Voter engagement in the UK: follow up - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

7  Conclusion

116. A number of respondents to our consultation argued that the focus of our interim report on proposals aimed at making registering to vote and participating at elections easier would not address the real reasons for low levels of voter engagement, which are political.[242] On a similar theme, the Electoral Commission welcomed our focus on the role of politicians and political parties in engaging with under registered groups to convince them of the value of participation, stating that this "is crucial".[243] We agreed with the importance of addressing the political issues in our interim report, noting that the problem of low voter engagement is to a large extent a manifestation of broader political disengagement and dissatisfaction with politics in the UK, and concluding that substantial cultural and structural changes were necessary to convince the public that registering to vote and participating at other elections is worthwhile. The Government's own response to our interim report stated:

    increasing democratic engagement is not solely the responsibility of Government. Politicians, political parties, electoral administrators, civil society groups, schools, parents and people themselves all have a role to play in promoting understanding and engagement in registering to vote.[244]

Lessons from the Scottish referendum

117. We noted in our interim report that turnout of 84.6% for the Scottish independence referendum demonstrated there was scope for greater participation at the polls. The level of turnout was the highest recorded at any Scotland-wide poll since the advent of universal suffrage, and 10% of participants said it was their first experience of voting in any statutory poll.[245] The Electoral Commission told us:

    As we have seen in Scotland with the historic turnout at the referendum on independence, individuals will register and turnout to vote when they are inspired by the debate and are convinced of the importance of the issues at stake. Politicians and political parties must be at the forefront of this engagement.[246]

Several other responses to our consultation also highlighted the significance the level of turnout for the referendum had in relation to voter engagement more widely.[247]

118. The experience of the Scottish independence referendum, and in particular the extraordinarily high turnout, demonstrates that the public will participate in a poll when the circumstances are right. We note that the high turnout in this case was not due to any technical innovation, but because the vote was one of significance, the public was engaged with the question being asked, and every vote was seen to matter. If we are truly to see the electorate re-engaged by UK elections, action needs to be taken to ensure that the same things can be said about every election held in the United Kingdom.

Other matters arising

119. In addition to comments on the conclusions and recommendations we made in our interim report, responses to our consultation—which are available on our website—covered many other areas. Examples were:

·  Views on reforming the House of Lords;[248]

·  Having a comment box on the ballot paper;[249]

·  Enabling the public to engage with politicians online;[250]

·  There should be open primaries for those wishing to stand as candidates;[251]

·  Debates should be fact checked by an independent body;[252]

·  Voters should be able to go to any polling station;[253]

·  People should not have to pay a deposit to stand in an election;[254]

·  Giving people stickers saying they have voted;[255]

·  That newspapers should be required to state political allegiances;[256]

·  There should be greater transparency about donations to parties;[257]

·  The public should have more input on issues;[258]

·  MPs should be more active locally (such as by producing 6-monthly reports);[259]

·  There should be cyclical or yearly elections;[260]

·  Turnout could be increased by looking at location and number of polling stations;[261]

·  Greater devolution or the establishment of local, national or regional assemblies;[262]

·  That manifestos should be legally binding;[263]

·  That successful candidates should have to receive more than 50% of the vote;[264]

·  A code of conduct for Prime Minister's Questions.[265]

These points indicate the wide range of changes that members of the public would like made to elections and to politics more widely.

Need for action

120. At the conclusion of our interim report, we noted the need for serious changes to both the electoral arrangements in the UK, and its political culture, if the fall in voter engagement was to be halted and reversed. This finding stands, and we have received a significant degree of support from members of the public for many changes to electoral arrangements that could increase levels of engagement. It is now for the Government, political parties and individual politicians to take forward our work and re-engage the electorate.

121. We reaffirm our call for political parties, individual politicians and the Government to take action to re-engage the electorate. We call again on each political party to include plans in its manifesto for the 2015 general election for improving voter engagement—in terms of voter registration and turnout—as well as details of how they will work to rebuild the trust of the public in politics more broadly. It is encouraging that the responses from a number of political parties embrace the need for reforms in this area, but it is crucial that in the next Parliament the Government rises to the challenge presented by current low levels of engagement. Specific proposals that should be considered for inclusion in party manifestos include:

·  The civic and legal duty of all citizens to register to vote;

·  Registering to vote closer up to or on the day of an election;

·  Online voting;

·  Weekend voting, extended voting or designating Election Day a public holiday;

·  Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds; and

·  Compulsory voting.

122. In our interim report we noted that now the term of a Parliament is fixed it is possible for the Government and Opposition to consider what plans they have in this area and discuss them with the Civil Service before the election so any changes can be ready for implementation immediately after the general election. The Electoral Commission has told us that it has "offered meetings to key parties, and would be happy to speak to any party, about any policies that they may be developing in areas that are relevant to the Electoral Commission's work, in a similar way to the engagement that they may have with the civil service and relevant government departments in the run up to the general election next year."[266]

123. With the date of the next, and future, elections set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, it is possible for the Government and Opposition parties to consider what plans they wish to make in this area and discuss them with the Electoral Commission and Civil Service so they are ready for implementation immediately after the general election. We recommend that each party take up the Electoral Commission's offer to discuss policy changes that might be relevant to the Commission's work, to inform the parties' manifestos and to speed implementation of any changes to be made after the general election.

242   Written evidence from Barry E Thomas [PVE 20], Robin Kent [PVE 32], Dr Darren G Lilleker [PVE 37], Phillip Barnes [PVE 40], Chris Mullin [PVE 97] Back

243   Written evidence from the Electoral Commission [PVE 81] Back

244   Voter engagement in the UK: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2014-15, page 2 Back

245   Scottish Independence Referendum, Electoral Commission, December 2014 Back

246   Written evidence from the Electoral Commission [PVE 81] Back

247   Written evidence from Robin Kent [PVE 32], Thomas G F Gray [PVE 56], Anthony Tuffin [PVE 73], Canon Kenyon Wright CBE [PVE 113] Back

248   Written evidence from Mary Beton [PVE 04], Michael Carrington [PVE 21], Avtar Singh [PVE 23], Dr Christopher Pogson [PVE 27], Professor Tom McGuffog [PVE 61], Robert Copeland [PVE 68] Back

249   Written evidence from Mary Beton [PVE 04] Back

250   Written evidence from David Bowes [PVE 05] Back

251   Written evidence from Chris Grocock [PVE 06], Professor Tom McGuffog [PVE 61] Back

252   Written evidence from Isaac Ingram [PVE 07] Back

253   Written evidence from Isaac Ingram [PVE 07] Back

254   Written evidence from Robert Copeland [PVE 68] Back

255   Written evidence from Matthew Jeans [PVE 12] Back

256   Written evidence from Susie Gilbert [PVE 17] Back

257   Written evidence from Susie Gilbert [PVE 17] Back

258   Written evidence from Alasdair Scott [PVE 19] Back

259   Written evidence from Michael Carrington [PVE 21], Michael Yates [PVE 98] Back

260   Written evidence from Avtar Singh [PVE 23] Back

261   Written evidence from Dr Mark Pack [PVE 43] Back

262   Written evidence from David Bowes [PVE 05], Isaac Ingram [PVE 07], Michael Carrington [PVE 21], Avtar Singh [PVE 23], Gerald Davies [PVE 42], Professor Tom McGuffog [PVE 61], Robert Copeland [PVE 68] Back

263   Written evidence from Michael Yates [PVE 98] Back

264   Written evidence from Michael Yates [PVE 98] Back

265   Written evidence from Demos [PVE 101] Back

266   Written evidence from the Electoral Commission [PVE 81] Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 5 February 2015