Whatever the result in this election, voter registration must be a big part of Labour’s future

by Trevor Fisher

Last Monday, 22nd May, my inbox was full of messages about the election – the big news being the Tory manifesto or rather the May manifesto, building on the lead May has in the opinion polls with her running ahead of her party – while Corbyn runs behind his. The latest polling before the manifesto row the previous week showed Tories 47%, Labour 32%, LD 8% and UKIP 5%, but on the leaders May was 24 points ahead, with just 23% believing Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister.

However the 22nd was an inbox of reminders that the deadline for registration, with some 7m people not registered. On the day in fact some 2m registered, leaving 5 million out of the system. This is bad news for Labur as 30% of under 24s and 28% of people who moved in the last year were unregistered. The old, pensioners without jobs but with no plans for moving are the stable basis of the Tory vote, with much more likelihood to cast a ballot. Indeed, the news prompted a brief flurry in the Independent which deserves to be more than an eve of deadline chatter fest. Corbyn will go at some point. But the problems of a Tory bias in voting will remain. And the individual voter registration system may be the most serious of all New Labour mistakes, and another you can’t blame Corbyn for. Not that he understands the problem.

The fact that 30% of under 24s don’t register led to speculation in the Indie on the 22nd whether getting them registered would stop May. An interesting article by James Tilley argued not, stating that while the young don’t vote – he said in 2015 47% voted against 73% of over 24s, broadly correctly – thus as in the 2011 census they made up less than 12% of the electorate, an increase of 30% of 12% being c3.6%, getting them to vote would make little difference – around 1% overall. Ben Bowman agreed, stating that the most marginalised school leavers – 25% – many BAME – have fallen away since the rules were changed again in 2014, by the coalition, and that a reversal would need “a groundbreaking social movement, but it would bring along  older voters as well” and thus was not worth doing.

The focus is however too narrow. Important though school leavers and 18-24s are, the problem is actually 18- 40 year olds- a much bigger group. 40% of this group are certain to vote, 64% of the older cohort, and this was the pic in the EU referendum. There never was a majority of the UK voting for Leave, and the wafer thin majority of those voting has now been decimated by the grim reaper. Remainers are in the majority at this point in time, and we Remainers must start to take demography seriously. Unpleasant though it is to say it, the older age cohort are a wasting asset for the Tories. Not that we should rely on the grim reaper, silence from Labour on pensions is disastrous.

But the crucial issue is the young. There has been a big shift since Thatchers’ time, when in 1979 42% of 18-24s backed her, according to Ipsos Mori at the time. Then they saw what she produced. On the current picture, house ownership is the biggest factor in Tory voting. And the young cannot buy houses. The YouGov poll which produced these results, 2-20 April involved 12,746 adults deliberately to increase accuracy. It is of course only a snapshot, but it shows the importance of seeing voter registration and aiming at the 16-40 year olds as key. And they stay around longer. The future is young voters, and a relentless focus on them is now the key to the future.

It’s not going to be easy. The young are social media oriented, personally I never do it. And they are ghettoised through their phones. Did I ever tell you I may have taught Jony Ive? If only I had known what he was going to do….. But we are where we are. When Jezza spoke to a rock concert recently the kids cheered him so much they could not hear what he was saying. Whatever, it’s too late to affect this election and get the young voting, though we do what we can. But for the future, the bias in the system has to be tackled. For the future, it’s voter registration, Stupid.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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6 Responses to “Whatever the result in this election, voter registration must be a big part of Labour’s future”

  1. Tafia says:

    This is a breathtakingly arrogant article mainly on two levels.

    It makes the extraordinary and and compltely false assumption that those not registered actually want to vote. On a very good General Election in modern times, more than a thord of the people registered to vote couldn’t be bothered. In council elections more than half of those registered find the idea of putting a X in a box tedious and far to much effort to bother with.

    We had what was probably the most important vote of the last 100 years or more last year. There was a massive campaign to get people to register. Then since this election was called there has been a massive media campaign to get people to register.

    I would suggest, given the fact that so many of those who are registered really can’t be arsed coupled with the fact that there has been a massive media drive, that most of those who aren’t registered aren’t because they don’t want to be.

    It may surprise you to learn, but ordinary people (remeber them ?) don’t actually like politics and find it boring and still despise politicians just as much as they did during the expenses scandal, believing them to be little better than chancers, liars and thieves.

    And people are pissed off about how often they are voting. Here in Wales we have had four votes in little more than a year – Assembly, Referendum, Council and now a General Election. In most ordinary people’s eyes it’s kicking the arse out of things and reinforces peoples belief that politicians are selfish indulgent c**ts.

    Expect the turn-out to be down in this election. Now you know why.

  2. Anon says:

    If politicians are concerned about people not registering to vote, they should have a good look in the mirror.

    As described above in the previous comment, there was a comparatively huge turnout when actual power was put on the table in the form of a referendum.

    The problem is this unholy three-party, Whip-dominated stitch-up: we are terrified of not voting for one for fear of letting the other in.

    The Lisbon Treaty was the epitome of political arrogance, and proved to all that the people of this country have absolutely no power.

    What is the point of voting in the face of such arrogance?

  3. Ian says:

    The first two posters make some powerful points.

    In this election, voting in the majority of seats stands no chance whatsoever of affecting the result. All the campaign activity is focused on the minority of swing seats; if you live anywhere else you will be lucky to get a leaflet (certainly no more than the freepost) and you certainly won’t get a visit, or any meetings with big name politicians.

    Meanwhile the majority of politicians sit in safe seats with jobs for life, free to be as lazy or complacent as they please, entirely free from any prospect of pressure from the ballot box. And I haven’t even mentioned the House of Pensioners along the corridor.

    Our political system is rotten, and it is not to Labour’s credit that once again it fails to commit to any meaningful reform. Even as the opposition most Labour politicians find things just too cosy as they are.

  4. Why not reduce the voting age to 17 and then make it compulsory for that generation to vote in their first election just to get them started? Afterwards they must choose for themselves.

  5. Tafia says:

    Gerald – Why not reduce the voting age to 17

    Why not 15? Or 10?

    18 is fine. You can’t even buy half a pint of weak shandy till you are 18, nor can you even enter a betting shop let alone put a bet on.

    What is the action that requires greater maturity – Bunging a quid each way on the Grand National or voting for a government that will have nuclear weapons?

  6. the data on registration shows that the only time the fall in registration marked a real decision not to get involved was the poll tax outcome in the 1980s, which took several years to reverse as the people concerned thought they would be chased for poll tax arrears, something which was no longer playing as a factor by 1997.

    The big factor in reducing registration is the mad system of individual registration, which is taking students in particular out the system. In Newcastle Under Lyme in 2015 2000 voters went missing in the Keele ward. All the main parties rushed up to get the students registered – which they were very happy to do once they were shown how to – and Labour held the seat by 650 votes.

    In Stoke Central in the by election I have the print out for the University quarter. Whole students blocks with not one single voter. Discussions on how to target student registration were curtailed by the General Election

    The other big group of non registering are people who have moved in the last year and have not got round to getting back on the register.

    The reactions to this post all are opposed to voter registrations campaigns. I wonder why? The issues are not difficult. The people who do not register are people who are mobile and have not caught up with the need to get the forms in.

    When shown how to they are very happy to register. So no big changes needed. If posters on this site are not willing to help people to register and want other changes, they should say why they favour a polling system geared to people who are not mobile and have a record of habitually voting – old age pensioners.

    Who largely vote Tory.

    Trevor Fisher

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