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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Britain 'needs compulsory voting'
Ballot box (generic)
Geoff Hoon has given his support to compulsory voting
Britons should be forced to vote in elections, a think-tank has said.

Think-tank The Institute for Public Policy Research's report suggests those who do not vote should be fined to combat low turnout at the polls.

The research comes just days before local elections in England, where turnout is expected to be low.

Several Cabinet ministers support the move, but the Conservatives have warned that compulsion could be used as a government "cash cow".

'Incentive to engage'

Under the institute's plan, electors would be offered a "none of the above" choice or could simply spoil their papers.

This report convinces me more than ever that we must consider radical measures to renew our democracy
Geoff Hoon
Leader of the Commons

Ben Rogers, from the institute, said he believed forced voting would improve British politics.

At the moment, the main parties simply give up on people who do not vote and concentrate their efforts on the "core vote", he said.

"If you had compulsory turnout, then the core vote would turn out anyway and the political parties would have to spend much more time persuading people to vote for them."

He said this would be an incentive for parties to engage with the people who they would usually ignore.

The radical solution was backed by Northern Ireland and Wales Secretary Peter Hain and Commons Leader Geoff Hoon.

Mr Hoon said it was "disturbing" that young people and those from deprived communities were "falling out of the habit of voting".

The test for politicians and for political parties is to make voting more easy and more attractive
Simon Hughes
Lib Dem spokesman

"This report convinces me more than ever that we must consider radical measures to renew our democracy," he said.

"Falling turnouts should concern us all."

Mr Hain said: "In Australia and other countries, the civic duty to vote reconnects those who are distanced from the democratic and political process, producing consistently high turnouts without any complaints whatsoever about infringing individual liberty."

But the Tories are not convinced, arguing that the move would be an "unwelcome extension of the state" into the rights and liberties of citizens.

Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said it was "perfectly acceptable" for those who were "genuinely disillusioned" to refuse to vote.

The Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes, also said compulsory turnout "could make politics less appealing".

"The test for politicians and for political parties is to make voting more easy and more attractive," he added.

International comparison

The report found that the last two general elections had the lowest turnouts - 59% and 61% - since World War I.

Young people were found to be half as likely to vote as the over-65s.

And just 32% of Londoners voted in the capital's last local elections in 2002 - down 16% in 12 years.

In contrast, more than nine in ten voters regularly went to the polls in countries like Australia and Belgium, where compulsion had been introduced.


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