.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, May 02, 2005

A question of trust

As the debate moves firmly onto the question of whether voters can ever trust New Labour again after Iraq, the Western Mail highlights the fact that large numbers of soldiers who are risking their life abroad may be disenfranchised in Thursday's election.

They reveal that an information campaign informing overseas troops of their voting rights did not allow enough time to register to vote. The Representation of the People Act 2000 requires service personnel to register each year like civilian voters. Previously they were able to register once and remain on the rolls for the rest of their military career.

Under the new law, servicemen and women have to be registered two months before a general election, putting the deadline at March 10. Although the May 5 poll date has been an open secret for more than a year, the MoD and the Electoral Commission did not finalise their information campaign until December 9 and it was not launched until January 28.

More than 100,000 leaflets explaining the changes were sent to the British Forces Post Office in Mill Hill by February 4 but took three weeks to be sent out. A spokesman for the MoD said overseas units were given priority, but military sources say that some units did not get the leaflets until after the deadline had passed, while others received them on March 1. This would have given an un-registered serviceman or woman in Iraq just 10 days to write requesting a registration form, to receive it and send it back again or to print a form off the internet and return it.

Soldiers serving in Iraq say mail to and from the UK can take between seven and 15 days to arrive. Mail to and from Afghanistan can take even longer. In Wales, Scotland and England there were 168,000 service personnel registered to vote before the new law was introduced in 2000 but numbers had fallen to 33,000 by 2003.

As the article points out it is possible that some of these servicemen and women are registered as civilians at their home, but nevertheless it does seem to be an extraordinary gaff on the part of a Government struggling to justify its military involvement in Iraq.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?