The Conservatives are attempting to “muffle” the voice of the North East in parliament, it is claimed, as a shake-up of boundaries could leave the region with three fewer MPs.
David Cameron’s Tories want to redraw the dividing lines of the UK’s parliamentary constituencies and cut the number of MPs by 10% from 650 to 600.
The say it will save money and make the system fairer but now stand accused of trying to “gerrymander” votes by the region’s Labour MPs, who fear their party could be locked out of power in 2020 because of the move.
The proposal was first put forward in 2013. It came after a review by the Boundary Commission, which found there should be three fewer constituencies in the region – one each from Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside.
But the Lib Dems blocked the move after being forced to abandon the House of Lords reform they had campaigned on.
Boundary reform was in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto, however, and the Prime Minister is reportedly ready to defy his backbench MPs, whose own constituencies will be placed under the microscope.
The current boundaries are said to favour Labour because the party tends to do better in urban seats tend be smaller – Newcastle, for example is split into three constituencies – than the suburban seats where the Tories pick up more votes, like the relatively large Hexham constituency.
But Labour say the reduction comes after a switch from household to individual voter registration in December 2014, which saw a million people drop off the electoral roll nationally, and any review must be started afresh.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said:
“This is a clear attempt by the Tories to gerrymander the constituencies on the basis of an electoral register from which they deliberately excluded seven million people by implementing individual voter registration.
“It is my contention that the Tories made that change in order to reduce the number of people on the register, just like the Republicans did in America.
“The people that have gone from the register are those in insecure housing, those on low incomes and young people.
“I think everybody knows that the voice of the North East was not heard by the Tory-led Government over the last five years, and this is a further attempt to muffle it.”
In the Newcastle City Council area, individual voter registration saw 18,000 people fall off the electoral roll. A local campaign saw 11,000 sign up, but Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, said the North East risks being sidelined.
“Our region already feels bruised and battered from the last five years of the Coalition Government and it looks like the Tories boundary review could further marginalise us.
“In Newcastle, we have a growing population and yet this isn’t matched by electoral registration statistics as the voter registration system seems deliberately designed to deter people from joining the register.
“Reducing the number of MPs in the North East will work to the Tories’ electoral advantage and make it even more less likely we will have a Labour Government in 2020.”
Mr Cameron appointed his Cabinet this week and is expected to push through a number of policies within the first 100 days of Parliament having won a decisive majority at last week’s election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 May 2015
One in every dozen homes in South Tyneside has no adults registered to vote in next week’s elections.
There are 70,696 properties in the borough, and 5,847 have no one registered to vote in either the general or local elections on Thursday, May 7.
Coun Jim Foreman, a Labour representative for the Cleadon Park ward in South Shields, says he is shocked that potentially up to 12,000 people are missing out on having their say on what happens in the borough or whether David Cameron will still be running the country from next month onwards or if he will be replaced by Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage or another challenger.
He believes that while some properties will be empty, and some may house people not eligible to vote through their nationalities, the vast majority of absenteeism is down to those concerned not being on the electoral register.
“In Cleadon Park and Harton Moor, we found there were 186 properties with no voters attached, and only 10 of these were empty. The rest were all home to British residents.
“To be honest, apart from South Tyneside College’s overseas students, I can’t imagine there are that many homes within the borough that have no British people residing in them, so I don’t think that many of the properties can be attributed to this factor.
“Within the Cleadon Park ward there has obviously been the regeneration project going on, and a lot of people have just moved into their new homes, so registering has probably slipped there mind.
“But voting is the main way that people can make a change to their community, especially on a local level.”
Coun Foreman thinks that one of the reasons there are so many houses with no voters registered could be the changes made to the electoral register last year.
Last July, the individual electoral register (IER) was launched, making everyone responsible for their own registration, as opposed to the head of the household registering everyone, as was previously the case.
Nationally, voters were contacted by local electoral registration officers to inform them of what, if anything, they needed to do next.
Under the new system, about 80 per cent of those already on the electoral register were automatically added to the IER.
However, those who were not matched against existing government records needed to provide additional information.
It’s these people Coun Foreman believes may have slipped through the net.
“Let’s be honest. If there’s something going on in your life, whether it’s work issues, perhaps a family member is unwell, then applying to vote is probably not one of your main priorities.
“For these things to sink in, people do need to be reminded quite a few times before they actually do it.
“I just hope that those who have missed out this time, make sure they register in time for the next election.
“I always say there’s not many things in life you get for free, but the chance to vote is one of those free things, and people should make the most of it.
“I think the change of legislation has thrown people slightly, but people need to realise that their vote does count and the party that they vote for can have an impact on the local community and, of course, nationally.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 Apr 2015
A Newcastle constituency is one of the worst in the UK for voters falling off the electoral register.
In the last year more than 9,000 potential voters have dropped off the list in Newcastle East, with only Cardiff Central and Liverpool Riverside having worse figures.
A spokesman for the BiteTheBallot campaign group which is fighting to get more people on the electoral register before the May general election said the figure was “an absolute disgrace”.
The controversial switch from household to individual electoral registration has caused a great deal of problems for local authorities whose electoral registration officers are continuing to run into problems with their electoral management software systems.
“The number of people on the register has dropped yet the Government and the Electoral Commission don’t have a plan to deal with this and it’s extremely worrying,” said the BiteTheBallot spokesman.
It was revealed last week that local authorities had been given an extra £20m in a bid to solve this.
However the spokesman was dismissive of the move, saying it would be spent mostly on sending out letters.
He said: “It’s about getting people into the community to engage with them and get them interested in politics and registering for the vote.”
The spokesman revealed the group has a Community Engagement Officer, Megan Patterson, who is working with Durham County Council and visiting local schools, sixth form colleges and youth clubs.
“She is doing stellar work in getting people registered. It’s labour intensive but it works.”
According to the Office for National Statistics there were 58,557 people registered to vote in Newcastle East as of December 2014.
This is an 13.8% decrease on the 67,945 people who were registered to vote in the constituency on December 1, 2013, the third biggest decrease for any of the 591 parliamentary constituencies in England Wales and Northern Ireland.
The ONS estimates there are 84,394 people aged 18 and above living in Newcastle East which means that only 69.4% of the potentially eligible voting population is in fact registered to vote.
However this percentage is likely to be higher as the population estimates also include people who are not eligible to vote such as those born overseas.
Ironically not far behind Newcastle in numbers falling off the electoral register is City of Durham where the BiteTheBallot community engagement officer is working.
It has seen an 11.5% drop in the year from 73,036 to 64,614.
Across the whole of Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham there was a fall of 3.8% in the number of people registered to vote with declines in all but one constituency.
Source – Sunday Sun, 01 Mar 2015
Tens of thousands of potential voters in the North East have dropped off the electoral register in what has been described as a “crisis of democratic engagement” in the UK.
In a series of worrying figures, one blackspot has been revealed as Newcastle where 18,000 have dropped off the register.
Worst affected is the Ouseburn ward in Newcastle East, home to many students, where there has been a 55% drop off of registered voters totalling 9,982, in the last year alone.
At the 2010 general election, Labour MP Nick Brown won Newcastle East with a 4,453 majority.
Other areas highlighted include Gateshead with a 12,962 drop off, Sunderland with 5,776 and Derwentside in Durham with 3,280.
They are among approximately 7.5 million people nationwide who are missing from national registers.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is not just a scandal, it is a disaster for our democracy.”
With the May 2015 general election fast approaching, efforts are being stepped up to get as many enrolled as possible before the April 20 deadline.
Independent campaign group Bite The Ballot highlighted the situation by designating last Thursday as National Voter Registration Day in a bid to get 250,000 to register.
> Last Thursday, eh ? Did you know that ? No, nor me.
I wonder how many of those missing voters it actually reached ?
Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has arranged for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.
It follows the Commission’s discovery – through polling by YouGov – that four in 10 people, and more than half (53%) of 18 to 24-year-olds, remain unaware that they can register to vote online.
Almost one million people have dropped off the electoral register since the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) last summer, mostly students, first time voters and those living in private rented accommodation and those from newer immigrant communities.
As a result of IER, rather than one person in a household registering everyone or a university signing up all its students in halls, each individual is now responsible for registering themselves. In addition, they have to supply a National Insurance number.
A Commons committee used the focus to renew its demands that government consider radical reforms to boost engagement and election turnout, including online voting, weekend elections, polling-day registration and a “none of the above” option.
> A “none of the above” option would be good. I’d go further and link the number of none of the above votes nationally to MP’s pay. The more there are, the less the MPs get.
At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters – 34.9% of the electorate did not take part – more than voted for any one party.
Graham Allen MP, chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said:
“This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.
“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said:
“Over one million 16-24-year-olds have registered since the new system was introduced, and everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system. We’re also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register.”
How to register
If you are 16 or over you can register through the Government website, www.gov.uk/register-to-vote .
You’ll need your National Insurance number, and the registration process takes around five minutes. It can also be done by post.
The process is also explained on the Bite the Ballot website on www.bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
A voting switch-over has hit university cities like Newcastle the hardest – with 18,500 people now missing from the electoral register in Tyneside.
Newcastle is among the worst-hit of the English core cities after a change in voter registration came into effect in the summer.
New figures show that thousands of people, including many students, failed to register when sent a letter in the post explaining that they now need to register individually, rather than through the traditional ‘head of the household’.
Plans for the change to Individual Voter Registration were brought in by the Labour government and taken up by the coalition Government.
Now city councillors are attempting to get voters back on the register, and are asking people to make sure they’ve signed up so they can play their part when the election comes round in May 2015.
Among the most affected wards are those popular with students, like the Ouseburn ward, which lost 4,673 voters. The Westgate and Wingrove wards also lost over 1000 voters each.
Stephen Powers, Ouseburn ward councillor and deputy cabinet member for Community Safety and Regulation, said:
“It’s had a massive impact on some of our cities in terms of the number of people that have gone from the old register.
“The way the system worked is that you would have had the head of the household and they could have filled out the form for everybody and now under the new system each person has to do it themselves and supply their national insurance number.
“The big group that we’ve lost is students in halls of residence as the university used to act as the head of the household.”
In some wards of university town Oxford, up to 60% of its previously registered student population has disappeared from the new list.
Coun. Powers said that Newcastle City Council has been given a fund to try and increase voter registration, but that councillors will have to work at full capacity to try and get the message across the university students.
He said: “It’s going to be an uphill battle to reach that many people.”
The council intend on sending a notification letter to all households in February next year.
This will give an early opportunity for anyone not registered to apply in time for the May elections. It is also simple to register to vote online. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Dec 2014
Millions of people could be robbed of the right to vote because of new rules introduced to try to prevent fraud, an MP has warned.
Younger people are particularly like to be hit by the changes, said Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott.
And in Sunderland, the new system had led to more than 6,000 voters falling off the electoral register, the MP said.
Leading a Commons debate, she urged the Government to rethink the introduction of a new system called individual voter registration.
This was introduced in an attempt to tackle growing concern about voting fraud, following a scandal in Birmingham in 2004 where a five Labour councillors used bogus postal votes to try to counter the adverse impact of the Iraq war on the party’s support.
Judge Richard Mawrey QC found there had been “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud “that would disgrace a banana republic”.
The old system in which one person fills in a registration form for the entire household has now been scrapped.
Instead, each voter now has to register individually and provide identifying information such as a date of birth and national insurance number.
But Mrs Elliott warned that some people did not have National Insurance numbers matched to their home address, and could find themselves unable to register.
She told MPs:
“I agreed in principle with individual voter registration, but that it had to be implemented in a way that works. The new system, however, is simply being rushed through.
“My fear is that because the changes are being done at speed, and because of the lack of funding available to implement them, they will disfranchise millions of people. That does not improve our democracy at all.”
“The groups being disfranchised that I am most concerned about are: students and young people; people who live in the private rented sector; and adults with no dependent children who are not yet claiming pensions or not on benefits.”
Mrs Elliott told MPs that Sunderland was a university city and became home to thousands of young people in term time.
“Their national insurance number is often registered to the address of their parents’ home, so if they tried to go on the electoral register where they are students the data would not match.”
People who moved home frequently, or had never had any contact with the benefits system, might also have National Insurance numbers registered to the wrong address she said.
Some voters could also be disenfranchised because of mistakes in the National Insurance system, she said.
And she highlighted warnings from officials in Sunderland City Council, which oversees elections in the city, that the number of registered voters had fallen by 6,128 people since the new system came in.
Cabinet Office Minister Sam Gyimah said the changes were designed to ensure details on the electoral reister were correct.
“We must be mindful of the pitfalls of introducing a new method of registering to vote, and we should focus on the completeness and accuracy of the register. Much has been said about the need for the register to be complete, and the Government and I agree with everyone on the need for that, but we cannot ignore the importance of accuracy. Without an accurate register, we risk undermining the very elections on which the system is based, so we must not simply sweep away the importance of accuracy.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Oct 2014
Cash strapped Newcastle City Council has had to fork out £50,000 to put right an error in a letter sent to around 180,000 voters.
The council wrote to all electors in the city on July 18 to inform them of changes in how they register to vote.
However, it contained a blunder in the section of the letter which stated whether or not they were on the open register.
Electors who were not on it were incorrectly informed that they were, and those who were, told they were not.
The error was confined to the wording of the letter, and the register is correct.
It’s understood it was down to human error – not a computer glitch – and that no data protection breach has occurred.
To sort out the mistake, the council has now rewritten to all the electors again which should arrive on Thursday, this time with the correct wording and has apologised for the confusion.
Council chief executive Pat Ritchie, speaking in her role as Electoral Registration Officer, said: “We got it wrong and I would like to apologise for any confusion.
“I’d also like to reassure everyone that although the wording in the letter was wrong the register is correct and no one’s details have been compromised in any way.”
Lib Dem Councillor Greg Stone said: “I was contacted by a number of concerned residents who were worried their data would be disclosed to marketers and used by cold callers.
“I contacted the council and asked for clarification and I was told it was down to incorrect wording.
“It’s caused a lot of anxiety and I don’t think it has been well handled.
“At a time when the council says it is strapped for cash, and with people complaining about the state of the streets, this is money that could have been better spent.”
The open register is an edited version of the electoral register which can be bought by companies to check voters’ names and addresses.
Everyone is on it unless they request to be removed from it which they can do by contacting the council’s Electoral Services by phone on 0191 2787878 and asking for Electoral Services, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Aug 2014
> Meanwhile, down on Teesside…
Residents who have requested that their electoral roll details are not available for sale to businesses have been assured that this will remain the case.
It comes after Middlesbrough Council sent out letters explaining a new way of registering for the electoral register.
An error by the printers meant that some letters include incorrect information on the open register – previously known as the edited register – which is available for all businesses or organisations to buy.
But the authority has now issued an assurance to anyone who has previously asked for their details to be omitted from the open register that this will still be the case.
The letters were sent out to residents as part of the annual canvass of electors.
For the first time the majority of electors will not need to take any action to be included on the new electoral register.
Any Middlesbrough residents who might have any concerns about the register can contact electoral services on 01642 729771 or email email@example.com
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 05 Aug 2014
Local councils have been failing to check voter lists by making door-to-door visits – leading to a loss of no less than six million people from the electoral register, the BBC has reported.
This is before a new system comes into operation that will require people to put themselves on the register individually, rather than being registered as part of a household. This has been designed by the Coalition government and it is widely believed that it will discourage people who are not Tories or Lib Dems from registering – effectively rigging elections in favour of the ruling parties.
In addition, it is widely believed that the public in general is losing faith in democracy after being forced to put up with one government after another who have sidled into office with a minority of the vote – most people have voted against them. These governments have then imposed…
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