EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: Tory changes will make it harder for people to vote

Ballot box
Ballot box

One of the most exciting things about the recent Labour leadership contest is the way it helped to engage a lot of new people – especially young voters – in politics.

 The Labour Party has enjoyed a massive surge in its membership since our new leader Jeremy Corbyn was announced, with 60,000 joining in the last month alone.

 That means we’ve had 150,000 new members since the general election. A lot of those people are excited about the chance to do politics differently, and it’s amazing to have them on board.

 But if our movement is going to change Britain, we need to make sure everyone has a voice and has a vote.  

 That’s why I’m worried about some of the changes the Tories want to make to the way voting works in our country, that could silence these people and cut them out of politics.

 From December 2015 the way people register to vote will change to a new system, called Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

 IER has advantages over the current system, but the rushed way it has been introduced risks millions of people falling off the register and losing their vote.

 People whose data doesn’t match what is on the current database will have to prove their identity individually – unlike the old process which allowed households to register together.

 The people most likely to be affected are those who live in rented properties or student halls, people living in urban areas, and those who are younger or less well-off.

 That means that those who rely most on public services risk being silenced in future elections. If they don’t register by December this year they will disappear from the register, and lose their vote in next May’s local elections.

 It gets worse, too. The Electoral Register is used to carry out a review of parliamentary seats every few years, and when people are missing from the register that means that constituencies can be merged or abolished in a way that doesn’t reflect the people who are really living there. When it is mostly poorer people who are disappearing from the register that is a big problem, because richer areas will stay intact while inner city constituencies might be merged, and communities who once had two MPs to stand up for them will only have one.

 So it’s no secret why the Tories want the new system in place before the next review. They want to reduce the number of urban seats to give themselves an advantage in future elections.

 We can’t let them get away with that, and that’s why at Labour’s conference last week we launched the Mission Million Campaign, to make sure people know how to register to vote and that those who have fallen off the register don’t find themselves without a voice.

 We all deserve a say in our country’s future, and we will be working hard to register people so that nobody is left out. You can register to vote online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote, or find out more information at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/22154/register-to-vote.