Lord Paul Tyler writes…Never on a Sunday?

Some little Englander MPs, as we know, are incredibly jumpy about anything they think might have come from Europe.  The latest in the line of Brussels bogeymen is the worrying advent of public activity at the weekend, which could – they say – cause all kinds of terrible problems.

The British Social Attitudes survey (not the dangerous ‘Eurobarometer’) has found that 45.7% of the public regard themselves as belonging to ‘no religion’.  Of those who do profess some faith, 57.5% say they ‘never or practically never’ attend meetings or services connected to their religion.  A further 20% say they do so only twice a year or less.

It may be for these reasons that Sunday trading is now widely accepted, and that all sorts of things go on all-over the weekend.  When I was first campaigning, more than 50 years ago, we would not have canvassed on Sundays.  Today, people do so quite readily and seldom if ever provoke a pious reaction.

So if we can buy things, and talk politics, on Sundays, why can’t we vote on Sundays?  An election over the course of both Saturday and Sunday, but for shorter hours than the present Thursday arrangements, would avoid excluding anyone on grounds of religious observance and be very likely to increase turnout.  This would avoid the closure of schools, and the interruption of the working day, and those who have religious commitments on one day can vote on the other.

My colleagues and I in the Lords have made this suggestion from time-to-time by way of amendments to Bills.  In 2011, our own Lib Dem Minister, Lord (Jim) Wallace of Tankerness told the Lords

I want to make clear that we are not ruling it out. I want to reassure the House that not including something in this Bill will not rule out the possibility of us returning to this issue.

A good time to return to the issue would be now, since we are approaching the European elections, in which many other countries will vote at the weekend.  But this has made the Tories worried.

The European Commission has produced some guidance saying that it might be sensible for there to be a common European Parliament Election Day (or days) across Europe.  Tory Minister, David Lidington, seeing a Brussels bogeyman on the horizon, disagrees most adamantly.  He moved a motion in the Commons this week opining that:

the suggestion for a common voting day across the EU is unhelpful and would achieve the opposite of the stated intention of increasing voter turnout.

I am sorry to see that this was agreed by MPs without a Division.

Those who advocate weekend voting are always asked in debate to show ‘evidence’ that it would increase voter turnout.  Next time they do, I shall remind them of their assertion that a common day (at the weekend) would be “unhelpful” and somehow reduce turnout.  Where is the evidence for that?

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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  • Why can’t we just move to all postal voting over a period of a fortnight or so?

  • Because its much harder to guarantee a secret ballot with postal voting.

  • The argument about upsetting the church or Christian voters by voting on a Sunday has always seemed nonsensical to me. After all, Italy and France are far more religious than the UK and they don’t seem to have a problem with Sunday voting. Ruling it out just because it is a proposal from the EU is just a typical knee-jerk Tory reaction aimed at winning votes rather than taking the trouble to consider the idea properly.

  • This is well worth looking into. Having polling for 2 days would just increase costs; I’d have thought postal voting is an easier solution for anyone observing a Sabbath.

    In terms of polling stations, not closing schools for a day would be a bonus, but what about the duty on employers to release employees for public service leave – this can include election days so moving to a weekend could have an impact on working time lost thus growth. Community centres and churches would be harder to arrange, but by either using rooms not getting in the way of services, using other polling stations or even *gasp* closing the polling station for the duration of a service, you could make it work.

    I’m not convinced there would be a religious outcry; in fact I’d consider it less controversial than Sunday trading as voting is not seen as commercial activity in the same way, even if polling clerks are working.

    Ultimately it should come down to ease of access to democracy and impact on turnout; I’m not fussed about all of Europe voting on the same day, but if it makes it easier to engage with politics, then we should do it – is there any academic evidence either way? Sadly I suspect Lord Tyler is right, that the discussion has been prefixed with “Europe suggests” just to kill off any discussion. Shame, as there are real merits in it.

  • Personally I dislike Sunday trading but would have no objection to Sunday voting as it would be such a rare issue.

    Although personally religious it is not the reason I dislike Sunday trading. I dislike it because I feel it robbed families of a day where most people did not work. It also stopped those smaller shops from benefiting from the trade. In my opinion we have gained access to larger shops but lost so much more. That said I accept I am probably in a minority so would not force my views on others…..

    As for voting, for me this is a responsibility, people died to ensure I had the vote, women suffered huge cruelties and sometimes death to ensure my wife (and in a few years my daughters) have the vote. I am beginning to wish all ballots had “None of the Above” on sometimes to allow my feelings to be accurately cast, but anything that can be done to improve turnout should be. Trial it, if it doesn’t work what have we lost ? At worst, it will give Lord Carey chance to embarrass himself with doomsday predictions again and even as a Christian myself it is almost worth doing just for that reason!

    The only local issue I would see locally is that the school where I cast my vote doubles as a Baptist Church on a Sunday AM. This would I suggest require some thinking and negotiation but I imagine it would be a solvable issue.

  • “but what about the duty on employers to release employees for public service leave”

    I’m not sure this exists in respect of election candidates – or are you talking about something different to what I think you are.

    The issue of churches used as polling stations is not insignificant – and finding new polling station venues is not always easy.

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