Back in March I wrote about my concerns over the elections rules for Unlock Democracy’s internal elections:
Good news – supporters are being asked to submit nominations for its governing council. Bad news – the highly restrictive campaigning rules that make even the old Liberal Democrat internal election rules seem rather generous:
“Candidates may not produce any further promotional materials [in addition to the ballot mailing manifesto] … No candidate may pro-actively campaign for election online, or allow anyone else to campaign on their behalf … The Returning Officer may disqualify any candidate who they deem to have made a public statement to promote their candidacy.”
As for that ballot mailing manifesto, it can only by 300 words. Not even an artworked piece of A5. Other than that: sssssh!
Imagine if the government were to propose such a stringent set of campaign restrictions for public elections. Would Unlock Democracy say, “You know what, that’s a darn good idea”? I hope not – but just as campaigning is healthy in public elections because it allows voters to make better informed choices, so it is too in internal contests.
Now having the ballot mailing for the council and for the related limited company in front of me, things are even worse. Why? Because I’m left with almost no decent information on which to decide how to cast my vote. Sure, I’ve got a vote – and it’s by STV – but it’s a hollow process if you have the trappings of democracy and no real information with which to inform it.
What’s wrong? First, almost none of the candidates have offered up any contact information for themselves. It means I cannot ask them questions and immediately makes the election feel like one where the voters are an inconvenient necessity rather than the people around who it should revolve.
Congratulations to Stuart Hill, whose statement for the limited company contest is the only one of 27 statements in total to include contact details. Yes really: 26 of the 27 statements in elections for an organisation with ‘democracy’ in its name include no encouragement for any voter to ask the candidate any questions.
Second, overall the candidate statements are pretty light on content. The pro-democracy campaign sector is not exactly short of substantive issues. What are the lessons from the AV referendum? How should the different campaign groups get along with each other, and what roles should each look to take? How important is supporting the push for Lords reform? Should campaigns for Commons reform be quietly side-lined for the moment? Should there be a push to get at least open lists for the next European Parliament elections which, measured in legislative timescales, are nearly upon us? And that’s without getting on to the specifics of Unlock Democracy.
I could go on at much greater length. But the point is a short one: the candidate statements overall leave me nearly clueless as to which candidates I should vote for in order to turn my views into the right votes.
I know quite a lot about the ages of the candidates. I know that many of the candidates say they are passionately committed to Unlock Democracy, and I’m willing to hazard a guess that those who have not written that would say just the same if asked. I know there is one candidate I don’t want to see elected (sorry, but the arrangements for issuing passports aren’t something I think Unlock Democracy should be working on) and I know a lot of the candidates sound decent people.
But choosing who to vote for? There are precious few clues of substance. A little hint on some of the issues and a little here and there when it comes to their CVs. One or two jobs sound very impressive and look to be a good fit with the sort of skills I’d like to see amongst those elected.
Overall though, it’s a mix of name recognition, lucky dip and making the most of the occasional clue.
Yes it’s democracy; yes it’s better than no ballot papers; but it’s a pretty poor form of unengaging, uninforming democracy that hardly does Unlock Democracy credit – neither the rules the organisation is operating under nor the way candidates have decided to operate within them.
Now excuse me whilst I go and pick some names from a hat to fill out my ballot paper…