Sensing that a closely fought general election is on the horizon, the government has taken an innovative measure to combat historically low voter turnouts: by launching a major drive to attract votes from British expats.
The Electoral Commission is planning an online campaign targeted at British nationals using email accounts abroad which were initially set up at home. A large number of British expatriates live abroad, with the latest estimates putting the number at around 5 million. A fifth of these live in Spain alone. The government’s plan is a potentially very clever one, as a good number of financially well off, 60 year old-plus expats may arguably lean towards the right of the political spectrum and vote Conservative if given the choice. This new initiative is designed to promote that choice.
Many British nationals living abroad take out private expatriate health insurance and the move towards a more privatised healthcare system could be a constituent of the government’s 2015 election manifesto.
In many cases these individuals are signed up with banks and expat health insurance providers based in the UK, meaning that many of life’s key considerations are still administered from their country of origin. It is hoped that voting will become another of those considerations.
Whilst the number of expats registering to vote remotely was relatively small at the last general election in 2010, with 40,000 registration forms being downloaded, these kinds of numbers could potentially make all the difference in so-called ‘swing’ constituencies. Labour’s victory in Ealing Central and Acton in West London was decided by a mere 1,060 votes. The Lib Dems’ margin in York Outer was just 203 votes, so it’s easy to see how the government’s expat voter push could swing these kinds of seats.
Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is pushing the Electoral Commission to aim to sign up an additional 100,000 voters this time around. The number could even be substantially higher, given that expats will be able to register online prior to the 2015 general election.
Louis Kaszczak of expat health insurance providers Aetna International has said that there is an appetite amongst expatriates to keep in touch with the UK’s political goings on, however many are unaware that they are still eligible to vote.
Only time will tell how successful the EC’s forthcoming initiative will be in regards to changing this viewpoint.