Unfortunately the ray of hope about the Overseas Voters Bill has been extinguished. The second reading of the Bill, last Friday morning provided a lively debate – even though MPs strayed in their debating to issues of electoral reform within the UK, rather than sticking strictly to the subject of Overseas Voter registration.Notwithstanding the fact that the Bill was withdrawn, there were a number of interesting points and remarks made during the debate – a number of which I have repeated below. The Archers and Hollyoaks both garnered mentions as a well to disseminate information about voting (as the debate drifted off topic), while there was also some comments about the seemingly arbitrary nature of the 15 year rule.
15 years, as opposed to 14 or 16 years, is inherently like sticking a dart in a dartboard. We need to say that if British citizens maintain British citizenship that brings with it rights, obligations and a connection with this country, and that that should endure.
With the issue of my eligibility now apparently resolved permanently in relation to the Referendum, it has made me wonder what I could do to ensure that those who can vote do, and to promote the Yes cause. I won’t be able to take the Electoral Commission’s approach of using Hollyoaks to impress the importance of voting.
The Electoral Commission understands the importance of not just the plumbing but the poetry, if I may use that analogy. For example, it announced in the course of the past week a collaboration with the writers of “Hollyoaks”. I understand—I hope I am not acting as a terrible plot-spoiler here, Mr Deputy Speaker—that they intend to blend through the storyline of that soap an encouragement to register and information about why it is important to register, how to register and so on. That is something I would hope we all support.
Ian Lavery (Labour) raised the important issue of Internet voting – although from the debate, it seems that online voting is still a pipedream for the moment – and that there is no prospect of online voting for overseas voters in sight – fortunately there was no advocating forcing overseas to vote at their embassy – an inefficient process in this day and age, particular given that all facets of voting in the UK revolve around constituencies.
In some countries there are groups like Conservatives Abroad – as alluded to by Oliver Colville (Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport), who has visited the South of France to talk to them. Austria does not, to the best of my knowledge have any such groups for any party, although if anyone knows to the contrary, please correct me. The absence of such groups are another hurdle to getting the message across about how to vote.