Why most UK expats will shun general election

The deadline for registering to vote in the UK general elections is fast approaching, but not all UK expats will be casting their vote. We talked to Brits around Europe about why they will be voting – or not.

Why most UK expats will shun general election
British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband (R) and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (C). Photo: Dan Kitwood/POOL/AFP

On May 7th, millions of people will head to the polls in the UK General Election.

But for various reasons, a large proportion of the 5.5 million UK expats living abroad will not be casting their vote this year, The Local learns.

In some cases, expats said they felt the vote did not concern them and their lives as they were no longer living in the UK.

Simon Kilby, a British citizen who has been living in Vienna for the past six years told The Local: “I will not be voting, I see no point as I am living in another country.”

However he added that he does vote in European and local elections in Austria as they affect him directly (expats are allowed to vote in local elections in their adopted country).

Germany-based expat Adrian Robinson said: “I am no longer resident in the UK, and do not pay tax there. For me the government (regardless of politics) are no longer interested in me as a citizen.”

Like Kilby, Robinson said that he nevertheless took an active interest in the local politics in his adopted country because it has an impact on him.

Andrew McDonald was simply disillusioned by UK politics altogether.

"I am a British citizen and live in Italy but won’t be voting either here or there. No party has policies for me. They are all liars who just fill their own pockets! And cover up everything!"

For David Thompson in France, his decision not to vote was less complicated. “No, too much hassle. Besides I've not got any faith in anyone to vote for!"

But not all expats were singing the same tune, with some saying the UK elections were relevant to British citizens living abroad.

“As a British citizen living in the EU this election affects me as a large part of the electoral debate at the moment is focused on Britain's position within the EU, with potential referendums," Dan Purchase, an Austria-based Briton told The Local.

"I consider Austria my home and I have no plans to leave but I feel it would be dangerous to sever my ties to the UK," he added. "If the UK voted to leave the EU, they would obviously want to be part of the EEA which would allow a continuation of the free movement of people we currently see. But there is no guarantee that the EU would agree to this – especially in the animosity of a 'break-up'."

British expat Michele Fowler told The Local Spain that she is registered and will vote by proxy, a system which she describes as “more reliable than a postal vote, which doesn’t really give sufficient time if there is a delay on delivery."

Of course, not all Britons are eligible to vote due to the so-called ’15-year rule’ that prevents expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK elections.

"After serving for 17 years in British government service abroad, we lose our right to vote after 15 years," Roger Owen told The Local. "Now there's gratitude."

Speaking to The Local previously, voting rights campaigner Harry Schindler, who has been living in Italy for nearly 30 years, said: “There’s no question that we’ve loosened our ties to the country.

“We have family and friends in the UK, we go backwards and forwards. I can get to London quicker by plane than an MP can from [the English city] Carlisle.”

Other Britons contacted by The Local were not even aware that they could vote in the UK elections with several requesting information.

"I am a British citizen, cannot vote here and was not aware I could still vote in the UK," said Italy-based expat Simon Carey.

Currently, as few as 20,000 people – a tiny fraction of the 5.5 million eligible expats – are signed up to vote in UK elections, according to the Electoral Commission.

With this in mind, the UK Electoral Commission has launched a recruitment drive to get some 100,000 Brits to join the voting register by April 20th, the registration deadline.

So if you’re one of the number who want to vote from abroad but simply don’t know how then here are some guidelines: 

How to register:

Since the elections last May, all UK expats can now register to vote online, making the process a whole lot simpler.

You just have to complete the registration form online here.

But bear in mind that to be eligible to vote you must have been registered in a UK constituency within the last 15 years.

If you were too young when you left the UK to have been registered then you can still register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the last 15 years.

All you need to fill in the form is your National Insurance number and your date of birth. If you’ve lost or forgotten your National Insurance number you can still register, but may be asked for some extra information by your Electoral Registration Officer. 

The registration deadline is Monday April 20th.

How to vote:

There are three ways you can vote from overseas: by proxy (you designate someone you trust to vote on your behalf in the UK), by post or in person.

If you want to vote by post, make sure you check that you will have sufficient time to receive and return your postal ballot pack. Postal votes will usually be dispatched a few weeks before polling day. For your postal vote to count, it needs to be received back by the Returning Officer by 10pm on May 7th 2015. If you live a very long way away it may be that a proxy vote would provide a good alternative.

For more information about the 2015 general election click here.

Will you be voting in the UK elections and if so how will you be voting? If not, let us know why. Please leave a comment in the comments section below.  

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Switzerland marks 50 years of women voting

Switzerland will mark 50 years since women won the vote on Sunday -- dismally late for a country that prides itself on having one of the oldest democracies in the world.

Switzerland marks 50 years of women voting
Switzerland's women have only had the right to vote in federal elections for 50 years. Photo: DPA

The move came in 1971, more than a century after the first demands for universal suffrage in the country.

Swiss politicians including Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter hailed the progress made since then.

“February 7, 1971 marked the decisive step towards gender equality,” she said in a tweet.

“It was also the birth of the democracy we are so rightly proud of today: a complete democracy.”

EXPLAINED: What happened after Swiss women got the right to vote in 1971?

Ruth Dreifuss, who became the first woman to serve as president in 1999, stressed that the past half century had seen “the elimination of legal discrimination between men and women” in large part thanks to the votes cast by women.

Others, however, scoffed at the celebratory tone.

“We are doing this kind of memorialising of something that should in many ways be a national shame, because it came so late,” Eleonore Lepinard, a sociology professor at Lausanne University, told AFP. 

Women 'remained excluded' 

Indeed, Swiss women won the right nearly 80 years after women in New Zealand, 65 years after Finland and nearly three decades after France.

And even when Switzerland finally allowed women to vote at a national level, its federal system enabled the conservative canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden to continue barring women from participating in regional votes until 1991.

Photo: DPA

The delay is ironic in a country famous for having one of the world's oldest and most inclusive democratic systems.

Switzerland was among the first countries to introduce universal suffrage for citizens back in 1848, and soon developed its direct democratic system allowing citizens to regularly vote on a vast array of issues. But only men were considered citizens.

“Women remained excluded,” political scientist and Swiss female suffrage expert Werner Seitz told AFP. Switzerland's direct democratic system contributed to the slow progress towards women's inclusion, experts say.

To change the constitution and allow women to vote in the country renowned for its conservative and traditional values, a majority of male voters and a majority of the country's then 22 cantons had to give their blessing. 

'Spectacular' lack of will 

“It was a much higher hurdle compared to countries where a central government could just decide to let women vote,” said Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen, a professor of comparative politics at Bern University.

Before 1971, dozens of popular votes were held at the municipal, regional and national levels on whether to let women participate.

Most failed. Experts agree that the Swiss government could have done more to push the process forward.

Instead, it showed “a spectacular lack of political will,” said Brigitte Studer, a history professor at Bern University and author of a fresh book on female suffrage in Switzerland.

Rather than pushing Switzerland towards true, inclusive democracy, the government promoted a series of arguments against the move.

Among the common arguments was the lack of room for women to participate in cantons like Appenzell, where voting still took place by raised hand at an open-air assembly known as the Landsgemeinde.

When Swiss women finally did get to vote, the country was lagging far behind its European peers in shedding other discriminatory laws.

It was not until a 1985 referendum for instance that men lost the legal authority to prevent their wives from working or opening a bank account. 

'Far behind'

Since then, Switzerland has caught up in a number of areas. Abortion was legalised in 2002 and 14 weeks of paid maternity leave was introduced three years later, followed last year by two weeks paid paternity.

And in the last elections in 2019, women won over 40 percent of parliamentary seats.

But women lag much further behind when it comes to company leadership positions, and the gender pay gap in Switzerland remains at a stubborn 20 percent.

With traditional values still deeply engrained in much of the country, efforts to simplify mothers' work-life balance are also often stymied in the polls.

This has resulted in a lack of public daycare options and school cafeterias in many cantons.

In this area, Switzerland is still “far behind”, Studer said, pointing out that a third of working-age women in the country are not in the labour force, and most of working women have part-time jobs.

Stadelmann-Steffen agreed and said the anniversary celebrations should be used to shine a spotlight on “areas where gender differences remain substantial”.