IF you don’t do it for your country, do it for your credit record. Registering to vote sounds about as exciting as a Saturday afternoon spent filing your bank statements.
However, if you’re not on the electoral register, lenders won’t take you seriously. Apply for a loan, a credit card or even a bank account and the computer is much more likely to say “no”.
How do I know this? Because I moved house last summer and somehow managed to lose myself. Out of all the paperwork I completed in order to undertake this most laborious of life experiences, I managed to overlook the most important one. The one which proves beyond doubt who I am, where I live and my right to be enfranchised.
I only discovered this when I checked in with Experian, the credit reference agency, and saw that I’m not actually registered as living at any address.
Financial institutions don’t like this kind of thing. At best, it suggests flakiness; at worst, vagrancy. You can’t blame them for refusing to have dealings with someone who as far as they are concerned could be camping in a bin. I was interested to discover that the Electoral Commission says that home-movers and students are the least likely groups to be registered to vote.
And then within a matter of days, my partner received a personalised letter through the door from our local Labour candidate Stephanie Peacock explaining in great detail why she was the woman to support in the General Election.
Nothing for me. Not even a leaflet. At this point, alarm bells began to ring. Did I really officially exist? A friend advised me to check the Electoral Register online – at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote – a simple process taking about 15 minutes.
I’m not sure my presence on the electoral register is going to transform my credit rating overnight, but at least I’m legal. It’s actually against the law to not be registered to vote; technically you could be fined up to £1,000 if you refuse to co-operate.
Big sigh of relief all round then. It got me thinking though. What if I hadn’t realised until it was too late, and missed my chance to exercise my democratic right on June 8? The deadline for registering for the forthcoming General Election is May 22, so if you’re in a similar position, don’t mess about. All you need is your National Insurance number and a reliable internet connection.
It is important to vote. And not just because people died so that all adults in the UK, regardless of wealth, gender or social standing, could express their political preference. It’s important to vote because it gives you a personal stake in the process of politics.
You might not think that your individual vote matters, but it does. Politicians and policy-makers study voting behaviour and know, for instance, exactly how many women or under-25s elected a certain candidate or party in any given contest. This information plays a great part in the policies which evolve when government grinds into action.
I’ll give you an example. It is no accident that successive governments have introduced policies which make life easier to bear for pensioners. It’s because statistically, retired people are far more likely to vote than the young. If millions of students don’t bother to vote, politicians don’t bother to tailor appealing policies to them. There’s simply no point.
There’s also no point in ignoring the voting process, despite what certain celebrities might say. I remember Russell Brand, in the 2015 General Election, coming out with a line which basically encouraged his fans to duck out as an act of rebellion.
Some of us, torn between supporting a Labour MP with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, and seeing no alternative but to put a reluctant cross in the Conservative box, might think this sounds like a good idea.
However, there is abstaining altogether, and then there is abstaining with purpose. Far be it from me to encourage public disorder, but if the state of politics sends you into total despair, you can always spoil your ballot paper. Or scrunch it up. If nothing else, this will send a message to all the candidates that they don’t impress you much.
Yes you. You’re the vital cog in this political process. How many times have I heard people say that politics doesn’t mean anything to them, and that no politician listens to their concerns? I can almost guarantee that these are the very same people who regard elections as boring and politicians as irrelevant.
Make sure you’re registered. And make it count in June.