:-

  3. Thanks for the support on rotten boroughs Duncan. I think we have reached the tipping point for our electoral system and party funding mustn't be too far behind.

    I think that party funding is one of the fundamental difference with the Liberal Democrats Anonymous. The way that we decide policy is fundamentally different too, so don't give up on politicians yet. I am afraid that truth doesn't win if you don't vote for anyone but at least you have participated and democracy is not completely dead.