Polling station, London, 1974Probably like most people, I didn’t even notice the changes when they came in; I’m aware of them now, but only because I’m paying attention. A lot aren’t. I’m talking registering to vote. The law tells us we can all do it once we’re 18 – as long as we’re not being detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, of course. So why is it not as straightforward as it once seemed? I doubt the 1.5 million potential voters to have vanished from the electoral roll since the changes came into effect could answer that question. They disappeared because their identities couldn’t be verified via council tax and social security records on the DWP database, initially placing their automatic transference to the new register in stasis; they remained on the register until December and now they’ve gone.

Changes to the way in which the electorate register for the right to vote could reduce the numbers gaining access to the polling booth on June 23, apparently. The PM was urging ‘yoof’ to register and cast their vote this week, yet it is the abolition of the old registration system which he was instrumental in abolishing that could leave many young people out in the cold (and it probably will be cold on June 23, going by our summer climes). Individual Electoral Registration became law two years ago, twelve months before the last General Election. Whereas the previous pattern was for the head of a household to register all residents eligible to vote, with a similar process at universities, where all students would be listed together, the onus being on the individual to register alone means those people who don’t necessarily stay rigid in one place – renting tenants and students alike – are less likely to have their names down on the electoral roll.

Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Brexit? Possibly. Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Tory? Doubtfully. But the changes made by the previous Tory-dominated administration could have a far wider-reaching impact on voting than what happens in the EU Referendum.

The ongoing plan to bring in electoral boundary changes, reducing the number of constituencies in the process, is a plan that will base its redrawing of the map on the geography of the electorate, using the list of voters who have registered since the IER was introduced in 2014. With the majority of those registered unlikely to include serial wanderers or students, this means the boundary changes will be heavily favoured towards the traditional, stable and affluent Tory fan-base residing in rural heartlands rather than densely-populated urban areas with an ever-changing population. This imbalance gives the Tories a distinct advantage which, let’s face it, they’d obviously be foolish not to want.

When the Individual Electoral Registration became law, it was theoretically introduced to reduce the prospect of electoral fraud, but a spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society claimed the change could provoke a decline in electoral registration, ‘looking at registration rates in the 50% region’. When the new rules had been in place for a year, the 2015 General Election took place and 186,000 absent voters applied to register after the deadline. There seems to be a strong likelihood the same thing could happen again come the Referendum. How that will affect the outcome remains to be seen – or possibly Remains to be seen.

I suppose it would easy for some belonging to older generations, those for whom voting as a virtual duty was in the blood, to say that those who haven’t registered to vote have only themselves to blame. Fair point. But that implies politics figures as highly in daily discourse amongst the under-45s as it is prone to amongst the over-45s; and by and large, it doesn’t. It’s only when a media bombardment comes around every four or five years that those who don’t pay constant attention realise something is happening. We’ve been rather spoilt over the last couple of years: first the Scottish Independence Referendum, then the General Election and now a Referendum everyone in the UK can actually participate in, so anyone who hasn’t registered has no real excuse, right? Maybe; but wouldn’t it be easier if we could just turn up at the polling station with some ID and get on with it? We have to provide ID for everything else now; it should be sufficient. We’re all supposed to be on file these days, our every move monitored and tracked; so why not just endorse the myth that every free man and woman over 18 can vote and dispense with electoral registration altogether? The new system was allegedly intended to lessen the risk of fraud; it might well do that, but it doesn’t appear to be working where it really matters.

The deadline for registration re the EU Referendum is June 7; despite the fact that Mr Cameron claims a million have registered since the start of the campaign, there could be thousands who miss the deadline and won’t be able to have their say. Will they be back on the register in time for the next General Election? The way things have been going since the Individual Electoral Registration was introduced, there’s a strong possibility they won’t be.

© The Editor

6 thoughts on “IF YER NAME’S NOT ON THE LIST…

  1. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m one of that older generation for whom voting is a blood-carried duty and who believes that those who can’t be arsed to register have only themselves to blame – it’s easy, it’s free, so what’s stopping them ? However unsettled their lifestyles, they still manage to maintain their mobile phone service and get in to see a GP or hospital when they’re not feeling well – if they can manage those personally desireable factors, then they can manage their electoral registration duty. Rant over.

    There is a paradox here in that the people who are complaining about the consequences of IER are the very same folk who vociferously defeated an earlier government’s proposal to introduce National ID Cards. Most other countries have them and, if we did, then there would be no need to ‘register’ at all, you’d just turn up, swipe your ID Card through a reader and make your mark on the ballot-paper or key it into a voting-machine. So you decide, what matters most ?

    As a ‘democrat’ I reckon everyone should turn up and give their opinion, even if that involves deliberately ‘spoiling’ the ballot-paper to express any particular feeling (as I have done on rebellious occasions). Countries like Australia make it compulsory to vote, which has some attractions, although it has admittedly delivered some questionable governments over there of late. The over-riding issue is that, if you don’t turn up to vote, you forego any right to complain about what the government does.

    Perhaps all voters should be rewarded with a free Lucky Dip ticket in the next lottery – that might just be enough to get the disinterested out of their sordid flea-pits and into the polling station once every few years: getting them interested in how their disconnected lives are governed may be a tad more of a challenge.

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    1. I suppose turning the whole exercise into a TV talent contest text-vote system would wake them up; mind you, the proposed debate at Wembley Arena implies we’re almost there.


  2. I see Mudplugger’s point. On a wider note, I am quite often amazed (well actually not any more) to observe some who appear to be members of our poorer and most disadvantaged sections of society who are typically possessed of the shiniest and most expensive mobile phone technology (certainly I couldn’t afford to buy and run the bloody things) which they use to “social meeja” with fanatical dexterity, although one has to wonder about the quality of the output. But isn’t this just another example of bombastic, bullying “Flashman”, who seems to me to be more and more divorced from the experience of “real” people. Small c conservative I may be, but Cameron and his cabal of millionaire buddies seem to me to be ghastly.

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    1. I thought the assertion in the otherwise long-winded IDS resignation letter that the Cabinet aren’t remotely concerned with those who don’t vote Tory was a revealing insight into the thought-processes of Cameron & Co. – even if it merely confirmed what most of us had long suspected.


      1. Agreed, but Cam & Co are not alone in that tactic, they all must do it as the ‘bread & butter’ of democracies.
        Tony Blair’s initial success may have owed much to a stale predecessor group, but he set out a strategy to get elected and then stay elected, whatever he had to compromise along the way, thus Clause 4, appealing to middle-class voters, buttering up industry etc., while still holding on to enough of the reliable bulk votes. Sod the principles, they’re worthless if you can’t get into power – a challenge that Project Corbyn has yet to realise.
        Some degree of populism is necessary in any democracy in order to get elected: trouble is, they can go too far, like Venezuela or Zimbabwe, where such a level of ‘sweeties’ were handed out to the masses simply to guarantee ongoing electoral success that, when the economic chickens come home to roost, there’s no cash to pay for them. It’s even happening now in France, where the leftish government is having to retreat on its over-generous workers’ rights just to survive, and the workers aren’t joyeux about it, hence a shed-load of strikes and more to come.
        Getting elected is easy, being in government, and staying in government, is an entirely different matter – for all his manifold faults, Blair understood it and was brilliant at that aspect.

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