Tens of thousands of students are disappearing from the electoral register as the 2015 general election approaches, according to

So why are ministers insisting the change in the rules is proving “very successful”?

The first statistics released since the transition from household registration to individual electoral registration were published on December 1st. Or at least, they were supposed to be – but many local authorities have been avoiding doing so because of a legal loophole.

With the Electoral Commission taking its time to release national numbers, it’s up to the Labour party to come up with the first realistic figures about the true impact of this potentially devastating reform. Opposition researchers are working hard on that, but in the meantime snapshots of the situation in towns with high student populations reveals a dramatic fall-off.

Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle and Brighton and Hove have all seen a reduction in the size of the electoral register of over 15,000, well over ten per cent of the existing electorate.

The worst fall was in Cardiff, where in spring 2014 there were 263,960 registered voters. In 2015, that number drops to 239,258 – a dip of 24,702.

Liverpool is in second place. A source on the city’s Labour-run Cabinet has already confirmed the largest student hall of residence saw a 90% fall in registration, from 926 in 2014 to just 101. Now we know the total reduction in the size of the register is 20,616 voters.

Southampton, Manchester and Oxford have all seen falls of over 10,000 voters, while Norwich and Canterbury – whose populations only just exceed 100,000 – have seen dips of 4,885 and 693 respectively.

“Early indicators suggest that hundreds of thousands of people have gone missing from the electoral register,” shadow constitutional affairs minister Stephen Twigg said.

“This will affect an already highly imperfect register, which is estimated to be 7.5 million short of the number of eligible voters. The government have been hugely complacent in preparing for the transition to individual electoral registration and this complacency is now decimating levels of registration.”

That complacency was revealed in deputy prime minister’s questions on Tuesday this week, when minister Sam Gyimah insisted the transition to individual electoral registration was proving “very successful”.

Gyimah points out there will be an automatic carry-over of voters for the 2015 general election, meaning anyone who disappears will be artificially included in the list of those allowed to vote in the looming contest.

But many fear the relief that offers will be short-lived, leaving students disenfranchised when it comes to vital elections in 2016. The warped statistics will also mean the boundary changes review coming next year will redraw Britain’s electoral map in favour of the Conservatives, enlarging rural constituencies and shrinking the total number of the urban ones with mobile populations that usually favour Labour. That, unsurprisingly, has left many Labour politicians fairly fed up.
Today’s statistics are troubling for students because the answer is painfully obvious. It used to be that students would be automatically registered en masse by their university. That principle has been abandoned, dumping responsibility for registering on students themselves. It is not their fault barely any of them have yet bothered to do so.

“Labour has called on the government to allow registration en bloc for certain institutions – such as schools, care homes and Universities – and to allow councils to use local data more extensively,” Twigg added.

“These figures should come as a wake-up call in Whitehall to take emergency steps to ensure the register is maximised before the general election. We simply cannot afford to have our democracy undermined in this way.”

Meanwhile a legal loophole has emerged which explains why some councils have been so elusive in providing their data.

Any kind of by-election – be that a parliamentary one, a police and crime commissioner by-election or a local government by-election – means the electoral returning officers don’t have to bother publishing any statistics at all until February 1st.

The wait for more information on the scale of the problem continues – with Labour expected to publish its first national guess at the damage the transition is causing shortly.

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  1. Andy January 11, 2015 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    My son is 22 and struggles to see the point of voting already. He’s out of Uni and has a minimum wage job although he’s still trying to get a Job more befitting of his qualification. He lived with his mum as we were divorced. She is a firm believer in education and is a lecturer. Even she see’s that there is a bit to much stick and not enough carrot at the end of a degree for most. The government promises you will earn more money if you have a degree and have a better life, this is just not being fulfilled. The government is selling the notion that debt is an ok way of life from a very early age. You will be in debt and comitted to a life of wage slavery unless your one of the lucky ones. If you have a degree and earn more money than the average then you would be paying more tax anyway but the government is taxing you extra in the form of payments for your student loans. Over recent years the qualification has been devalued as a ticket to a better career and earnings potential. No wonder that young people don’t bother to vote. A lot of young people also don’t see that government is doing anything to make their lives better and all the retoric is just blah blah blah. Maybe they are waking up to the fact that they are all neoliberals, and the problem is not who controls the state, right or left, but the problem is the state. The only recourse would be to make it illegal not to vote!

    • Mike Sivier January 12, 2015 at 12:04 am - Reply

      They aren’t all neoliberals, though – don’t fall into that trap.

      • Thomas M January 12, 2015 at 2:09 am - Reply

        They are not. We have the TUSC (too small to get more then 0.5% to 5% of the vote) the Greens (with 1 MP) the nationalist parties, a few small parties that will never get anywhere, and the Health Concern candidate, plus a few Labour left wingers. I’m going to vote Labour, but only to remove the Tories. I’d like Labour a lot more if it were run by Dennis Skinner.

      • Andy January 12, 2015 at 7:21 am - Reply

        Ok, but there is little opposition from those front benches and the LibDem’s abandoned there electoral mandate. To my mind that makes them complicit.

        • Mike Sivier January 12, 2015 at 12:17 pm - Reply

          I’m with you on the Liberal Democrats.
          Regarding front bench opposition, though, I’m afraid the evidence I’ve seen over the last three years since I started blogging (and the nearly two years prior to that) tells a different story. Let’s agree to differ.

  2. Thomas M January 12, 2015 at 2:01 am - Reply

    At least the Liberal Democrats are still going to get their political bottoms spanked by the students (which suits the Tories fine as they are most likely fed up to the back teeth with the Lib Dems too.) But it means that if we don’t get the Tories out in 2015, it’ll be a lot harder to get them out in the future. And I really, personally, want them out. I don’t want to end up in dire poverty because of the Tories.

    • Mike Sivier January 12, 2015 at 4:25 am - Reply

      The students aren’t going to spank anyone if they don’t register to vote.

      • Tony Dean January 12, 2015 at 1:06 pm - Reply

        Quite, the only people getting a spanking will be Tory MPs, (situation normal,) but I blame public schools for that.

        (In the spirit of Charlie Hebdo.)

  3. concernedkev January 13, 2015 at 11:12 am - Reply

    It is not just the student vote, it is the working class vote that needs to be there. We need to keep countering the Tory Mantra “they are all the same” The fact is they are not for the first time in my lifetime I have heard a Labour leader defend the public sector workers and their unions, Marr show Sunday. Public sector unions need to get behind Labour despite the Gagging Law. Other smaller parties of the left who have been struggling for membership in recent years, should in the interests of the majority of working people, put their efforts into getting Labour back in power then they can go back to pushing their agenda whatever it is. The only trouble is the confusion that is sown by all the variants of socialism. They should get themselves in the party and start working for change from within. From the party’s point of view if there are any outstanding bars to membership they should be lifted unless there were serious reasons. This is a time for unity of purpose.

    • Mike Sivier January 13, 2015 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      I agree. Join the party; exert change from within. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying for the past three years.

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