Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 18:36 UK

Save election night, say Tories

Eric Pickles
Mr Pickles likened delayed counts to a "soggy sparkler on Bonfire Night"

All votes at the next general election should be counted in a single night, Tory chairman Eric Pickles has said.

Councils responsible for counts must ensure that "traditional practices" are maintained to preserve the excitement of live broadcasts, he added.

As many as one in four councils are reported to be considering abandoning the traditional Thursday night count in favour of a Friday count.

The next general election has to take place by June 2010.

New postal voting rules and higher staff costs are among reasons thought to be behind those considering delays to counts.

But Mr Pickles said the European Parliament vote this year had demonstrated how using a more drawn-out process had "all the impact of a soggy sparkler on Bonfire Night".

'No discussion'

He has written to Justice Secretary Jack Straw urging him to give strong advice to councils carrying out general election counts.

The letter says: "It has become apparent that there are an increasing number of electoral returning officers who are considering moving the timing of the general election count - from the evening of polling day to the day after polling day.

"There has been no discussion or consideration by Parliament or the Political Parties Panel of such a change."

Mr Pickles said it was "not unreasonable" to offer guidance to councils because central government was paying for the counts.

He added: "Consistency of count timing is entirely justified for general elections - unlike local elections - as the general election is a UK-wide process to one, national body; the delay by a few councils of their counts ruins the efforts undertaken by those which do not.

"Consequently, I would ask that the Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the mainstream political parties, seeks to issue new guidance to electoral returning officers to encourage traditional practices to be maintained."

A Facebook group called Save General Election Night, set up by ConservativeHome blogger Jonathan Isaby, currently has just over 2,000 members.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that several councils, including Newcastle upon Tyne, had already opted for a Friday count and officials in Leeds, York and Gloucestershire were among those considering it.

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