Opinion: we ignore these voters at our peril

How many nationalities can vote in the UK (and no the Scottish aren’t a nationality in this context!)?
• 2? British and Irish? No.
• 27? European Union? Closer, although most can’t vote in parliamentary elections.
• 54? The Commonwealth? They can’t vote in European elections…

So actually adding them together gives a total of 80 nationalities who can vote in at least one UK election*.

In the UK it’s a great example of our tolerance and inclusion by giving people a say in their adopted communities and the politicians who affect the area where they live. Even my own council Liberal Democrat group has a German national in it’s membership.

Through our work with our sister parties this has helped us to keep people who want to be active in their communities, who believe in liberal values, involved in the political processes.

Over time as a party we’ve become better at explaining and engaging as a result.

But it’s not all about incoming migration.

In 2008 an estimated 427,000 people emigrated overseas with some joining the large British enclaves in some countries and the scatterings of individual in others.

For some it represents a permanent break from the country, for others the intention is often to return; exactly the same as those entering the UK.

For many though, even when they leave forever, they’ll keep an interest in the country. There are many for example who currently claim pensions from overseas or retain property here.

Already we see university alumni groups, professional bodies and others setting up overseas branches.

Surely these people have a justifiable interest in UK politics?

We know that already some of our sister parties do this quite effectively, engaging their diasporas both as a network, funding source and more.

Historically the UK Liberal Democrats have had a Brussels and European local party due to the number of people we already involve across Europe.

Now we need to take this to the next logical step.

There are literally millions of UK expats, and thus potential Liberal Democrat supporters, who don’t realise that in many cases they can still vote up to 15 years after leaving the country. This can also include those who weren’t 18 when they left the UK.

As a party we want to reach out to these people so that they know that the country many of them still love has a growing and effective Liberal Democrat party and influence.

To find out more visit Lib Dems abroad:

*The two groups overlap due to countries who are members of both such as UK, Malta and Cyprus, but then Fiji is suspended and Zimbabwe have left but citizens retain their right to vote.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • James from Durham 4th Oct '10 - 4:06pm

    I’m glad to see someone is speaking out for Lord Ashcroft’s right to retain an interest in his mother-country!

  • Dinti Batstone 4th Oct '10 - 10:11pm

    Good to see you raising this issue Alan. I’ve done a lot of work on targeting EU Voters in London, and I gather that a ‘LibDems Abroad’ group has recently been launched so awareness is growing…

  • Rob Blackie 4th Oct '10 - 10:40pm

    Are there any materials available on Huddle to persuade non-UK voters to vote?

    A common problem I found was not having simple materials to send to people to persuade them that they were allowed to vote. Quite frequently I met people who were convinced that they couldn’t vote despite (correctly) being on the electoral roll.

    This issue did give me one of my favorite experiences of canvassing recently – when I explained to a lady (through an answerphone) that, even though she’d just arrived from India a couple of months back , she had full voting rights, she said ‘thank for for an informative and interesting converstation’. 🙂

  • Allan Witherick 5th Oct '10 - 8:45am

    @James from Durham – Actually being a tax exile has little to do with whether you can vote in the UK. The issue with Ashcroft is its one thing to be one of the millions voting, another to be writing the laws!

    @Dinti – Link at the bottom :o) the whole idea is to remind people it works both ways :o)

    @Rob – there used to be some on ALDC, but will chase up on this.

  • Ian Sanderson 5th Oct '10 - 9:21am

    “Already we see university alumni groups, professional bodies and others setting up overseas branches.”

    My first alma mater – Queen’s University Belfast – had alumni groups in Canada, Malaysia and Nigeria 50 years ago!

    Professional bodies often have a history of branches in commonwealth countries – again because there would be people there who got their professional education in UK. (Someone pointed out some decades ago that there were more members of the Inns of Court then living abroad than in England.) In former times the UK institution might have been their only route to professional qualifications.

    With these minor quibbles, I agree the posting. For those who move country, it is often a personal choice of how much one involves oneself the political life of both countries. But if you live, work or do business in a country, you should be interested in its life and culture, and pay its taxes.

  • Chris Nelson 7th Oct '10 - 2:19pm

    A good point, but I’m afraid you’re wrong on Commonwealth voters. Qualifying Commonwealth Citizens (QCCs for short – meaning Commonwealth citizens with permanent rights of residence) DO have the right to vote in European Union elections.

    This fact – which applies to Gibraltar as well as to the UK – was one of the things that Spain complained about when they sued us in the European Court of Justice, as part of their attempt to stop Gibraltarians from being allowed to vote: Spain v UK (2006). The ECJ ruled in Britain’s favour – confirming that QCCs DO have the right to vote in European elections.

    (Theoretically Qualifying Commonwealth Citizens are even entitled to be treated as EU Citizens in other member states, since the UK has declared that QCCs are “British nationals” for the purpose of the EU treaties. Its so obscure, however, that I wouldn’t want to test it out in court!)

  • Chris Nelson 7th Oct '10 - 2:47pm

    @James. Actually, as a peer Lord Ashcroft doesn’t have a vote in elections to the House of Commons – since he’s already a member of the upper house and barred from voting under the Representation of the People Acts.

    But even if he did have a vote (and it’s conceivable that he might have a vote in European elections, where Peers are allowed to vote), his right to vote will exist not because he is a citizen of Belize, but because he is a British Citizen who has lived in the UK at some point in the last 15 years, under the Representation of the People Act 1985.

    In any case – even if he chose to give up his British citizenship – since he doesn’t live in the UK, then for voting purposes his Commonwealth citizenship is rather meaningless!

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