Voter engagement - Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Membership of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is one of the duties that Fabian undertakes when working at Westminster. Its work is to look at the fundamentals of the way our country is governed and the constitution. It also scrutinises the work of the Deputy Prime Minister and his office.

The committee has just released a major report aimed at seeking to re-engage the electorate with politics and elections and asking the country at large to consider a number of very serious - perhaps controversial - proposals. The issue facing the committee has been the alarming trend of fewer and fewer people taking part in democratic elections in the UK and with an increasing number not even bothering to register for a vote. It is problem that is experienced even in the constituency of Leeds North East where in recent council elections and the election held to elect a Police Commissioner for West Yorkshire, the turn out in some electoral wards was extremely low.

Graham Allen MP (Labour, Nottingham North) chairs the committee and summarises the grave position.

"Our democracy is facing a crisis if we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting.

Turnout for the last general election was only 65%-almost 16 million voters chose not to participate-and millions of people are not even registered to vote.This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.

The fact that almost 85% of people turned out for the recent referendum on Scottish independence shows that people will turn out if they care about an issue and believe they can make a difference.This lesson needs to be learnt and applied to all other elections.

Our report on voter engagement considers some radical changes, like compulsory voting, online voting, and extending the franchise to younger people, because we believe a serious problem needs serious answers.We hope our report shows that Parliament is waking up to this issue by calling for radical change.

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."

In speaking about his work with the committee Fabian says,

"I want to do everything I can to challenge the level of current cynicism and apathy about politics that so often prevails. It is all very well to complain about the government but the only way to secure change for the better is through politics and we have to find a way to grow more informed engagement amongst every section of the electorate."

The proposals the Committee is inviting views on include:

  • Making voting compulsory in some elections, with an option to 'abstain' or vote for 'none of the above'
  • Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds
  • Modernising electoral administration by considering options such as automatic registration, letting people register on the day of an election, online voting and many more
  • Reforming party structures to better engage with the public. Looking at how the media and politics can interact for the greater good of a healthy democracy
  • Taking forward decentralisation and devolution so the electorate can engage much more in deciding their own affairs
  • Doing more to increase registration for those people under represented on the electoral registers-including young people, British citizens living overseas, commonwealth and EU citizens and members of some Black and Minority Ethnic groups.

To download a copy of the report - Click here

One proposal particularly favoured by Fabian is that of reducing the age of the voter franchise. Speaking after the publication of the report Fabian said,

"I particularly support the committee plans to extend the voter franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and measures to ensure that decisions are taken at a level close to the people concerned. I am sure that decentralisation from London, giving more power to local metropolitan councils such as Leeds will ensure a renaissance in local democracy."

Fabian would be interested to learn the views of his constituents on these proposals and asks if you could contribute to his on line survey.

To undertake the survey - Click here