It is vital that as many eligible people as possible are heard in the democratic process to ensure we build a democracy that works for everyone. The EU Referendum in June marked a historic high point in the level of democratic participation in this country, with a record 46.5 million people registered to vote. The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration has meant joining the electoral roll is faster and more accessible than ever before. It now takes just a few minutes to apply online, and more than 21 million have done so since 2014.
However, there is still more for us to do. We must continue to improve the registration process to successfully engage even greater numbers. People from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, those who move house frequently, young people, and those with a longstanding mental health condition or disability are all still less likely to register to vote. British citizens living overseas are also particularly under-registered.
That is why we will continue to reach out to all communities, including those who feel socially excluded, to encourage and empower them to have their say – ensuring that no community is left behind. Recently, I began a tour of every part of the United Kingdom to hear how we can continue to build a stronger democracy. I have spoken with many individuals and organisations – including Citizens UK, UpRising and Patchwork Foundation – who share my belief that every voice matters. And we are working with groups such as Women’s Aid, to ensure that victims of domestic violence aren’t further discriminated against in the electoral process.
We have recently launched 18 pilot projects across England and Wales to bring down the cost of the Annual Canvass. These are in addition to pilots already taking place in in Birmingham, South Lakeland and Ryedale. They will allow councils to compare the electoral register with the records they hold, for example on Council Tax, to identify those whose details may have changed so they can then target the occupants directly to ensure that their information is up to date and, crucially, they are able to vote in the next election. They also give councils the flexibility to use letters, telephone, email or door knocking to contact residents. If these pilots are rolled out nationally, they could generate savings of up to £20 million every year and free up resources to help under-represented groups.
And once someone does register to vote, it is imperative we ensure that every vote carries equal weight - which is why reform of our boundaries is so important. As an example, in my area of the West Country, the constituency of Bristol West has the same democratic right as nearby Bath, who have 30,000 fewer voters. To put this right, we must press ahead with the redrawing of constituency boundaries to end this historic unequal representation.
We must also address the injustice of British citizens losing their right to vote if they have lived in another country for 15 years. British citizens who move abroad remain a vital part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate. People like Harry Shindler, who fought in the Second World War, have campaigned tirelessly for British citizens living abroad to be given the vote. That is why the Government’s Overseas Electors Bill will ensure that British citizens who have moved overseas have the right to register to vote in future elections.
Underpinning these initiatives remains the Government’s commitment to produce a clear and secure democracy where we continue to drive improvements to our electoral registration system to ensure it is fit for the twenty first century, while putting in place measures to make the system more secure. And it is only through all measures such as these that we can build on the good work already underway.
We all have a role to play in encouraging everyone in our communities to take an active part in our democracy. Over the next few months, I will be developing a Democratic Engagement Strategy to ensure that every member of every community feels their voice matters – and as the Prime Minister outlined on the steps of Downing Street, we will deliver a democracy that works for everyone.
Chris Skidmore MP is the Minister for the Constitution and Conservative MP for Kingswood, This is an article from Bright Blue’s magazine The End of the Establishment?