Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Obama's second inaugural address: don't believe the conciliatory language (Guardian)

Inaugural speeches are always mushy, but make no mistake: the economy, gun control and immigration are going to be divisive, writes Michael Cohen.

2. British politics urgently needs a new force - a movement on the left to counter capitalism's crisis (Independent)

If a new, networked movement of the left could agree on some key principles, and avoid creating another battleground for ultra-left sects, it could give a voice to millions, writes Owen Jones.

3. What ties David Cameron's EU policy to his stirring words on Algeria? Impatience (Guardian)

Pick a fight in Brussels, send in a taskforce, shake it all up – on foreign policy Cameron's like a bull in a china shop, says Gaby Hinsliff.

4. We need the world’s policeman back on duty (Times) (£)

Devastation in Syria, Islamist terror in North Africa — there is a bloody cost to when the US fails to intervene, says Tim Montgomerie.

5. Why is David Cameron so in thrall to this blunderer? (Daily Mail)

MPs' criticism that Jeremy Heywood was not rigorous enough over the Anderew Mitchell affair is all too familiar, writes Andrew Pierce.

6. Given the state of Britain's economy, Capable (Mark) Carney needs to work miracles (Independent)

There are huge expectations of the new Bank of England Governor, and he won't be able to live up to them. But he could start by learning from the Federal Reserve, says David Blanchflower.

7. The union at Europe’s heart is frayed (Financial Times)

François Heisbourg says he is deeply struck by the loss of Franco-German intimacy.

8. Mokhtar Belmokhtar: the world’s most wanted (Daily Telegraph)

The Algerian crisis has turned Belmokhtar from a minor warlord into the West’s number one target, says Richard Spencer.

9. Obama must atone for his carbon omissions (Financial Times)

His promise of energy security no substitute for action on global warming, writes Edward Luce.

10. It’s snowing, and it really feels like the start of a mini ice age (Daily Telegraph)

Something appears to be up with our winter weather, and to call it "warming" is obviously to strain the language, writes Boris Johnson.

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Q&A: What happened at Barnet's polling stations this morning?

Eager democrats who arrived early in the morning to vote in the London elections were turned away. 

What’s going on?

When polls first opened at Barnet’s 155 polling stations at 7 this morning, many registered voters found that they were not on the station’s voting lists, meaning they were unable to cast their vote. Many reports suggested that the overwhelming majority were turned away. Rules were later relaxed in some, but not all, polling stations to allow those who arrived with their polling cards (which explicitly state they are not needed to cast a vote) to vote.

Why is this happening?

It is, needless to say, unclear. But some reports have suggested that polling station staff only had the updates to the electoral register (that is, those who have newly-registered) rather than the entire register itself. Which makes you wonder why nobody realised before 7am that there might be rather more people wanting to vote in Barnet than the lists suggested.

Is this a conspiracy?

No, of course it’s not. And if you think it is, take the tinfoil hat off and stop watching Russia Today. Barnet is a Tory-led council. If this mess harms any party it is likely to be the Conservatives. We don’t know how Barnet voted for mayor in 2012, but we do know the votes of Barnet plus predominantly Labour-supporting Camden: Boris Johnson got 82,839 first preference votes while Ken Livingstone received 58,354. But remember London’s not just electing a mayor today. It is also electing the members of the Greater London Assembly – and one of them represents the constituency of Barnet and Camden. The incumbent, Andrew Dismore, is from the Labour Party, and is running for reelection. He won fairly comfortably in 2012, far outperforming Ken Livingstone. But Tory campaigners have been talking up the possibility of defeating Dismore, especially in recent days after Labour’s anti-semitism ructions (Barnet has London’s largest Jewish population). Again, if there are voters who failed to vote this morning and cannot to do so later, then that will hurt the Conservatives and help Dismore.

Is it the fault of nasty outsourcers?

Seemingly not. As we’ve written before, Barnet Council is famous for outsourcing vast proportions of its services to private contractors – births and deaths in the borough are now registered elsewhere, for example. But though postal votes and other areas of electoral administration have been outsourced by Barnet, voter registration is performed in-house. This one’s on the council and nobody else.

What has Barnet done about it?

The council initially issued a statement saying that it was “aware of problems with our voter registration lists” and admitting that “a number of people who had not brought their polling card with them were unable to vote”. Which was a bit peculiar given the polling cards say that you don’t need to bring them to vote and there were plenty of reports of people who had polling cards also being denied their democratic rights.

As of 10.40am, the council said that: “All the updated electoral registers are now in place and people can vote as normal.” There appear to be no plans to extend voting hours – and it is not possible to reopen polling tomorrow morning for the frustrated early birds to return.

What does this mean for the result?

It’s very hard to form even a vaguely accurate picture of how many voters who would otherwise have voted will not vote because of this error. But if the margin of victory in the mayoral election or the relevant GLA contest is especially slim, expect calls for a re-run. Frustrated voters could in theory achieve that via the arcane procedure of an election petition, which would then be heard by a special election court, as when Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor of Tower Hamlets was declared void in April 2015.

Some have suggested that this may delay the eventual result, but remember that counting for the London elections was not due to begin until Friday morning anyway.

Is there a dodgier barnet than this Barnet?

Yes.

 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.