First published on Progressonline
The priority of every Labour politician on television, radio and local media must be to make clear that the government has made a choice on tax credit cuts, that there is still time to change their minds, and that just a two year delay – elequently pointed out by Rachel Reeves yesterday – could limit the impact for so many.
However, in their constituencies, local parties and liaison with councillors and officials, the priority for Labour’s representatives must be electoral registration. Finding the ‘Missing Million’ could make a huge difference to the country, the poorest people and the fortunes of the Labour party.
For those we claim most to represent are hit hardest. Gloria De Piero has written this morning that:
We know what kinds of voters are more likely to be missing: they are private renters, people from BAME communities, the unemployed and lower-paid manual workers. But perhaps the greatest divide is between the older and the younger generation. Some 95 per cent of over-65s are on the electoral register, yet the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds is just 70 per cent.
For these people, falling from the electoral register has huge consequences. It is almost impossible to get credit without being on the electoral register. No access to safe, affordable credit will force people further into the hands of payday loan sharks, or worse. Not being counted means the provision of public services is lower than areas rightly deserve. School places, GPs, dentistry all harmed not just for the missing resident but their neighbours too. You need to look no further than student areas to find the chronic underfunding that not being registered results in. Ten years ago, the Lyons Review into local government funding found that the currently under registration of student numbers cost councils £4.6bn in block grant support. This will only get worse.
Second, because we will never be able to offer these voters the step change that is need – only possible by a Labour government on their side – if the Tories get away with the proposed vandalism to the electoral register that laissez-faire individual registration will create. The boundary changes will only compound these problems for voters, and Labour.
But all is not lost. Our new leader has put out a clarion call. The appointment of De Piero to a shadow cabinet level role to focus on this issues is substantial, the clear priority he has attached to the issue in his Labour party conference speech was fitting and Tom Watson is clearing bringing the party machine behind the priority. So much so De Piero is organising a huge ‘Missing Millions’ campaign this weekend as the start of a registration effort never before seen by Labour. Labour Students will be advisable around campus starting Friday, MPs will tour community groups and communal establishments, while local parties will be able to use new functionality on Contact Creator to go door-to-door to find those at risk of falling off. This effort must be supported as time is so tight –between mid-November and 1 December 2015 – and the government seem so intent on ignoring the Electoral Commission’s guidance to keep the household register for just one more year.
I will be out with my local party and joining a Labour Students group signing people up on campus. I hope Progress members will do the same. Each of your local parties have been sent clear and simple materials. The party’s new data sampling will point you in the right direction. Your smart phone is your best friend in this activity as the new website is the best way to register someone. Add https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to your favourites now.
We need to go above and beyond in this task. There is something for everyone – MPs, councillors, council leadership, Labour Students groups, constituency Labour parties and keen bean activists.
Remember the Labour party is a voluntary organisation, a pretty tired one after an election defeat and a gruelling leadership election.
If your local party is not doing enough on this issue, offer to take a lead. Your regional office will have Labour ‘register’ leaflets they can send you. Call your grandparents and grandchildren to check they are not going to be passed over. Speak to your neighbours. The newer the better, it might just be the conversation starter you have been looking for.
Richard Angell is director of Progress