Lord William Wallace writes… Make national voter registration day part of your campaign

February 5th will be Bite The Ballot‘s 2nd ‘National voter registration day’. Last year this NGO, with a number of companies and schools in support, succeeded in sharply raising the number of young people registering. This year, in the run-up to the general election, they aim to add more than 250,000 to the register. You will find details of what they plan, and how they plan to manage it, here.

The coalition government is carrying through the transition from household registration – in which the ‘head of household’ filled in a single form for all those living in each dwelling, whether a house, flat, or hall of residence – to individual registration, in which each voter is responsible for ensuring that their name is on the register. Over 80% of voters have been automatically transferred from the old register to the new, after cross-checking with National Insurance records, Council Tax and Benefits records, and so on. The remaining 15-20% are concentrated among particular groups: ‘attainers’ – 16/17-year-olds coming on to the register for the first time, students living away from home, single young people in rented accommodation who move frequently, and some ethnic minorities. Access to online registration, since last summer, together with reminders attached to government notices and efforts by the NUS and others, have brought a useful surge of additional registrations. But we want to ensure that everyone who is interested in voting has the chance to do so.

Local schools in your area may already be planning events to mark the day; so may colleges and universities. Media, Facebook and Twitter will also mark it in different ways; you can help with these. Bite The Ballot are encouraging ‘partners’ to post their activities online. Their video here invites others to register.

The last Labour government started the transition to individual electoral registration (IER). The UK was almost the last developed democracy still to rely on the 19th century system of household registration. This has not stopped Labour from charging, in recent weeks, that IER is a coalition plot to leave non-Conservative-supporting groups off the list. It’s true that there are some Conservatives who would happily allow students and ethnic minorities to miss out; but the coalition government has been determined to maximise the numbers registered. Several million pounds were allocated to NGOs last year to work with specific under-registered groups; a further £10m has now been offered to further raise the percentage registered.

The evidence indicates that the strongest reason for voters not being registered is lack of interest in voting – or, to put it more bluntly, disillusionment with party politics. But young men, in particular, often leave registering with doctors or local authorities until the last minute needed. There was a surge in late registrations as the 2010 election campaign got under way; we may expect a similar surge in late March and early April 2015. So we should build into our campaigning arguments for using every vote, and for not leaving registration to the last minute. Liberal Democrats believe in an active democracy, against the flow of cynical disengagement that characterises so much of the current British political debate.

So, let’s take every opportunity we can to encourage young people not only to register but also to follow the campaign and to use their vote.

* William Wallace has fought five parliamentary elections in Manchester and West Yorkshire. He is a former president of the Yorkshire regional Liberal Democrats.

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  • Jane Ann Liston 29th Jan '15 - 9:40am

    Can we possibly get his title right? If he were Lord William Wallace he wouldn’t be a peer, as the use of the Christian name denotes a courtesy title given to the son of a peer (e.g. Lord Peter Wimsey). He is William, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, (to distinguish him from Jim, Lord Wallace of Tankerness).

    No, I don’t move in such elevated circles, but I do read Trollope and Sayers!

  • Malcolm Todd 29th Jan '15 - 10:04am

    Or we could just call him William Wallace, and stop pandering to this hierarchical nonsense. Unfortunately calling him “Lord William Wallace” makes sense because that tells us he’s a member of the House of Lords (like saying “Sarah Teather MP”) – it’s the most economical way of identifying him. Let’s leave the business of so-called “correct” noble titulature to the snobs at Tatler and Debrett’s.

  • ” Let’s leave the business of so-called “correct” noble titulature to the snobs at Tatler and Debrett’s.”

    Well said, Malcolm Todd.

    Who on earth is impressed by all that pratting about in ermine and pretending to be “noble lords”?

    People who like that stuff should join a re-enactment society on The Cavalier side in civil war games.
    Anyone with the remotest interest in it should be kept out of our parliament.
    That sort of pretentious nonsense should have been dumped on the scrap-heap of history along with the tugging of forelocks and bowing to the likes of Prince Andrew.

  • williamwallace 29th Jan '15 - 12:33pm

    John Tilley: we hardly ever wear ermine, thank goodness. Unreformed as it is, the Lords does more useful work than the Commons at scrutinising legislation and refusing to accept proposals for which the government – whichever government it is – cannot provide a persuasive argument. The title comes with the job – though I’m proud about the ‘Saltaire’ attribution; if you haven’t visited Saltaire yet, it’s well worth coming.
    And please stir up local interest in registering to vote and then in voting!

  • Tony Greaves 29th Jan '15 - 6:14pm

    Saltaire is a world heritage site in spite of the efforts of Bradford City Council. I think Lord (William) Wallace (or Lord (William) Wallace of Saltaire) is a fairly acceptable way of describing a peer nowadays. William is definitely not however the son of an Earl!

    Anyway I must remember to phone William later this evening to discuss some last-minute government amendments he is bouncing into the Deregulation Bill on rights of way legislation! Like he says – he proposes the things and I scrutinise them and demand to hear his persuasive argument!

    Lord (Tony) Greaves

    PS By the way you might wonder why William is “Lord Wallace of Saltaire” and I am just plain “Lord Greaves. But if I try to explain I will get denounced by John and Martin for parroting a load of pretentious nonsense.

  • Jane Ann Liston 30th Jan '15 - 1:07am

    ‘Unfortunately calling him “Lord William Wallace” makes sense because that tells us he’s a member of the House of Lords’

    No it doesn’t, Malcolm; quite the opposite. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, because of the use of his first name, was clearly not a member of the House of Lords and as such was eligible to sit in the House of Commons.

    However, I do like ‘William Wallace of Salt(a)ire’, as it has a tinge of Scottishness.

  • On the subject of the article, I totally agree. Individual voter registration just makes more sense, at least to my idea that the individual constitutes the key basic unit of society. Getting people voting is the most important thing. Getting them voting for us should follow.

    On the matter of Lords, I find it difficult. Lords Wallace and Greaves here point out correctly that they do good, important work in the upper house. But I also find myself agreeing with the decision of the Liberal Party in Canada, which last year cut official ties with its Senate caucus until such time as the Canadian Senate is democratically selected. Of course the circumstances are different. Perhaps it is simply a stunt that is being performed to keep momentum in a setting that presents realistic chances of reform in the near future, unlike here.

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