The EU Voter or the hidden electorate

The Labour Movement for Europe for London and the South East put forward a strategy of political integration and electoral strategy towards our "friends from the EU". I speak with vested interest - being English and French - although that doesn't mean I will get two votes...I think. Anyway, let's start off by introducing the issue:

What is the EU-Vote?

There are over one million non-British EU citizens living in the UK, a very large percentage of them in and around London. According to a mixture of statistics coming from the Office of National Statistics, Electoral Commission and local council data, they are more than four times less likely to be registered for elections than British citizens.

As of now, none of the political parties in London and the South East of England have developed an electoral strategy to entice this part of the electorate to vote for them, or to participate in the electoral process at all. Against the backdrop of poor turnout at local and regional elections, the activation of the EU-electorate can be a crucial strategic advantage, especially in marginal constituencies.

Some examples show a limited recognition of the potential. In the run up to the Scottish Elections in May the SNP is targeting Polish voters explicitly. In other specific local neighbourhoods, like Lambeth North, where there is a strong Portuguese community, some election flyers have been produced in Portuguese in the last council elections, but without a wider strategy to approach this community on issues specific to them.

The Principle of Participation

Voting is the basic right and expression of participation in the democratic process. Encouraging EU-citizens to vote in the UK in elections in which they are entitled to vote is as much about active participation and empowerment as it is to encourage British citizens to vote in European elections, using their rights to contribute towards the shaping of the EU.

Obviously business and public sector regulation are the most developed areas within the EU – however, the EU can only work if citizen participation is encouraged and recognised as equally important. The EU is not only about reducing trade barriers and negotiating agricultural standards and quotas. In addition to freedom of movement of labour, we have to recognise the freedom of movement of participatory rights, encouraging EU-citizens to not only contribute economically in a place of their choice within Europe, but also to contribute socially, culturally and politically.

Only in this way can we make Europe work on a local level.

Local, Regional and European Voting Rights

All non-British EU citizens are eligible to vote in three out of four types of elections. As with British EU citizens living in other EU countries, they can vote and stand in:

• Local government elections

• Elections for regional tiers of government, as in Scotland, Wales and London

• European Parliament elections

However, they are not eligible to vote in general elections (except for Irish and Cypriot citizens).

Local and regional elections are seen by the main political parties and by the electorate as elections of secondary importance, and attract lower turnout (30-40 per cent as opposed to 60-70 per cent). The electoral strategy employed in these elections for example as far as target group selection is concerned always looks with one eye at the next General Election. Transfer of power to the Mayor of London and the GLA on the one hand, and growing aquis communitaire on the other, make these elections more important than ever in their own right, as does the possible decentralisation of some powers to local government.

See next part or read more of the paper here