European voters can be important to electoral success in local elections

As part of a 3-year London-wide initiative Liberal Democrats sought to connect with European voters who do not have a vote in UK General Elections. The European Voter Initiative (EUVI) was organised mainly by Dinti Batstone running up to the last European elections. On the back of specific fund-raising there was a vibrant contacting of European, non-UK, voters thus increasing the Liberal Democrat turnout in certain geographical areas for the European Elections. At the end of that campaign, out of funds that were available, a prize of £500 was offered to the local party which put together a specific campaign to attract ‘European voters’ to vote in 2010 local elections.

Childs Hill ward of Barnet Local Party won the £500 EUVI prize. There is now in the party a wider EU Voter know-how available which other local parties (in London and beyond) can use.

Childs Hill Ward of London Borough of Barnet has been represented by three Liberal Democrat councillors for 24 years. Perhaps we could be excused if we were complacent in the recent local elections. However, Jack Cohen, Susette Palmer and I believed that we had a harder than usual fight on our hands due to the General Election falling on the same day as the locals. Usually we have to fight off the Tories who still believe they have the right to represent Childs Hill. Usually in local elections Labour either stays at home or partly votes for us to keep the other lot out. This year was different, and has been seen in other London Boroughs, there was a large turnout for Labour and many who might have supported us locally may well have voted the ‘Labour ticket’ and others the ‘Tory ticket’.

The ward currently comprises 12,439 people in 6,457 properties. The ward contains multi-million pound houses, normal suburban housing, multi occupancies and social housing. It includes Golders Green, Childs Hill and Cricklewood.

By use of EARS we ascertained that currently there were 1,684 people in the ward in 1,088 properties who were denoted by ‘G’ on the electoral register and thus as EU citizens could only vote in the local but NOT the general election. Thus we were shocked to realise that almost 14% of the electorate were only able to vote locally. Would they bother to do so?

Susette wrote and art worked an original leaflet which we delivered, and followed up, in an addressed envelope to all EU voters. It pointed out:

  • EU residents of Barnet are eligible to vote in local elections.
  • The Liberal Democrats are the most pro-Europe of the political parties in the election and we hope you will vote for us.
  • We added the four national main pledges based on fairness.
  • We made local points about ‘the appalling waste, maladministration and mismanagement of Barnet’s current Conservative Administration.

Susette’s artwork included listing the 27 members of the EU; we hoped to give the recipient some ‘ownership’ of the election.

We had numerous examples during the election of EU voters taking the trouble to vote, and vote for us, in the local elections. I will tell just one story. At 9.30pm I was asked to take two voters to the poll. They turned out to be residents of Dutch Antilles, with very little spoken English. I put them into my car with a swishing of robes, theirs not mine, and off we went. At the polling station they were at the booth, clearly confused, so I asked a Presiding Officer to give them some assistance. They exited the polling station clutching the voting instruction I had thrust into their hands, pointing to the Parliamentary candidate they indicated they had not been able to vote for her, but pointing to the three local candidates they confirmed, mainly by sign language that they had voted for us.

The difference between the lowest Lib Dem winner and the top scoring Tory was only 119 out of an electorate of over 12,000 and ballot papers of about 7,000. The official verification figures from the count show there were 276 more votes in the local elections than in the General Election. We think that includes a couple of peers, but the overwhelming majority of that 276 represents EU voters. In other wards, the number of EU voters whop voted was considerably more than the majority!

All I can say is ‘thank you’ to our European friends. Our message to all campaigns is not to forget this section of the electorate who could be biased in our favour and have representation in our Town Halls if not at Westminster.

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  • Patrick Smith 30th Jun '10 - 5:18pm

    An admirable successful piece of `smart targeting’ using EARS to strategic effect in the holding of Childs Hill Ward in LB Barnet for the L/D Cllrs.

    Clearly there is a lesson in this example of targeting specific voting communities, that was not only pivotal in the Ward Result but where the 14% of EU residents were also able to feel recognised and involved in the local election campaign.

    There was also no chance of this number EU local election voters being duped into `differential voting’ .

  • John Stevens 1st Jul '10 - 3:31am

    This post makes an important point. But why should EU voters be particularly ready to vote for us?

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