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

Yesterday, 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 this Sunday 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 is Chair of Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee and Chair of the FIRC Subcommittee on China. He is former Strategic Adviser at the European External Action Service.

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