Tuesday, 10 November 2009
British expats urged not to waste their vote
(The Daily Telegraph) British expats have been urged not to waste their vote in the forthcoming general election in Britain as the two major parties seek to mobilise the large but hitherto latent expatriate population.With the election no more than eight months away, Conservatives Abroad, the international wing of the party, used its annual conference in Majorca to begin a campaign to encourage British expats to sign up to the electoral register. Meanwhile, Labour International intends to contact all of its members by post in the coming weeks in an attempt to convince them to vote.>
Anyone who has been on the electoral register in the last 15 years is eligible to vote, although it is estimated that of the 2.5 million Britons living overseas that this includes, just 0.2 per cent - fewer than 13,000 - are registered.
Philip Dunne, the Conservative MP for Ludlow and deputy chairman of the party's international office, said that with the next election potentially the closest for many years, expat votes could be crucial in certain constituencies.
"Expats can make a difference," he said. "There are many marginal seats where the expat vote could help deliver change. But you cannot vote unless you are registered and have appointed a proxy to make sure your vote counts."
The party has set itself a target of convincing 60,000 British citizens living abroad to register.
Mr Dunne, a former expat in New York and Hong Kong, added that the decisions taken in Westminster still affected the lives of expatriate Britons.
"Many expats feel anger at the way Britain has been broken by Labour," he said. "They may receive pensions, have family, property or pay taxes back in Britain, so it matters what happens here."
Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, attended the conference and said he was "very encouraged by the enthusiasm of our supporters".
Meanwhile, Labour International is putting the finishing touches to its international newsletter, which will include a call for all eligible voters to register.
Lorraine Hardy, secretary of Labour International, said that the low number of expats registered to vote was not a result of a lack of information available.
She said: "The English language newspapers in France and Spain publicise the fact that people should get themselves to vote, but I'm not sure many people do. It's the same kind of apathy you get in England."
Overseas voters can vote in one of two ways: by postal vote or by appointing a proxy, although as postal ballot papers are not sent out until 11 days before the election, it is not recommended for voters outside Europe.
The Electoral Commission recommends that voters register as soon as possible, as the prime minister could in theory call an election at any time between now and next June.