Do we live in a banana republic in Barnet? I had an extraordinary conversation with a local Conservative activist today. What never ceases to amaze me is that some of the most honest people in Barnet politics seem to be a small band of Conservative activists who still support the Tories, but who are disgusted with the local party. Before anyone asks, the person isn't Dan Hope or David Miller. He asked me if I would be supporting Andrew Dismore in his legal challenge to the result (should he decide to lodge one).
I immediately said "No, I have no dispute with the result. None of the discrepancies would have affected my result, so it would purely be sour grapes and being a bad loser".
He then said the following "That really isn't the point. The point is that law was broken and even if it made no difference to the result, the election should be restaged. If we ignore the law when we hold elections we are no better than a banana republic".
Now there are very good practical reasons why I think it would be a waste of time rerunning the election. Firstly the cost. It wouldn't be cheap. The taxpayer would have to pay it and for what?
Secondly given the margin in the Council Election, it really wouldn't have affected the result. As to the General Election result. I suppose conceivably, it might. The margin was 105. We don't have any estimates of how many people were affected as we hadn't asked our tellers to actually count any people affected. Mr Dismore had no tellers at the polling stations so his evidence would surely be more anecdotal. Thirdly, just suppose the election was rerun and Andrew Dismore won. In the big scheme of things would it really affect that much? Labour would still have a huge number of seats less than the Conservatives. Things have changed since May 6th, so it wouldn't necessarily be any fairer on the voters.
Having said that, my Conservative friend made one point which I can't think of a logical way of refuting. The election was without question botched. Things happened at certain polling stations which, if proven, are without question illegal (I am not going to discuss what they are here). The only way Barnet Council and the people involved will ever get them right in future is to be taught a harsh lesson.
As I said, I don't think that a rerun is the way forward, but a full proper, transparent enquiry must be held. The results must be published. If it transpires that these were minor problems, they had no effect whatsover on the result and no laws were broken, then that is the end of the matter.
If the problems were administrative blunders and could be shown to be caused by a completely unexpected and unpredictably high number of voters, and by poor training resulting in people not understanding election law and not enforcing it, then if the result was not affected in a provable manner, then we need to learn the lessons for next time. End of story.
But what if it can be shown that there was a darker side to all of this. What if there was deliberate "problems" in wards which could affect the result in anticipation of a tight result? In this case, even if as it turned out, the council result wasn't affected, can it be allowed to stand? What is the point having laws if they are not followed? Now I don't actually believe this was what happened, but just suppose and investigation shows it was? That is a completely different ball game and it would trouble me. As an affected party with an axe to grind, I don't think it would be right or proper for me to comment as I have a clear interest. I would be happy to abide by whatever decision a truly independent panel of experts decided, end of story.
So to answer the question in the title - Should the Mill Hill Council Election and the Hendon Parliamentary Election be rerun? No I don't personally think they should. If a full investigation finds they should be restaged, then so be it. What we do need to do is to investigate the whole fiasco properly and fully publish the results. I have written to Nick Walkley -CEO of Barnet - requesting a meeting to discuss this and I will explain in detail my concerns. I am seeking to ensure that such things never happen again in the London Borough of Barnet. I hope all politicians on all sides agree that a proper investigation is the way forward, with full disclosure of the findings. Lets learn the lessons of Thursday and transform Barnet into a model council for others to look up to.