articles from 2001

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PDU Letter to the Editor in response to Guardian article of 24 July 2001 (see below)

Let us vote

The Guardian, 28 July 2001

In South Africa alone, thousands of people died fighting for the right to vote (US style ads to counter low turnout, July 24). In recent world history, millions have given their lives. Voting is not just a choice; it is a duty. Don't make voting easier; make it compulsory! Citizens who don't bother to vote, go up a tax bracket!Each ballot should carry the extra, final option of abstention: "I do not agree with any of the above choices in this election." A 41% abstention vote would indicate to any re-elected government that they were not the majority's choice. Uneasy would lie the head of hair that wore the halo.

When more British citizens vote for Big Brother than in the general election, the time has come to look back into the graveyards and remember. And rethink democratic rights, duties and choices.

Pieter-Dirk Uys

Tricycle Theatre, London


US style election ads to counter low turnouts

– Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 24 July 2001

US style political advertising on radio and TV, as well as broadcasts on youth stations such as Radio 1, are to be considered by the electoral commission in an attempt to re-engage young people with democratic politics.The commission, set up by the government to oversee elections and party funding, will also consider internet and telephone voting to reverse the decline in voter turnout.

In a review of the 2001 election, Sam Younger, the commission chairman, said that unless democratic politics re-engaged the public, street politics might take precedence.

He warned: "An accelerating trend away from participation in the institutions of democracy contrasts with what seems a growing tendency for people to make their voice heard through forms of direct action rather than through the ballot box."

The commission's review of election broadcasting will also look at the impact of the diversification of channels, "especially satellite and cable channels which are not required to provide political broadcasts".

The commission is also to open discussions with the broadcasters and the political parties to see whether "more could be done to use the medium of television to engage voters and encourage turnout, whether through a televised debate between the main party leaders or otherwise".

Some senior Labour officials support the idea of paid-for political adverts.

The BBC is compelled by law to show election broadcasts five to 10 minutes long on main channels, but Labour is interested in briefer slots on Radio 1 and Radio 5. Critics claim this will lead to a fundamental change in the face of political campaigning, introducing negative adverts that dominate US elections.

The commission is acting with urgency after the turn-out in the 2001 election collapsed from 71.4% in 1997 to 59.4 %.

Charles Clarke, the Labour party chairman, has been considering an all-party discussion on turnout and general disengagement with politics. His initiative is hampered by the absence of a Tory party leader to consult.

In its agenda for modernising elections, the commission said it had also asked for research to look at internet and telephone voting, as well as the impact of the last election's more flexible rules for postal voting.

The commission said it was also planning to review the timetable for general elections, including an appraisal of the case for fixed term parliaments.

Tony Blair has always op posed any move away from letting the prime minister choose the date.

The commission will also look at the design of ballot papers, and "positive abstention", a form of compulsory voting.

A survey conducted by Mori for the commission found 66% of non-voters reporting they would have been more likely to vote on June 7 if they could have done so by phone, while 51% said they would have been more likely to vote by post.

Although this method was available this year, the Mori survey showed that 44% of non-voters were unaware of the law change.

One in six voters said they did not vote because they were not registered.

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