Voters turned away from polling stations

Chaos across the UK due to high voter turnout could lead to legal challenges in closely fought seats

A story that looks set to run and run tonight, and into the next few weeks, is that people across the country have been left unable to vote. Many were left queuing outside polling stations, which struggled to deal with an unexpectedly high voter turnout.

It seems that up to 100 people were left queing round the block outside a polling station in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency and refused the right to vote. The returning officer has apologised in person, saying that many students turned up without polling cards, meaning that it took longer for them to vote.

UPDATE: Video just posted to YouTube from St John's polling station:

The main problem seems to be inconsistency among returning officers across the country. In Manchester, some polling stations closed their doors at 10pm strictly, and told anyone yet to cast their vote that they would not be able to. In other areas, staff ushered voters inside the building and locked the doors behind them, meaning that anyone who had tried to vote before 10pm was able to. Other polling stations stayed open for ten minutes extra, meaning that they voted after the exit polls had come out. Still more ran out of ballot papers.

This could lead to legal challenges in closely fought constituencies. If it is a matter of just a few votes -- entirely possible in this unpredictable race -- the losing candidate could argue that they might have won if all their supporters had been allowed to vote.

Leading Labour figures have wasted no time in paving the way. Speaking on the BBC, Peter Mandelson saids:

I'm concerned about it, as traditionally more Conservatives vote earlier in the day, and Labour people vote later. I am worried about Labour voters not being able to vote.

Update

11.57pm: Chester -- Labour is claiming that more than 600 people registered to vote were turned away because their names weren't on the lists. More and more stories coming in of a plethora of errors.

12.08am: A list of places where voters have been shut out -- Manchester Withington, Hackney South, Sheffield Hallam, Penistone.

12.10am: The BBC is reporting that voters in Sheffield Hallam staged a sit-in. This is not looking good for the Electoral Commission, which has issued a statement saying . . . not much. I've also heard there's a sit-in going on in Hackney South.

12.33am: Ballot papers ran out in Birmingham and Leeds. A little bit farcical . . . lots of people very angry.

12.37am: Jenny Watson of the Electoral Commission is on the BBC, saying that by law, polling stations must close at 10pm. The system relies on local knowledge, and the EC doesn't have the power to instruct individual returning officers on what to do. She talks of a need for clearer co-ordination, or clearer powers for the commission. She's calling for a "thorough review" -- these are all valid points, but it does seem that every time anything has gone wrong in the past few years, the default position has been to call for an inquiry!

1.18am: Andrew Sparrow reports that in Hackney, Diane Abbott and Meg Hillier (both Labour) have submitted an official complaint about people not being able to vote -- apparently 51 people could not vote in one area.

5am: The election watchdog is to investigate what went wrong with the polling stations in question.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA