SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 158 - May 2012

Un-democracy in Sheffield

OUR OWN experiences of ‘democracy’ here in Sheffield certainly confirm the points made in Banana Republic UK, reviewed in the February edition of Socialism Today, No.155.

In 2010, we expected that our vote in the Graves Park ward would be squeezed because of the general election. What we had not expected that our vote would apparently tumble from 271 in 2008 to only 44 – particularly since we polled 84 votes in the adjoining ward where we stood for the first time and had done no canvassing! There were two reasons for the low vote: our key polling station was one of the handful in Sheffield where inadequate resources left hundreds of voters still queuing outside when the polling station closed and, more seriously, a bundle of 100 counted votes disappeared before the final count was announced.

Election officials refused to recount, despite the fact that an Independent candidate was willing to support our complaint. As the Socialism Today review pointed out, our only recourse would have been to mount an extremely expensive legal challenge.

There is a clear attitude of neglect towards minor candidates’ democratic rights. Exactly the same error had happened in 2008 – although in this case our agent spotted the missing bundle before the final count was announced. In 2011, counting of our vote was switched to another ward’s counting table without informing our candidate or agent. Neither were we consulted on the recounted vote – indeed, we had to ask one of the counting officers for the figures before the public announcement.

One change that has occurred in Sheffield has been to switch the count from one of the polling stations in the ward to a centralised venue (the Arena). Counting in a small hall locally made it much easier to track what was happening and to raise issues with the election officials. This is particularly the case with postal votes, which all used to be opened in the counting hall when polls closed – now they are opened centrally but over three days, making it impossible for working candidates or election agents to spare the time to attend. The potential for votes to go missing has been vastly increased.

The change has also robbed people in poor areas of a small, but undoubtedly welcome, supplement to their income. Counting in the ward meant that counters, mainly women, could safely walk to the count and back home. The centralisation of counting in a building in a non-residential zone means that it is only accessible by car or taxi if counting goes beyond midnight (as it did in 2011).

In the end, however, the replacement of elected governments in Greece and Italy by technocrats shows just how much capitalism really cares about democracy.

Jeremy Short, Sheffield Heeley


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