TODAY’S Man On Ledge takes the form of a political aside, as Thursday was column day for many years. So here’s a question: to what extent should the party in power be able to alter the electoral landscape in their favour?
This sort of thing has always gone on, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes not. One reason Margaret Thatcher wanted to allow people to buy their council homes was that she believed house-owners were more likely to vote Tory, to become, in the phrase of the day, “one of us”.
From the other side of the ravine, many Tories believed that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown created natural Labour voters by expanding the public sector, and also by making welfare payments more generous. As with selling council houses, that is a subtle form of possible vote manipulation. There are no guarantees. Someone who works in a state-run industry may or may not vote Labour, although the chances are perhaps higher.
At present we are seeing more blatant tinkering with democracy, including a Government attack on how Labour is funded, with union members being required to make a positive choice to pay a levy to Labour. If that does happen, Labour will have even less money than the Tories, but the party might at least be able to look for a different way ahead. Incidentally, you will not be surprised to learn that no new rules are being suggested to limit the extremely wealthy making generous bungs to Cameron and Co.
Boundary changes are also going to be introduced that will favour the Conservative Party: again, this isn’t exactly subtle, but it is the sort of massaging that does go on under all parties.
But one element of David Cameron’s strategy strikes me as more outrageous. This is the plan to extend the right to vote in our elections to ex-pats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years. The logic being that these suntanned refugees from Britain are more likely to vote Conservative. Now if that doesn’t look like a dodgy fix, then I don’t know what does. Surely if people love this country so much that they go and drink cocktails in the sunshine thousands of miles away, they should forfeit the right to vote on what happens back in rainy old Britain.
But this sharp bit of electoral accountancy does raise an intriguing possibility. If that is considered to be acceptable, will any future independence referendum north of the border therefore be open to anyone who has lived away from Scotland for 15 years? And will the promised EU referendum be open to relocated Brits who actually live in Europe? Well, it’s a thought.