Almost half of all 16 and 17-year-olds in the country are missing. From the national electoral register, that is. This means that they won’t be able to vote when they turn 18. This is clearly disturbing and on Tuesday it led Natascha Engel MP to ask Greg Clark MP Minister of State for the Cabinet Office and MP for Tunbridge Wells what he was planning to do about it. It turns out that he has set aside some money to help local authorities to engage with young people through schools. £4.2M is a fortune for most of us, but spread among the 100’s of Councils and 1000’s of schools it sadly won’t go a long way. A further challenge is that whilst many young people will no doubt be willing to be engaged with, this approach will be limited in its success when it comes to the young people who well before 16 have decided that School is a pain to be endured, rather than a place of learning and wonder. If the Government were serious about encouraging disaffected young people to register and consider voting at future elections they would devote additional finances to the task. They might, with advice from people who understand how to enagage with young people extend the campaign to youth services, in particular those run by charities. However that would require reversing the trend of the last 3 years of stripping funds out of youth activities. Having made youth workers redundant and closed youth venues, it would be difficult to turn the tap back on, but if young people are not on the electoral register, how many other aspects of civil society are they failing to engage with?
The way in which our elected representatives act and respond to existing voters is also something of a challenge. I work on a part time basis in a sales role, and there is a well known truth that it is easier to retain existing customers than it is to find new ones, and that a satisfied customer will always be a source of referral and advocacy for your services, assuming that they are in a position to do so. If we applied this to elections, every time an MP (often irrespective of party) treats a constituent or groups of constituents badly, they risk turning off future electors as well as those already registered. Alternatively satisfied constituents are likely to be advocates for others to become electors. Off the top of my head there are three current issues that could lead electors across the country to discourage young people from bothering to vote.
As this account explains, Greg Clark himself was begrudging in his willingness to engage with electors over the recent Lobbying Bill and only agreed to a public meeting to explain his views at short notice. Sadly with the exception of Caroline Lucas MP, the other 15 MPs in Sussex refused to engage with constituents over this in a meaningful way and I am not aware of any public meetings to which any of these 15 ‘representatives’ attended in respect of this Bill. Yet the Bill was widely criticised by charities and many other sectors of society including agencies that support young people at times of crisis or support. If the Sussex MPs were largely unwilling to engage, that may well reflect a trend across the UK which would be very disturbing.
Yesterday as I listened to the radio, I heard George Osborne explain to Scottish voters that we, the English voters would not tolerate the Pound being extended to an Independent Scotland. The missing element here is that to my knowledge we have not been consulted on this and based on my views and a number of people on last nights Question Time, a substantial number of English voters are quite happy to share the pound if the Scots do choose Independence!
Finally the news this morning that the power to recall failing MPs will not be included in the legislation for this final year of our coalition is deeply concerning and shows how little respect our Government has for us. This measure was promised in the coalition agreement but like the Lobbying Bill, is far too close to asking Turkeys to ask for the Christmas slaughter to begin to be supported by the bloated House of Commons. However it denies the good hardworking MPs the chance to be seen to be different to the small number of MPs for whom such a measure is needed.
With these three examples and many more including the criticism by many comfortable MPs of groups such as 38 Degrees for disturbing their work, it is hardly surprising that so many of our young people have not seen the value of registering to vote. Let us hope the next Government is made up of men and women who understand the value as well as the price of real democracy!