Saturday, March 20, 2010

Is there a sinister Labour plot to stop British troops voting in the election?

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Many of those in the Armed Forces (including those risking their lives on the frontline in Afghanistan) face the prospect of being unable to vote at the forthcoming General Election.

This is a direct result of the Government’s cack-handed and thoughtless system which governs their voting rights.

Under the Representation of the People Act 2000, armed forces personnel have a choice of putting their names on the electoral roll through the Services or as civilians.

But if they take the former route, they must re-register every year rather than being able to register once for the whole of their military career.

As a result of the requirement to sign annually, the number of service personnel registering fell from 139,000 to 21,000.

Indeed, critics of the system have pointed out the bitter irony that while troops have been fighting to help give democracy to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, they themselves have been unable to exercise similar rights.

In order to try to highlight this scandal, the Conservative frontbench spokesman (and former SAS soldier) Andrew Robathan conducted a straw poll of British troops in Iraq in 2005 and found that not only were eight out of ten not registered to vote but they also did not have any idea of the rules.

In fact, only a relatively small perwascentage of the Armed Forces voted in the 2005 General Election.

Now, with a General Election barely seven weeks away, the same thing seems likely to happen again.

Disgracefully, Labour ministers were warned that the law discriminated against servicemen and women. Douglas Young, of the British Armed Forces Federation, published a brilliant document called Silence In The Ranks, which revealed the scale of the problem.

Then, in November 2005, the Tory MP Andrew Tyrie proposed that every member of Armed Forces should be given the automatic right to vote. However, the idea
rejected by the Labour government, which made one concession: the law would be altered so servicemen would only have to register once every five years. This change was an improvement but failed to deal properly with the problem.

To be fair to the Government, Justice Minister Michael Wills set up a ‘working party’ to examine the problem in January.

But this was much too late — for with just two weeks before the election is due to be called, the group has yet to report its findings.

The truth is that if Gordon Brown’s government had shown any real interest in making sure the rights of British troops were upheld, it would never have set up a working party so late in the day.

Instead, right and proper voting entitlements and facilities would have been a priority many years earlier — just like in the American and Canadian armed forces.
Instead, it now looks certain that, for the second General Election in a row, many of our fighting men and women will be denied the chance to vote.

Most worryingly, this raises the very troubling question of whether Gordon Brown’s government’s failure to allow democratic representation to our Armed Forces is merely down to incompetence.

Or is there some other more sinister reason?
Could it be that New Labour’s electoral strategists cynically calculated that the majority of servicemen are more likely to be Tory voters — and have deliberately deprived them of the vote?

It is impossible to say for sure.

However, what can be stated with certainty is that as well as starving the Armed Forces of funds and sending men and women into battle with inadequate equipment, it has also denied many of them one of the most fundamental rights of citizenship.
At the forthcoming election, a number of our bravest fighting men — many of them risking their lives to bring democracy to Afghanistan — will themselves be Disenfranchised.

And for a nation such as Britain, with a glorious military history, that is a most terrible betrayal.

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