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20 May 2014

Tuesday 20 May

London Youth’s Policy and Communications Officer, Suzanne Foster discusses the importance of voting and why and how young people can make their vote count. It’s important that young people in the UK feel empowered and able to participate in our democracy by voting, and we think that the local elections on Thursday 22 May offer a fantastic opportunity for many young people to make their first step in becoming politically engaged, and get ready for next year's General Election.

Although this blog focuses on the general issues around voting and participation, and on the local elections, there is a handy guide to the European Election here: http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/european_elections.html

UPDATE!! 

Thursday 3 July

Have a voice, have your vote, make sure you are registered

An exciting change is being implemented on the way you register to vote. Make sure you’re kept informed of how these changes might affect you!

The change to the Individual Electoral Registration (IER) will be the biggest change to the electoral registration system in nearly 100 years. At the moment, one person from each household registers everyone who lives there to vote. That means that if you live with your family, you may not have been involved in the process before now.  From now on, everyone will need to register as an individual, which means when the letter comes, you can take charge and take responsibility for your own vote.

What will you need to do?

The process is very simple: from the beginning of this month (July) Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) will write to you to tell you about the change to the registration system.

Everyone will receive a letter – and most people will not need to do anything.

Even if you are currently registered, some people will need to make a new application to register individually. The letter will tell you what you need to do – it will ask you to fill in and return the form, or go online to register using the new online registration site.

If you have not registered before, the letter will explain how to do so.

No more excuses – you can register online!

The changes taking place mean you will be able to register to vote online! This is a really exciting development and a big step forward in making registration more accessible. You will be able to use any electronic devises that you can access the internet on, so could use your laptop, phone, ipad etc.

1.    First step – Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

2.    Then, fill in your name, address, date of birth and a few other details. You’ll also need your National Insurance number, which can be found on your National Insurance card, or in paperwork such as payslips, or letters about benefits or tax credits.

3.    You will then get confirmation from your local electoral registration staff to say you’re registered.

If you have no internet at home, there are places across all of London where you will be able to access the internet for free. You may be able to use your local library, or places like MacDonalds and coffee shops, or use this Time Out guide to the find some of the best wifi locations. If you’re a member of a London Youth youth club, you can always talk to them for information about club access.

Countdown to the next General Election – Thursday 7 May 2015

Now you have no excuses to make sure young peoples issues are reflected in the next election!

Why vote?

If more young people vote in local and national elections, politicians will need to pay greater attention to what young people need, and make sure their policies reflect this to try and win their vote. Young people can and should become an important and recognisable political force.

Comedian Russell Brand recently caused a stir by publically stating that he has never and will never, vote. He argued that the UK's political system has created a "disenfranchised, disillusioned underclass" that it fails to serve. But how can choosing not to engage solve this? Dissatisfaction with the status quo should not lead to disenfranchisement; it should be a cause to ensure that you are registered to vote so you can express your opinion on how things are and how they should be. By becoming a political force, young people can ensure that the decisions policymakers make reflect their needs; politicians recognising that young people vote, means they will have to ensure their policies are beneficial to them, so they are elected. In practise, if a large percentage of young people voted, politicians would be more likely to commit resources into things like education and training, and provide funding.

How politics affects you:

One reason people of all ages give to explain why they are not going to vote is that all parties and politicians are basically the same. However, this is not the case and your day to day life is vastly affected by the differing views of those in power.

The result of who wins the local elections will have a big impact on how your council runs, and it is important that you get a say in that. Councils are responsible for providing local services and facilities and depending on where you live; your council is responsible for some or all of the following areas:

  • Council housing
  • Education services
  • Leisure facilities
  • Libraries
  • Local planning
  • Local transport
  • Parks and public places
  • Regulation of local business
  • Roads and footpaths
  • Social services
  • Waste and recycling

By voting for candidates that have an interest in a policy area that you also care about, it means that they have more chance of being elected and only then will they be able to implement their ideas and affect how your local area is run. This could be increasing investment in leisure activities to ensure young people have somewhere to go, or more funding for youth services, or keeping the outdoors areas clean and accessible for young people to spend time in.

By voting for your chosen MP in the national elections, you hold the candidate to account; if they promise to represent you and your views, voting for them will encourage them to keep their promises, and if they know you are politically engaged, they are more likely to try and keep your vote for the next election. Their views will affect how things like the economy, the welfare system and social issues develop and these issues have a large impact on your life, on a day to day basis.

How to vote

Are you registered?

Yes: If you received your polling card in the post, it means you are able to vote for the elections taking place on Thursday 22nd May 2014. This will tell you where to go on the day.

Not sure: If you did not receive it to your main address, you should confirm whether you are registered by checking the instructions here.

No: If you have not registered to vote, you will be unable to vote in the elections on 22nd May, but it is worth getting ready now for the next elections. If you have a fixed address, all you need to do to register is fill out the form here. If you do not have a fixed address, all you need to do is to fill in a form called a 'Declaration of local connection'. You can get this form by contacting your electoral registration office.

How do I decide who to vote for?

When deciding who to vote for, different people focus on different things. Some people, for example, have a particular policy area they care deeply about, so will vote for the party they believe most closely represent their views on this. Other people will vote based on the individual, whether as a current MP they believe they represent their constituency well, and if they are engaged locally.

To find out who is running as a candidate in local elections and what they stand for is often more tricky than when searching for general election information. Each local council website should provide these for you, but there is not a standard place the information can be found.

For a general election when you are deciding on your local MP, you can use this website to see your MP’s main interest, and their voting track record.

To find out more about each of the main parties and their stance on particular issues you can use the links below to read their manifesto.

  • Read the Labour Manifesto here
  • Read the Conservative Manifesto here
  • Read the Liberal Democrats Manifesto here
  • Read the Green party Manifesto here

What if I don’t agree with any of the people/parties running?

For people who do not want to vote for any of the people running because you do not feel they represent your beliefs, there is always the option to “spoil your ballot”. This means that your dissatisfaction is counted, and that you are able to participate and have a voice without aligning yourself to the options.

What next?

Engaging in democracy doesn’t stop at voting and there are many different ways that you can become engaged and make a contribution to how things are run.

Engaging your local MP

You can contact your MP on a range of local and national issues, either by writing to them, by post or email, calling their constituency office or by arranging a meeting with them at their surgery sessions. To find their contact details, you can go on their website directly, or by using They Work For You and entering in your postcode.

What you can ask about:

  • Benefits, pensions, national insurance
  • Tax (but not council tax as this is set and paid to your local authority)
  • Hospitals and the National Health Service (not local social services)
  • Immigration
  • School closures and grants (not day-to-day school problems like governors or the local education authority)

Getting involved with what goes on in Parliament

Parliament is made up of the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is responsible for making laws, deciding taxes and scrutinising the Government, and there are various ways for you to become more involved in the parliamentary processes; you can keep up to date with changing legislation (changing bills and laws) and you can engage by responding to consultations and inquiries, petitioning parliament and engaging in online discussions. The parliament website has some clear guidelines on how to do that here.

Consultations and inquiries
Consultations are published by government departments giving the public the chance to input into policy proposals and strategies. You can keep up to date on what consultations have been published here.

Parliamentary select committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. They have committees roughly correlating to the government department, including education, work and pensions and communities and local government. They will run inquiries on particular issues, and you can submit evidence as an individual, giving your opinion on the issues they are discussing.

Petitions

Anyone can petition the House of Commons to make MPs aware of their opinion on an issue and to request action. Petitioning is a formal process involving sending a written appeal to an MP, following a set format, which is then presented to the Commons by the MP. However, there is also an e-petitions option. These are an easy, personal way for you to influence government and Parliament in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Petitions are a great example to show that they can really make a difference. Recently, the petition to try and improve prevention again FGM received over 100,000 signatures, and will therefore be debated in the House of Commons, and the government department responsible made a statement stating their future commitments. Another important example is when in 2011, an online petition on the disclosure and publication of public documents relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster led to an important parliamentary debate and further action.

Visiting Parliament

A fun way of becoming involved can be by Visiting parliament and watching debates. When attending debates, you can visit public galleries in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords and watch members question the government and debate current issues and legislation.