Lib Dems Abroad about to join the party’s campaigning mainstream

This week, I was pleased to join forces with our Lib Dem Peers at the second reading of the Elections Bill at the House of Lords.

For us at Lib Dems Abroad, the Elections Bill is a gamechanger that will bring us into the campaigning mainstream of the party.

A huge 8% of all Brits are living outside the UK. The likely abolition of the 15-year rule will allow all Brits abroad of voting age the right to register and vote at the next UK General Election.

Our members, led by the three “local” party chairs – Lib Dems in Europe (Tom McAdam), France (Jenny Shorten) and Overseas (Mark Iliffe) – and myself, will fly the flag for the party by organising an extensive voter registration campaign for British citizens across the world once the law is implemented and the government’s own campaign has started.

Brits living abroad will need to be included in the party’s manifesto for the first time (previous Lib Dem manifestos had already supported the abolition of the 15-year rule and overseas constituencies).

Then, of course, Lib Dems Abroad will work in partnership with UK local parties to coordinate the party’s campaign for the overseas vote at the next UK General Election in 2-3 years’ time, groundwork for which will start shortly.

The party and Lib Dems Abroad will also look closely and very carefully at how the party might take advantage of opportunities for fund-raising that may arise thanks to the Bill.

In our written submission last year on behalf of the party to the House Elections Bill Committee, we have in particular concentrated on speeding up the distribution of the ballot to voters in far flung places so they have a better chance to be sent back in time for the count. We are advocating electronic transmission of the postal voting packs (by email or downloaded online) to be printed, completed and returned by overseas voters to their local electoral administration office.

The Electoral Commission and the Association of Election Administrators have backed our enabling amendment which would allow electronic distribution of ballots as an option for the overseas voter. I noted in yesterday’s debate that Labour also mentioned the issue as missing in the Bill and could well support it. Meantime Lib Dems Abroad is still talking to the Government about this.

We are grateful for the support given to us by our peers William Wallace and Chris Rennard and urge them now to finalise and table this enabling amendment as the Bill passes to the Committee stage.

In addition to issues affecting overseas voters, our peers concentrated their fire at last week’s Lords debate on voter IDs, maintaining the independence of the Electoral Commission and opposing extending the right to make unlimited donations which many see as the real reason for Tories wishing to extend the vote to all Brits living abroad.

There will be a members’ consultation on Lib Dems Abroad and its future within the party today at 1pm (UK time) for which we are delighted that Welsh Lib Dem President Paula Yates has agreed to inform our overseas members about how a state party functions.

* George Cunningham has been elected to the FIRC 2023-25. He is Chair of the FIRC Subcommittee on China, Chair of Lib Dems Abroad and a Lib Dem member of ALDE Council.

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23 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 27th Feb '22 - 8:52am

    Sorry but my view is that only adults with permanent UK addresses, who are subject to UK taxes and UK laws, should have the right to vote in UK elections.

  • Brad Barrows 27th Feb '22 - 10:47am

    @Martin
    Hi Martin, I understand your view but take a different opinion. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum I thought it right that all those who had chosen to make Scotland their home (irrespective of where they were born) were given the right to vote, and that ethnic Scots who had chosen to make their homes in a different country should not have a vote. I think that approach should be extended to all elections, the only exceptions being that those in the country illegally should not have a vote and those who are temporary out of the country, such as for work reasons, should continue to be registered at home and continue to have a vote. I understand that you and others may take a different view – the great thing about democracy is that we can disagree, but agreeably.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Feb '22 - 12:34pm

    For once, I agree with Brad Barrows. The long-standing principle of “No taxation without representation” should apply, and every adult legally resident in this country should have the right to vote. I doubt that Roman Abramovich’s one vote in Chelsea will make any difference. We should not forget that a poll showed 85% of Lib Dems support voting rights for some or all prisoners: https://www.libdemvoice.org/85-of-lib-dem-members-back-votes-for-prisoners-31295.html Why should non-citizens living here be treated worse than criminals?

    While British citizens should have a right to live in whatever country they choose, and which will accept them, being domiciled abroad means that they pay their taxes to their country of residence not to the UK. That is the reason for denying them voting rights.

  • Chris Moore 27th Feb '22 - 7:28pm

    Laurence, we had exactly the same conversation a few weeks ago; please get your facts right: many British citizens living abroad pay UK tax.

    I am one of those. I also pay Spanish tax. I have the vote in neither country.

  • Chris Moore 27th Feb '22 - 7:30pm

    So Laurence, you are also arguing for taxation without representation.

  • Rob Harrison 28th Feb '22 - 7:36am

    Like Chris, I live in Germany but end up paying taxes in both Germany and in the UK. I have not had the right to vote for many years. The result of the Brexit referendum affected me massively – it is still an open question, for example, of whether my health care costs in retirement will be covered by the NHS or whether I shall need to pay privately.
    The Australian side of my family emigrated in the early 1900s. They never expected to return to the UK (although my grandfather did in 1914, but that is another story). They made their lives down under. In the 21st Century, this has changed. Many of us working in the EU maintain close professional and family links as well as having numerous friends still in the UK. Election law needs to deal with this new reality.

  • Trevor Andrews 28th Feb '22 - 8:27am

    Well Brad you should check some facts. I am a pensioner resident of Spain but still pay UK taxes on my pension.

    I can see where you are coming from but as a UK passport holder I do not see why I should not be allowed to vote at least in a General Election.

  • Chris Moore 28th Feb '22 - 9:38am

    Martin, you are right.

    They not only have their facts wrong. They are failing at the level of empathy.

    I suggest both actually meet some British emigrants and understand the multiple connections I and many others have with our home country.

    Above all, the British diaspora is a wonderful resource; recognise it and give us a formal voice.

  • Laurence Cox 28th Feb '22 - 11:35am

    I repeat what I said above. Why should we treat honest citizens of other countries who choose to live and work here worse than we would treat criminals in prison. At the same time there are many UK citizens who are domiciled abroad because they do not wish to pay UK taxes; both Lewis Hamilton and Philip Green choose to live in Monaco, and I see no reason why we should give either of them a vote while they continue to avoid paying UK tax in this way. Paying taxes is an essential part of being part of a civilised society.

  • Brad Barrows 28th Feb '22 - 11:36am

    @Trevor Andrews
    Nothing personal but if Spain is now your home I don’t think you should be allowed a say in which government we who do live in the UK have to live under. The fact you may pay taxes to the UK is not the issue – basically, why do you think that you should have the right to decide the laws that we should have to live under when you yourself live elsewhere? Please remember that everyone who lives in the UK pays taxes to the UK, whether citizens or not, but crucially are also directly impacted by the spending and legislative decisions taken by those who are elected.

  • As I said, Brad, meet some British citizens who live abroad and you will understand better their multiple connections with their home country.

    I am blindingly obviously affected by many of the decisions taken by my government, many of them bloody awful in recent years. You shouldn’t need to be told this.

  • Peter Watson 28th Feb '22 - 2:14pm

    The discussion here shows that taxation is an important issue, and there are probably valid concerns that the expat vote – and donations – might lean towards parties and policies that promote lower spending and lower taxation than many Lib Dems might wish for. After all, it’s difficult to believe that the Tories put this in their manifesto because they believed it would increase the influence of their political opponents.

  • Chris Moore 28th Feb '22 - 4:19pm

    Peter Watson: Giving expats the right to vote is a long-standing LD commitment. Show me your evidence that expats are more likely to be Tory than the home-based populace.

    Laurence: if you think Lewis Hamilton and Philip Green are representative of the millions of British citizens abroad, you are even more worse informed than I imagined.

    Anyone having income in the UK – like every British citizen I know in Spain, France and Italy – pays UK taxes. No 3.5 million Brits do not live in Monaco and Panama.

    Please be serious.

  • Brad Barrows 28th Feb '22 - 5:27pm

    @Chris Moore
    I doubt it is Liberal Democrat policy to argue that overseas residents who pay UK tax on income from property ownership, for example, should be entitled to vote in UK elections due to paying that tax – no, the crux of the issue is the belief that just being a citizen who has chosen to permanently emigrate should be enough to give someone the right to vote in elections in the country they chose to leave. I understand that point of view but fundamentally disagree with it. My view – even if I am in the minority – is that immigrants to the UK without citizenship but who have committed their futures to their adopted country should be entitled to vote in elections in their adopted country, but that emigrants who have chosen to permanently leave, should also permanently lose any right to vote in that country’s future. I understand that emigrants may retain a strong sense of interest and affection for the country they left, and will still have family and friends living there but is that enough to justify a continuing right to vote in elections in a place they no longer live? I no longer live in Aberdeen though I was born there, lived there for many years, have family and friends still living there, watch Aberdeen FC’s games online, continue to have interest and affection for Aberdeen…..but I don’t think all that should give me a right to vote in elections for Aberdeen City Council. Do you?

  • I think the real democratic principle is being missed here. The real issues are the definition of citizenship aka the rights and responsibilities of the state towards British passport holders, the Declaration of Human Rights Article 21 and what it confers on citizens. The real issue is summed up in ‘UK Constituencies Broad aka those rights conferred on French citizens worldwide and embodies in the Code Civile.i.e. a written constitution.

  • Peter Watson 1st Mar '22 - 12:24am

    @Chris Moore “Show me your evidence that expats are more likely to be Tory than the home-based populace.”
    There’s an interesting article on this from the University of Sussex (https://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/84537/3/POL%20Q%20Collard%20%2B%20Rev%20June.pdf).
    In the 1992 election, “the fact that there were many more overseas electors registered in Conservative constituencies than in Labour seats supported the assumption that overall, the overseas electorate was by and large more favourable to the Tories. A post-election survey of overseas electors in 27 constituencies showed that the Conservative Party benefited from around 60-65% of the expatriate vote, compared to 29% for Labour and 16% for the Liberal Democrats.” And in 2015, the Tories targeted overseas voters “to encourage donations and help with telephone canvassing to mobilise support for five candidates in Cheadle, Walsall North, Broxtowe, Portsmouth South and Wells, four of whom were subsequently elected. Following the election victory, … it is hard to see how the tabling of a bill abolishing the 15 year rule under the new Government could ever have been credibly presented as non-political.”
    Subsequently, Brexit changed all that in 2017 & 2019, for EU-based expats anyway, but who knows if that will be sustained given that even the Lib Dems appear to have given up on rejoining.

  • Christopher Moore 1st Mar '22 - 1:55pm

    Thank you, Peter, for finding an interesting piece of historical research.

    Unfortunately, it’s not very helpful for our purposes, is it? 1992!! is a very long-time ago now!!

    There are far more Brits living abroad than in those distant days. Open borders within the EU changed the profile of Brit expats: made it a much less privileged diaspora.

    Also political allegiances have changed significantly since 1992: the working class has gone much more Tory and the middle class much less.

    So if the research was brought up to date, there would be very different figures and much more favourable to us.

    Btw I’m impressed the Tories were on 60-65%, 29% for Labour and 16% for us, making a grand total of 105-110%.

    As for 2015, well done on the Tories on making use of their overseas voters. We should get organised and do the same. That’s the point of George’s article. It’s imperative for the party. There are many overseas LD voters. And soon there will be more.

  • Chris Moore 1st Mar '22 - 2:12pm

    Btw I notice in the research that Jeremy Corbyn is quoted in 1989 referring to ex-pats as “tax dodgers, thieves, crooks and wastrels.”

    Always heartening to see intelligent sociological analysis from our political thinkers.

    @Brad: I assume you have a local vote where you now live. You surely wouldn’t expect to have TWO local votes. The point is expats have NO votes anywhere.

    I’m glad you accept that if tax paying is a criterion for voting, expats should have the vote. Of course, a large % of British residents do not pay income tax.

    I’m in favour of foreign residents in the UK being given the vote in local elections. Prior to Brexit this was the position for EU citizens in the UK and vice versa.

  • Laurence Cox 1st Mar '22 - 4:29pm

    @Chris Moore

    They are no more unrepresentative than the Russian ogliarchs whom @Martin complains about getting a vote if we allowed all residents of this country to vote. There are many others as well as the two I mentioned who have gone abroad simply to avoid paying UK taxes.

    Also I never said that only income tax payers should have a vote, I said tax payers, which includes VAT, NI, council tax, and duties on consumables like fuel and alcohol. Your expats pay none of these.

  • Peter Watson 1st Mar '22 - 6:11pm

    Another interesting paper here describes the historical approaches of the three main parties: https://www.academia.edu/41800103/British_expatriates_in_home_political_parties._An_analysis_of_long-distance_activists
    I’ve only skimmed it, but there are some important points, e.g. about attempts to mobilise overseas votes to swing marginal seats (apparently popular in 2015 🙂 ).
    The connection between overseas voters and particular parliamentary constituencies is obviously an important factor and I get the impression that the proposed changes will relax the rules around this to some extent. Perhaps there is an argument to be made for one or more “overseas” constituencies instead so that overseas voters can be represented explicitly?

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