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London elections: don’t forget European voters!

In the run-up to the next London elections, one issue gets remarkably forgotten: who is going to elect the next mayor? British citizens? Think again. The next London mayor could very well be elected largely thanks to non-British European citizens.

Although nobody knows how many European nationals live in the UK, conservative estimates say there are over one million, a very large number in and around London, and a very large number of voting age (18 year-old on 1 May 2008). Since 1992, all EU citizens are entitled to vote in the local and European elections of the country where they are resident, provided they are registered with the electoral commission.

Yet statistics show that non-British European citizens are more than four times less likely to be registered than British citizens. By failing to do so, they lose out on the possibility of influencing their local representative on issues that matter to them, at the local level – such as good transport, affordable housing and safe and clean streets – and at the European level.

One reason behind this is the lack of an electoral strategy on the part of the political parties to attract these voters and encourage them to register. Look at the platforms of the candidates for the London elections and you will find plans for better transport, cutting down on crime, making the city greener or abolishing the congestion charge that appeal to all London residents, but none of them are tailored for the EU electorate. This is a wasted opportunity because, against the backdrop of poor turnout at local and regional elections, non-British EU citizens could play a critical role. Just compare the attention that is paid to older voters which with 1.2 million voters are a bloc of similar scale.

Which party could benefit from this vote? The Tories are too much associated with opposition to European integration. Labour on the other hand can build on Blair’s decision to grant immediate access to the British labour markets for citizens of the countries who became EU member states in 2004.

So how might parties reach out to these voters? Firstly, they need to make EU citizens aware of the fact that they can vote in local and European elections and that they need to register to do so.

Secondly, they need to directly target European communities. There have been isolated examples of attempts to do so. At the last Council elections in Lambeth North, where there is a strong Portuguese community, some fliers were produced in Portuguese, but without any strategy to approach the community on issues specific to them.

It is high time to start thinking more broadly. For example, the EU electorate can play a key role in the debate around the better integration of immigrants in the British society. EU voters may also have a useful role to play in redefining policies around schools, access to health services or actions for the environment.

But in order to capitalise on the vote of the EU electorate, political parties have reach out to EU citizens in practical ways and encourage them to register before the quickly approaching deadline of 16 April.

To register to vote, contact your local borough or download a registration form at
http://www.londonelects.org.uk/election_quick_guide/how_do_i_register_to_vote.aspx

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