Towards the end of October the Conservatives won a victory in the House of Lords on individual electoral registration. This means that the basis of the new boundary reform will be made up of people who voted in the May 2015 General Election, redrawing the constituency boundary change for the 2020 General Election. YouGov estimates 1.9 million voters will go missing from the electoral register, hitting areas with a large amount of students particularly hard as so few vote.
The Conservatives say the current boundaries favour the Labour Party, as the city-centre seats which Labour does best at (think Manchester or Newcastle, for example) are smaller than the Tory suburban and countryside seats where Tories are dominant (think Surrey Heath, or Stratford-on-Avon), which means they need fewer votes to win.
A problem for Labour is that many supporters are young-people, usually students, who are less likely to vote than older Conservative voters. In July, before Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election, stand-in leader Harriet Harman promoted a registration drive. She told the Local Government Association: “if you are over 60, white and own your own home and live in a non-metropolitan area, you will be on the electoral register unless you try quite hard. But if you are young, black and live in an inner city you are much more likely not to be on the register. This is discriminatory in the sense some people don’t get a right to vote.”
This is shocking at a time when voter turnout is getting lower and lower with each General Election, the turnout in 2015 being a measly 66.1% contrasting with 83.9% in 1950, with turnout dropping off a cliff from the 1997 General Election to the 2001 election from 71.4% to 59.4%.
In the same week as the boundary changes were being proposed in the House of Lords, The Courier reported on a study about recent voting patterns: “No registration, no democracy, study warns” ran the headline following a report which showed the main problem at polling stations was citizens being refused to vote as they were not on the electoral register. Surely the right thing to do would be to make it easier for people to vote, rather than make it harder? A political party that actively tries to discourage people from voting to serve themselves is the real harm to British democracy, rather than someone not bowing enough on Remembrance Sunday.
Voter apathy is a serious risk to our democracy; we get the parties we deserve when so few people vote. This year the Tories won only one quarter of voters, yet hundreds of thousands will take part in anti-austerity marches – something is amiss.
“Voter apathy is a serious risk to our democracy; we get the parties we deserve when so few people vote”
In a time when people across the world, like during the Arab Spring, will fight and die for the right to vote are we really going to relinquish these hard won rights because some can’t be bothered to register? I hope not.