|For you, the war is not over..
22 May 2005
A fortnight ago, I expressed relief that the General Election campaign was over. (It was only two weeks ago that the results were announced – but already it seems like last year)
On returning to Parliament last week, I noticed a few colleagues hobbling and a number appeared to have lost a bit of weight. Even the legendary fitness of the Prime Minister was insufficient to ward off some wear and tear.
But, in one part of England, the General Election is not over. Sadly, one of the candidates in South Staffordshire died during the campaign and, under the rules, voting will take place on June 23rd. I will be on a train to Wolverhampton shortly to knock on some doors, to finally quench the appetite for electioneering before my recently-honed campaigning skills decay.
It is perhaps surprising that there have not been more such postponements – the last time this happened in a General Election was in 1951. Fighting an election campaign for four weeks is a stressful business, often conducted by those no longer in their prime – one candidate in Yorkshire was 91, (but he emerged at the end in better shape than some of his younger opponents.)
And the consequences of these postponed elections could be serious. Had a candidate in Sedgefield – where there were many candidates – died during the campaign, the Prime Minister would not have been able to speak in last week’s debate on the Queen’s Speech. Had a candidate in Glasgow North East died, we would not have been able to re-elect the Speaker. Had there been a close result, the Government could have lost a vote of confidence, because one of its members was still contesting his or her seat.
Perhaps we should look again at these rules, which were drawn up in calmer times. We now live in an age where people are prepared to die for their beliefs. What is to stop a fundamentalist getting nominated for a high-profile Parliamentary seat, and then committing suicide before Polling Day? Indeed, what is to stop 649 of them standing in each seat in the UK and doing just that? And, when the election is deferred, what is to stop their colleagues doing the same, all over again ? (New candidates can be nominated in a deferred election). The General Election would never be held.
It may sound like the plot of a novel Jeffrey Archer has yet to write, but, these days, people will stop at nothing to undermine the democratic process. Perhaps we should do what they do in the United States – carry on with the election and, if the candidate who wins has died, simply have a by-election.