Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Who’ll be left standing when the Tories’ secret weapon goes bang? (Daily Telegraph)

Labour needs to up its game on immigration and welfare to see off Lynton Crosby’s threat, says Mary Riddell.

2. Real Conservatives cut spending before taxes (Times)

Bold Budget measures being urged on the Chancellor will lose money in the short term, writes Daniel Finkelstein. Ask Margaret Thatcher.

3. Why the euro crisis is not yet over (Financial Times)

If all members of the eurozone would rejoin happily today, they would be extreme masochists, says Martin Wolf.

4. How George Osborne is now being muzzled by his own watchdog (Daily Mail)

The OBR provides the lesson that top economists are no wiser in making predictions than the man next to you in the saloon bar, says Andrew Alexander. 

5. Forget fairness. This mansion tax is ideological cowardice (Guardian)

A fair extension of the council tax would be easy, lucrative, progressive – and anathema to people like Balls and Cable, says Simon Jenkins.

6. Europe needs Cameron’s tough love (Financial Times)

Determination to reform the bloc is in the interests of the whole continent, writes Andrew Mitchell.

7. The price we will pay for dithering on energy (Daily Telegraph)

For a decade and more, Britain has failed to treat energy provision as a priority - and we are further from fixing the problem than ever, says a Telegraph editorial. 

8. Hilary Mantel: bring up the royal bodies (Guardian)

The lecture was not an attack on the Duchess of Cambridge but a thoughtful and sympathetic reflection on royal woman down the ages, says a Guardian editorial.

As the world is getting more prosperous, the western share of wealth is declining, writes Ian Birell. It's a new world order and we must get used to it.

10. Think there's no alternative? Latin America has a few (Guardian)

Not only have leaders from Ecuador to Venezuela delivered huge social gains – they keep winning elections too, writes Seumas Milne.

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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.