Britain’s democracy is facing a “crisis” if it does not succeed in persuading more people to engage with politics and take part in elections, according to MP Graham Allen, who chairs the House of Commons select committee on Political and Constitutional Reform.
The select committee launched an interim report on 14 November which set out the findings of their public enquiry on political disengagement in the UK. This document proposes a range of possible reforms to Britain’s political system which they believe could help to rebuild engagement with the political process among groups who are especially disengaged, including ethnic minorities and young people. The report was accompanied by the launch of a new public call for evidence which seeks the views of interested parties about which reforms ought to be pursued.
How can we persuade young people to vote?
Young people are one of the groups highlighted by the interim report among whom levels of political disengagement are especially high. Too many young people currently abstain from their right to vote in elections (especially at local and European elections), and the evidence gathered by the committee suggested that this is part of a broader loss of faith in the political process.
Something which the interim report identified as both a symptom and a cause of political disengagement among young people was the deficiencies of the UK’s electoral register. This is the official record on which you need to be registered if you want to vote in general elections. The select committee found that 7.5 million people are currently not accurately registered to vote, a predicament which has been exacerbated by the recent implementation of a new system called Individual Electoral Registration.
This new system requires everyone to register to vote individually, whereas before one person could register everyone who lived in a household. Problems have arisen with transferring people between the two systems in cases where their addresses have changed recently – students and private renters (both groups dominated by young people) have been particularly badly affected. The interim report recommends that greater resources should be dedicated to improving the accuracy of the electoral register, and to encouraging more people to register – which can now easily be done online – such as by making it easier for young people to register through schools and colleges,.
However, the limitations of the electoral register is not the only problem that reforms need to address. The select committee also made a series of proposals for ways to re-engage young people in the political process, including:
- Possibly making it compulsory to vote in some elections, with the option of casting a “none of the above” choice
- Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds, as was the case in the recent Scottish Referendum vote
- Modernising electoral administration in various ways, including allowing online voting and same-day registration
- Taking a broader look at how the media can interact with politics more positively
- Increasing decentralisation and devolution so that voters have more power over what happens in their local areas
- Reforming party structures so that parties need to engage more with the general public
Have your say!
The select committee does not expect the public to support all these ideas. Some, such as introducing compulsory voting or extending the franchise, would be deeply contentious whatever the arguments in their favour, and would require a full-scale national debate before they could be brought in.
The select committee wants to start this conversation by inviting interested parties to submit evidence giving their views on the merits of these different proposals. Anyone can submit evidence using the following weblink, and the select committee wants as many people as possible to have their say: Join the discussion
As Graham Allen said at the report’s launch, “We are asking the public to seriously consider the proposals we put forward in our report and give us their views on what would work – what would engage you? What would make it easier for you to get out and vote? And care about voting? – so we can put forward the best recommendations in a final report ahead of the 2015 general election.