Let me take you into a secret enclave where the rulers of a democratic nation are discussing a review of the parliamentary boundaries in the country, which is due to take place next month and which one or two of the press are already calling ‘gerrymandering’. The leader is well pleased with the planned changes, whatever the press are being foolish enough to call them.
‘It should not affect us unduly,’ she tells her colleagues. ‘The odd seat here and there, but with any luck up to 30 Labour party seats could disappear altogether and that is 13% of their total number. Which would be to everybody’s benefit. However the electorate tend to be hideously unpredictable as we all know. They vote on a whim and can be swayed by almost any argument. It doesn’t seem to matter how false a premise it might present, providing it is presented strongly enough.’
Her colleagues murmur agreement. ‘So now,’ she goes on. ‘Perhaps we should put our minds to what can be done to achieve a – shall we say – more favourable electorate. I would suggest to you that there are some sections of the population that have not earned any right to a vote. People in prison are an obvious example, but there are, as I’m sure we will discover when we discuss it, plenty of others.’
Her colleagues are happy to be helpful, after all, nobody wants to be elected out of office when steps could be taken to prevent it and a fickle electorate is plainly a dangerous entity. As one of them puts it ‘there is altogether too much nonsense talked about universal suffrage. Why should everybody be given a vote just because they happen to be alive and they’ve reached 21 or 18 or whatever limit we’ve set?’
‘Quite,’ the leader agrees. ‘So what is to be done about it?’
They begin to make suggestions. One of them wonders whether students should be required to earn the right to a vote, perhaps by the administration of a considerable fee for them to register ‘which should sort out some of the more objectionable.’
Others have other ideas. Perhaps it would be sensible ‘to raise the age of the suffrage back to 21 or even later’ if the opposition would stand such an idea. Perhaps people in hospitals should be excluded from voting, after all ‘they could hardly get out of their hospital beds to go out in the cold to a polling booth. That is a very unkind thing for us to do to them.’ Another mentions stay-at-home mums ‘who have far too much to do looking after their children for us to force them to trail down to a polling booth.’ And then there is the matter of the elderly. They are all sure that everything should be done ‘to make the lives of the elderly easier and less complicated. Whoever heard of anything so unkind as to require old men and women who can barely walk to stagger out and vote.’ And as to old men and women suffering from dementia, they should ‘plainly be beyond the bounds of the suffrage, because they don’t understand what is going on.’
Oh yes indeed. These would all be acts of mercy and compassion. The flights of fancy continue happily, they are caught up in the dizzying satisfaction of boundless power.
A fantasy? A satire? A fairy story? Let us go back to the beginning and see where they started. For we must remember what is actually happening now. It is called a ‘review of the parliamentary boundaries’, which freely translated means ‘with any luck up to 30 Labour party seats could disappear altogether and that is 13% of their total number.’
Oh steady, determined and long suffering Chartists. Oh steady, determined and long suffering Suffragettes! Where are you now when we need you? Must we have another Peterloo massacre? Another martyr?