Nuremberg defence comes to the 2010 general election

by scotslawstudent

The Nuremberg Defence is “I was only following orders” – it’s what a number of the accused at the Nuremberg Trials plead after World War II to explain why they had run concentration camps, invaded Poland and committed the Holocaust. The defence was strengthened because the reason they followed orders is that they, and possibly their families, would have been killed by the Nazis if they had refused.

The modern day equivalent is the crazy jobsworth (it’s one way in which good and bad things today are a pale shadow of the past), there is no prospect that anybody will have their families shot and they’re just following orders because they’re on a power trip. It’s a mentality that seeps into lots of areas – train conductors and traffic wardens are common examples but it can occur anywhere someone has a little power that they cynically eke the most out of. It is not the best look for anyone.

The recent General Election in Britain saw a 4% higher turnout than last time, not an all time high or anything, and naturally polling stations were utterly swamped as a result. Instead of, for example, putting their hands up and saying “yeah, our bad, we didn’t think you’d all want to vote” a number of presiding officers went to the press to point out that it was the dirty, unwashed masses’ fault for not following the rules and spoiling their nice, tidy election. People wanting proof that the customer service ethic in Britain is dead could do worse than polling stations complaining about voters. It’s not only the Slackoisie who like to bunk off 5 minutes early even if their work isn’t finished.

It’s not all bad – in Sheffield, returning officer John Mothersole apologised to voters who were turned away, said “We got this wrong” – this is technically true except that he as returning officer potentially made the decision but the apology is good. Even better, a number of stations weren’t stupid enough to get it wrong in the first place and handed out polling cards to those queueing and bringing people inside the polling station before closing the doors (so as to obey the rule to close but not turn people away). These polling stations – one in Lewisham and two in Newcastle deserve considerable applause.

However, Nick Baldev, who is the specific crazy jobsworth I’m writing about just now, showed a remarkable amount of gall and told the BBC:

“Many did not have their polling cards, which significantly adds time. Some people went to the wrong polling station. And… the absolute laziness from the elector by not joining queues when they arrive, returning at a later time only to find a longer line and re-turning at 2200 BST, which, as it clearly states, is closing time.”

I would note that this apparent nutter in charge of a polling station speaks in military time, so that doesn’t bode well anyway (another term for the crazy jobsworth is the “Little Hitler”) but it’s not conclusive proof of jobworth-ness, however he puts the blame on the voters for making their job harder, calls them lazy and points out that rules are rules. These are stereotypical jobsworths actions and shows a thoroughly detestable attitude.

There are some arguments that there are rules and the rules are there for a reason and so on but it’s an unusual situation because these rules are stopping people taking part in the democratic process. Democracy isn’t the only way to make laws but it’s the way we’ve chosen to do it so we should follow it. The reason that we are expected to obey the law set down by a democratic Parliament is we had some role in setting up the system in the first place so if you’re stopping people voting the rules that you’re expecting them to obey (because they stop them voting) don’t represent them. The Americans fought a war over this issue.

Also, “the rules are there for a reason” is exactly what you’d expect a crazy jobsworth to say whereas a non-crazy non-jobsworth would say what the reason is. The problem here is the reason for the rule that the polling stations stop work at 10 is “so everyone can get home.” I’m big fan of getting home myself but it’s not really going to let you send hundreds of voters away. The idea is to stop voters arriving at midnight when the count is taking place rather than to send the people who are waiting in the queue away.

Geoffery Robertson points out that the right to take part in the democratic process is a human right and urges people turned away to claim for compensation, he puts a figure of about £750 on it. Interestingly human rights is one area where there is relatively little difference between Scotland and England & Wales. I agree with him and also urge that people were turned away by the crazy jobworths in England and Wales should contact Liberty which is campaigning that this never happens again.