Monday, 8 February 2010


Most would agree that those who risk their lives to defend democracy should be the first in line to participate in it. However, the Labour government takes the opposite view. There was wide-scale electoral disenfranchisement of the Armed Forces in the 2005 general election and only a high-profile campaign forced the government into limited action.

Once more, there is a real danger that soldiers on operations will be denied the vote once more….and it is difficult not to conclude that this is a deliberate omission on the part of Labour ministers who realise their appalling treatment of the Armed Forces over the past five years – despite their sacrifices – will win them few votes.

This debacle stretches back to the last election, as reported in Total Politics in 2006.

The armed forces have a unique role in the British electorate. Given the same right to vote as the public, they are kept largely out of elections because of the risk of playing party politics yet they should be among the most motivated of our electorate. After all, how many other people would leave the comfort of normal daily and family life to give the ultimate sacrifice for their country?

There have been four Acts of Parliament in the 20th century that have changed the status of service voters and the methods they may use to cast their ballot. It was the furore over the late or non-arrival of registration information and postal ballots plus falling registration numbers for armed forces voters in the 2005 general election that put the media’s spotlight on the issue. This led to provisions in the 2006 Electoral Administration Act which extended the registration period from twelve months to three years. Since then, it has again slipped from the media’s radar but many of the issues remain.

The controversy around the armed forces voting in the 2005 general election began when Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, who noticed low numbers of service registrations in 2003: “In most places it is very difficult to spot changes in registration numbers”, he says, “but it was a distinct constituency where I could see a dramatic fall in registration. The number of registered voters had halved”.

As the countdown to the 2005 general election began, it became clear that there were problems emerging for armed forces voting. On the 15 April 2005, less than a month before polling day, the Daily Telegraph reported: “up to 80% of military personnel would be unable to vote” because leaflets on how to register were sent too late for service personnel stationed overseas to vote and army websites were displaying out-of-date information.

Douglas Young, of the British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) says: “The run-up to the 2005 general election was an utter farce. There’s still anger about it”. His report ‘Silence in the Ranks’ detailed the problems faced by members of the armed forces including legislative changes in 2000, website information and postal voting problems.

Andrew Robathan MP for Blaby criticised the government for being dismissive: “I firmly believe the government didn’t want people in the armed forces voting because of the large numbers who wouldn’t vote Labour. The government dragged its heels deliberately”, he says.

That was 2006, this is 2009.

Some progress has been made - the appointment of electoral registration officers and the change in annual registration to three-year registration. This was only the result of a determined campaign by the Army Rumour Service and the then-embryonic British Armed Forces Federation, who brought this to the attention of Andrew Robatham and other MPs. Incidentally, Harriet Harman won some praise for focusing on the 2006 Electoral Registration Act, which modified the system.

However, it is likely that - even if registered - personnel overseas will be unable to vote. The current voting system allows only 11 days, inclusive of weekends, from the point at which candidates’ names are confirmed, to printing in the UK, delivery of papers and posting to the overseas destination and back to the chosen constituency. It simply does not work for those serving overseas.

The alternative proxy vote is exceptionally unpopular and unacceptable. While the system is under review by the Ministry of Justice it will not be in time for 20 per cent of army personnel serving overseas (even excluding those on operations) to vote in the next general election.

There is increasing evidence that few - if any - serving voters and their families were able to vote in the last series of local and European elections. Papers are simply not arriving in time for service personnel to vote and return them.

This is unacceptable in a democracy that owes so much to those who defend it.
No other modern democracy is so lax in ensuring its soldiers can vote....including our former Cold War opponent Russia.

The opposition parties must seize upon this issue and force the government to act. If politicians can be flown out to Camp Bastion for photocalls, then it should be possible to fly out ballot boxes from every constituency to allow the collection of postal votes, and fly them back in good time for inclusion in the postal vote count. Candidates are happy to bend over backwards to get out their core voters at election time – providing minibuses, gathering postal votes (and even filling them in for voters on some occasions) – so why are the Armed Forces serving overseas ignored.

This government has thrown insult after insult in the faces of Armed Forces. Removal of their right to vote is an insult beneath contempt and amounts to gerrymandering. The Conservative Party has shown imagination in embracing a primary-style selection process for local candidates. They must show the same initiative in putting maximum pressure on the government to ensure that Service voters matter after all. Perhaps they chould even charter an aircraft to fly into the various theatres and gather postal votes….in the same way as in a UK constituency. This would generate enormous publicity in support of Armed Forces voters.

Action is needed now to ensure the Armed Forces do not lose the right to vote. 

Nicked in its entirety from here:

I wonder why the Labour party would not want soldiers voting? Anyone got any ideas?


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