Saturday, July 27, 2019

Letter: The Value of the Franchise. (1927)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
 The correspondent whose letter was dealt with in our May issue writes again. His letter and our comment are given below:—
To the Editor.

Thanks for the consideration of my letter under above heading in S. S. May. We want the facts certainly, not so much that they prove our case, but because they are facts. It is absurd to draw the inference that I am a busy body nobly searching for “injustices” to put right, but I am not half so enthusiastic as your good selves in your endeavour to prove the “injustice” but a little one. The extracts you give from the Acts of 1918 are quite correct, but I am by no means impressed by your figures when I know that almost every brick that stands on top of another, and almost every piece of enclosed land, carries a vote, and I am convinced that such is by no means a negligible factor in determining the result of an election. On the authority of an official connected with the compilation of the voting register, I am enabled to state that, while the act says that a person may not vote in more than two divisions at a general election, the lawyers have found a flaw in the Act which enables a person to exercise the vote under business premises or occupational clauses in as many pieces of property above a certain value in separate divisions as they may possess. As this applies, not only to the actual owner, but the members of his or her family, and in the case of a limited company, to the directors and their dependents, the plural vote assumes enormous dimensions. I am not able to state definitely the nature of the “flaw” in the Act, but should imagine that it has something to do with the Acts round about the time of the Charles.

“No taxation without representation.”

You ask me how many persons there are in the family cited who qualify for twelve votes in the three Leicester divisions. Four—father, mother and two sons. You also ask me to state the disqualifications which militate against working-class representation, and I will name a few: for instance, soldiers and sailors (R.N.), lodgers and boarders of the artisan class, who form the bulk of the floating population, inmates of workhouses and other Poor Law institutions, the Mercantile Marine in most cases, as they never know where they will be at the time of an election. As to the proxy vote, you speak as if, when those on the absent voters’ list die off, there will be no more. Then, of course, we come to the final argument. If the plural vote is of such infinitesimal importance as you would lead your readers to believe, why do the Capitalist Class retain it? They are not such fools as to cling to a thing which carries with it a certain amount of odium, unless it is of use to them. Perhaps you can find an excuse.
F. L. Rimington.

I did not suggest that Mr. Rimington is interested in searching for “injustices” to put right. What I said was that we are not interested in doing so.

Mr. Rimington “is not impressed” by the figures given in my article but does not show where they are in error. He cannot, in the circumstances, expect me to be impressed by his repetition of his criticisms: He says he "knows” that “almost every brick . . . carries a vote.” If it did, the plural vote would not be a negligible factor. But it. does not, as I showed, and I repeat, therefore, that it is a negligible factor. Against my figures from official sources of the negligible number of business premises votes, Mr. Rimington refers to an unnamed “official connected with the voting register,” in proof of the existence of a ”flaw in the Act,” the nature of which he is ”not able to state definitely,” but which he “imagines” has "something to do with the Act round about the time” of the Stuart kings. Really, Mr. Rimington, how can you expect such nebulous stuff to be answered ?

Mr. Rimington lists a number of obstacles which may make it difficult for some workers to use their votes, but he does not answer the main point of my reply, which was that, in fact, the workers have so overwhelming a majority of votes that, allowing for these disabilities and all the plural votes of the employers, the working class are in a position to swamp the master class at the polls. If this is true in fact, then the anomalies are negligible. If it is not true, it is for Mr. Rimington to show that it is not true.

The reference to the proxy vote and the dead I do not understand.

Mr. Rimington’s final point is that the capitalists would not keep the plural vote unless it were worth something to them. In the first place, I did not deny that it is useful. I expressly pointed out that it gives them the control of a certain few constituences like the City of London, and this is valuable to them. But the loss of the City of London is not of so great importance to the workers that it is worth while suspending Socialist propaganda in order to secure further amendments in the franchise law. It may, however, be pointed out in passing that the Capitalists are, contrary to Mr. Rimington’s belief, “such fools" as to cling to useless forms. The long resistance of influential capitalist circles to any extension of the franchise in the 19th century shows that they were “such fools” as not to realise that the workers, when given votes, would use those votes for the retention of the capitalist system.

In conclusion, I would repeat that the only major obstacle to socialism is the non-socialist outlook of the workers, not anomalies in the franchise law. If those anomalies were abolished to-morrow, the great mass of the workers would still vote capitalist candidates into Parliament.
Edgar Hardcastle

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