I have become a little worried in recent months about the views expressed by councillors and senior representatives, of all the main political parties, about the “cost” of democracy.
We are fortunate to live in a democracy where the people choose their government and councils via the ballot box. They can change their minds and ‘sack’ their representatives every four or five years. The system has flaws but in general works.
To ensure that these votes are free and fair they have to be administered, polling stations manned and ballot papers printed, votes counted independently of parties etc. This is vital for the security and validity of the vote and costs money.
So what price democracy? Parish councils can co-opt people onto their body if a vacancy occurs unless the public call for an election (ten signatures are required from people living in the area of the vacancy for a vote to be called). If the public do call for a vote are we really saying that they should be denied the opportunity to elect the person they feel best to represent them?
Both borough and parliamentary by-elections are automatically called within a certain time frame and rightly so. Exactly how are we to choose a new councillor or MP if a vacancy occurs if not by election? Those suggesting the costs are too high do not seem to have a credible answer to that question.
Here in Warrington the current estimate is that borough by-elections cost around £22,000 and parish elections around £7,000. Parliamentary by-elections will, of course, cost much more.
I do not regard this as ‘wasted’ money as some have suggested. If these cost are “too high” for some, what do they regard as an acceptable figure? What price do they put on our democracy?
Clearly the cost of running elections should be constantly reviewed and saving made whenever possible, but that should not impact on the security of the vote. We should not forget that people around the world are willing to die, and some have, to secure the right to vote. That right is not God given and we should cherish it and do all we can to protect our system which allows the people to decide who should represent them without fear or coercion. If that comes at a cost, it is one worth paying.