The new system of individual electoral registration has led to a huge drop in the number of voters across England and Wales. Between December 2013 and December 2014 over 800,000 were lost from the electoral registers. Although a good proportion of this is accounted for by the end of block registrations of student halls of residence, it’s likely that the young, the transient and the poor have generally been more affected by the switch.
The Government says it’s all about ‘modernising’ the voting system (although refusing point blank to countenance any real modernisation that might reform our archaic 19th century first past the post system). In fact, its neatly fits into the dominant neo-liberal rationale, whereby the individual has to ‘take responsibility’, whether it’s getting a job, paying for tuition fees or healthcare, amassing capital, competing properly, or registering to vote. Failure to do this means you’re feckless or subversively denying your allotted role as consumer-citizen in the brave new (old) world orientated towards the selfishness of the comfortably-off.
But, as voter numbers tumble across Britain, take a look at the bar chart below.
That’s strange. Unlike elsewhere, the number of people registered to vote in Cornwall went up, not down. In Wales in all areas there was a fall in voter registration. Only a handful of local authorities in England – along the Welsh Marches from West Cheshire through Shropshire and Herefordshire, plus Rutland and Northamptonshire – show a similar increase. Of these, only Shropshire has seen a bigger rise than Cornwall.
This can’t just be due to population growth, which is running at around 0.6-0.7% a year, as the rise is more than double that. And local authorities where population is rising even faster than in Cornwall, like Lincolnshire or Norfolk, show the expected falls. It also can’t be due to greater efficiency in ensuring all new voters are registered. The number of ‘attainers’, those who reach voting age over the following year – collapsed in Cornwall from 3,426 in December 2013 to just 1124 in December 2014. This was double the average rate of fall in the number of young voters.
Let’s look at this by constituency.
Is it just a coincidence that North Cornwall has seen by far the biggest increase, with 1,746 more voters than it had a year ago, and Camborne & Redruth the lowest? Surely we can’t be seeing second home owners, removed from the registers between 2010 and 2014, sneaking back onto them, aided by the end of the council tax rebate for second homes which now makes it more difficult to identify them. And could there be an organised hand behind this, some body or party encouraging second home owners to register in Cornwall? Or is this merely paranoia?
For update see comment below ….