THE ORDINARY CITIZEN
The right to vote
How does the ordinary citizen connect to government?
As we have seen, full democracy came slowly to Britain. Only in 1928 did both men
and women aged 21 and over gain the right to vote.
The present voting age of 18 was set in 1969.
Both British born and naturalised
citizens have full civic rights and duties (such as
jury service), including the right to vote in all elections, as long as
they are on the electoral register. Permanent residents
who are not citizens have all civil and welfare rights
except the right to hold a British passport and a
general right to vote.
The electoral register
In order to vote in a parliamentary, local, or European
election, you must have your name on the register
of electors, known as the electoral register. If you
are eligible to vote you may register at any time
by contacting your local council election registration
office. Voter registration forms are also available,
in English, Welsh, and a number of other languages,
via the Internet from the Electoral Commission, www.electoralcommission.org.uk
However the electoral register is also updated annually
and an electoral registration form is sent to all
households in September or October each year. The
form should be completed according to the instructions,
and should include everyone eligible to vote who is
resident in the household on 15th October.
By law, a local authority has to make the electoral register
available for anyone to look at. The register is held
at the local electoral registration office (or council
office in England
and some public buildings, such as libraries (however
this is not always possible as new regulations require
that any viewing of the electoral register is supervised,
and libraries do not always have the necessary resources).
You have the right to have your name placed on the electoral
register if you are aged 18 or over and a citizen
of the United Kingdom,
the Commonwealth, or a European Union member state.
Citizens of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the Irish Republic
resident in this country may vote in all public elections.
Citizens of EU states, resident in the UK,
have the right to vote in all but national parliamentary
The number of people turning out to vote in parliamentary
elections in Britain
has been falling for several years, especially amongst
the young. In the General Election of 2001, less than
half of voters below the age of 25 actually voted.
The Government and the political parties are looking
for ways in which this trend might be reversed.
Standing for office
Citizens of the United Kingdom,
Republic, or the Commonwealth, aged 21
or over, may stand for public office. However, there
are some exceptions, which include peers, members
of the armed forces, civil servants, and those found
guilty of certain criminal offences.
To become a local councillor,
a candidate must have a local connection with the
area, through work, by being on the electoral register,
or through renting or owning land or property.
This rule, however, does not apply to MP5, MEP5, or to members of the Scottish
Parliament, or the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies.
Candidates standing for these bodies must pay a deposit
of £500, which is not returned if they receive less
than five per cent of the vote. The deposit for candidates
standing as a Member of the European Parliament is
£5,000. This is to discourage frivolous or hopeless
candidates, though many still try their luck.
All elected members have a duty to serve and represent
the interests of their constituents. Contact details
of all your representatives and their parties are
available from the local library.
Those of Assembly Members, MP5, and MEPs
are listed in the phone book and Yellow Pages. An
MP may be reached either at their constituency office
office in the House of Commons by letter or phone.
The address: House of Commons, Westminster,
London SW1A OAA, tel
020 7219 3000.
Many Assembly Members, MPs, and MEPs
hold regular local 'surgeries', often on Saturday
mornings. These are generally advertised in the local
paper, and allow constituents to call in person to
raise matters of concern. You can also find out the
name of local MP and get in touch with them by fax
through the website, http://www.writetothem.com
. This service is free.