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Blears pitches prize draws and online polls at young votes

Sticker chartists swell the electorate

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Hazel Blears plans to reinvigorate local democracy and sprinkle some Miracle Gro on the nation’s grass roots by bribing voters with stickers and tickets for prize draws.

The Communities Secretary has delivered up a white paper “setting out proposals to deliver a fundamental shift in power, influence and responsibility into the hands of communities and citizens”. The aim is to counter the UK’s growing pessimism and cynicism about politics.

It advocates forcing councils to respond to petitions from voters, driving through more accountability and ensuring every locality has a “community kitty scheme”.

Technology inevitably plays a part; a proposal that voters should be able to launch online petitions to demand elected mayors, means every town and village could have its own Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone.

Young people are of course crucial to this effort to reinvigorate local democracy. Amongst the ideas being pitched to make it cool to vote, are "schemes which recognise people who have turned out on polling day, for example every voter getting an ‘I’ve Voted’ sticker at the ballot box".

Anyone with young children knows that a “sticker chart” can be highly effective in persuading junior to stop turning up his nose at greens, stay in bed after 4.30am and stop pissing all over the duvet.

But frankly, allowing people who still respond to this kind of encouragement after puberty to actually have a say in running the country sounds downright dangerous.

Equally disturbing is the proposal that people who vote are automatically entered into a prize draw. Apparently chicken dinners, TVs and iPods are favoured prizes in the US, which is fine if you’re choosing between having Colonel Sanders or Steve Jobs as the President. (Don’t even start.)

The whitepaper is keen to point out that “voting incentives should not be construed as ‘paying for votes’ or create a major new financial burden on councils”.

Rather, “they should be viewed as an eyecatching method to increase awareness and engagement, especially with young people who have never voted and who might view the process with suspicion”.

The problem is anyone who only votes to get an iPod, or even a Big Mac, may not necessarily be casting a particularly informed, discriminating vote.

Just as a footnote, the press release accompanying the white paper includes details of some of the actions Portsmouth is taking to increase its youngsters' role in local democracy. These include the Sorted! emerging Youth Parliament.

Apparently, “the Sorted group of young people were formed in response to strengthening young people's participation on the health information, advice, guidance and services they receive”. [sic]

The council ensures “the young people are trained in tier 1 substance misuse and sex and relationships, as well as mystery shopping techniques”. All of which will stand them in good stead for when they take their seats at Westminster.

The full white paper is available here (pdf). ®

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