election

Constituency boundary changes: A missed opportunity?

By Marcus Edwards.

polling-stationThe constituency boundary changes are a necessary measure to equalise the number of voters in each constituency. This is a positive step towards a more representative and true democracy.  If we are focused however on changing our democracy for the better in time for the 2020 election, then there are many more fundamental issues we need to address as well, maybe even more important than the boundary changes.

One of the issues that has received much attention is the fact that the two million voters who registered for the EU referendum will not be accounted for in the boundary changes. This means that the boundary changes will be extremely outdated even before they come into being. Of course, many of the people not accounted for are the young people who voted for the first time in the EU referendum. We should be taking advantage of the spike in political interest on the part of young people by ensuring that they are part of future democratic exercises, rather than creating a feeling of alienation.

Another issue that is a potential cause of alienation is the lack of House of Lords reform. One cannot help feeling that the Government is attacking the wrong house. Whilst the number of MP’s is being reduced from 650 to 600, reducing constituents access to their elected representative, the House of Lords continues to grow. There are currently over 800 Lords, and aside from the logistical issues of getting them all into the House of Lords, it seems rather strange that while the House of Commons is having its wings clipped, the House of Lords has an ever increasing wing span.

ballot-box

The number of MPs in the UK is due to be reduced under new plans.

I am not intending to condemn the House of Lords, I believe it does some fantastic work. Nor am I suggesting that it should be elected, as then it will simply become another House of Commons. However, there is a stigma attached to the House that it is bloated, archaic and very costly. It is hardly the symbolisation of a bright and vital democracy, and I believe it does much to alienate young people in this country. It cannot be the case that a country of our size can be second only to China when it comes to the size of its assembly. There have been steps towards curbing the size of the Lords, such as allowing peers to voluntarily step down. There also appears to be a consensus at Westminster that the size needs to be reduced, and I believe it will happen at some stage. It does seem quite baffling that we are diluting elected representation of constituents before cutting the much larger numbers of unelected peers.

It’s not all bad though. One of the encouraging aspects of the of the boundary changes is the consultation process. This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that the equalising effects of the boundary changes also make sense to the people of those constituencies. There may be communities that have been moved to a different constituency where the cultural and economic ties may not be as strong as they were in their previous constituency. It is vital that these opinions are heard, and that they are given the same prominence as the equalising measures. The fact that there has been a website setup solely for the purpose of this is very encouraging. The more democratic processes that take place online, the better. People have a much easier and more convenient way of having their say in the ever increasing pace of modern life. Let us hope that this is something the Government takes on board, and sees it in the broader context of digitalising democracy by introducing electronic voting for future elections.

This article is not trying to suggest that the Government is fiddling while Rome burns, the equalising of consistency sizes is important to democracy. The fact that there will be two million people unaccounted for however means that the process is fundamentally flawed. It is surely more important and straight forward to reduce the number of Lords first. There are positives though. Let us hope that the online consultation is successful, and I encourage anyone who has an issue with the way their constituency has been redrawn to go to the website. Let us demonstrate the positive virtues of a digital democracy.

Marcus Edwards is a Politics and Modern History graduate from the University of Manchester.

Women are at risk of falling off the electoral register – and out of the political debate

By Councillor Abena Oppong-Asare.

As we take the time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women today, it’s important to recognise the low turnout of women at the last general election. A study carried out by the ‘House of Commons Library at the request of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, showed that 9.1 million women didn’t turn out to vote in the 2010 general election’.  The number of women turning up to vote has declined over the years. In 2005 and 2010 there were more male voters than female. Furthermore, 64 per cent of women voted in the last general election, compared to 67 per cent of men. The difference is even wider amongst younger voters with only 39 per cent of young women voting compared to 50 per cent of young men.

The general election on 7 May is going to be crucial and the number of women that turn up to vote will certainly make an impact on which political party gains power. It’s therefore really important that women turn out to vote. It is alarming to read that in 2015 that the turnout gap between sexes is getting wider, with women falling further behind when it comes to voting.

Gender inequality stills exists in the UK. The Equal Pay Act was passed 44 years ago and women still earn just 81p for every pound a man earns. Furthermore, the government’s own figures estimate that two-thirds (400,000) of those hit by the bedroom tax are women.

It is clear that there are many issues that affect women, but I believe that voting enables you to push for greater equality. It’s important that women are informed that the coalition has made changes to electoral law which means that registration must be completed individually, rather than by household. I know from speaking to many people in my role as a councillor that a lot of people are not aware of these changes, which potentially means they’ll miss out on being able to vote. I believe that it is important that people are informed of the changes, but unfortunately, the government reforms have failed to tackle this. Women not turning up to vote will be particularly bad for UK democracy because governments develop policy and party manifestos to appeal and reach out to voters and, largely, ignore those that don’t vote.

There are many factors that have affected the turnout of women going to vote. I come across many women on the doorstep, who are disengaged with the politics, parties and the voting process. Currently, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in Parliament, where women just make up just 22 per cent of MPs.  I am part of the Fabian Women’s Network Executive and we try to hold and attend events involving and encouraging women to participate in policy matters. We also offer a mentoring scheme to help women develop their political and public life skills.

All political parties need to come together to broaden the opportunities of the electoral process. A lot of women, like young people live on mobile phones, tablets and laptops and we should move towards online voting to tap in those that are already engaged in politics through various means such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. On Tuesday 2 March, Areeq Chowdhury, Founder of WebRoots Democracy launched his report ‘Viral Voting’ in Parliament. The findings in the report show that online voting would encourage women, particularly young women, to vote than it would for men. Furthermore, that it could boost overall turnout in a general election by 9 million and boost youth voter turnout by 1.8 million, taking turnout to 70 per cent, up from 44 per cent in the 2010 general election. With these figures in mind, I urge you to read the report and join WebRoots Democracy’s campaign for online voting as it has the potential to help increase female voter turnout.

Abena Oppong-Asare is a Councillor in Bexley, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, and on the Fabian Women’s Network Executive.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

This was originally published on the New Statesman here.

Election by Social Media

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for May 31st, 2014:

Election by Social Media - May 31

In this analysis, the Conservatives are just edging Labour by 0.2% on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (203,175 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 139,546 followers; over 27,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (194,058 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (61,716).

The Liberal Democrats take 4th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.