Two months ago now I wrote about the upcoming election in the UK, and what the two major parties (and Labour) intended to do about science engagement and communication. It was one of my usual off-the-cuff rants, full of piss and vinegar, and I promised to write the second part soon after.
But then MT4 happened and I couldn’t log in and it was just all too much for a while, and I never got around to it–and the election is in three days’ time so I can’t really be arsed, to be frank.
That’s not to say I don’t care about the election–I do, very deeply, and will be trotting off to the polling station early on Thursday morning to make my mark (not that it actually matters in Southwark, the safest flaming LibDem seat in the country–but that’s not really the point). I also care about a number of issues, and having spent a few years in a foreign country paying taxes and whatnot and not being able to vote, I was not unsympathetic when Jenny mooted the idea of a Thames Tea Party.
What we’d do, she said, was get a bunch of scientist friends who were working in the UK but who couldn’t vote, and throw some tea into that great river of ours to remind people (a) how unfair things still are and (b) that, actually, science depends on immigrants and maybe there should be some recognition of that fact. I would photograph the occasion for posterity, and we started drumming up support on twitter, with the hashtag #ThamesTeaParty.
On a whim I pinged Mark Henderson at the Times, and he put me in touch with Judith Evans, who runs the Election blog.
And so it happened: a bunch of us turned up at Greenland Pier, Jenny handed out some tea leaves and we made a very, very weak cup of tea. Kat Brown at the Times really got behind the idea and wrote it up on the Election Blog.
A fun afternoon; we all had a great laugh and a jolly little post-revolutionary barbecue afterwards. But it was a serious point–after wars have been fought over these things, why are people still disenfranchised (at local and national levels)? We’re not talking about economic refugees or any sort of undesirable here: these are professional scientists who work, pay taxes, own property–yet can not have a say in the democracy they live in. It’s not just the UK being reactionary either; we at least allow Commonwealth citizens to vote in elections, although the arrangement is not reciprocal. And most graduate supervisors in the UK will encourage their charges to go to the US for at least their first post-doc, where they will face the same issue.
We scientists are an itinerate lot, highly-trained and relatively well off (which means we pay a lot in taxes) but a great many of us have no representation at any level. You’re not telling me that’s not worth a pack of tea.
For me, the issue is not national elections – I think it’s appropriate that we can’t. The issue is local elections, and the fact that anyone from the Commonwealth and EU is eligible to vote for their local councils, no matter how short a time they have been here or how little they contribute to or engage with their local communities.
Whereas long-term non-EU residents are not extended the same courtesy. We are heavily taxed with no representation whatsoever, and many of us are highly economically active. I do a lot of volunteer work and I hope that my research contributes something to UK science too. I own property in my local neighborhood, have been here for years and care about what happens to it. Yet someone arriving in the UK a few months ago from 81 eligible countries – who might know nothing about his or her new country – can register and go to the polls straight away. Why?
Yes, the national/local thing is essential to keep clear in one’s head while talking about this. That was, actually, my beef with Australia. Fair enough I couldn’t vote in their State or Federals, but my council? Especially when the drongoes are allowed to vote here.
Having said that, I think once you’re on a long term visa (before getting citizenship) you should be allowed a say at national level. After all, you’re living there, you’re affected by what goes on (and yes, once you’ve been out of your ‘home’ country for a few years I don’t see why you should keep the right to a postal vote back there! If you don’t want to live here, you don’t get a vote, I say).
I didn’t know about EU and Commonwealth members until today. Learned something.
It’s nearly half the world can vote for UK local councils, if 81 countries can vote and the total number of countries in the world ranges from 180-195 depending on the source. This makes my exclusion feel worse.
That’s pretty outrageous, really. I think a much more pragmatic approach to voting rights (than we currently have) is required.
It’s a difficult issue – made worse by the fact that many people who are eligible to vote, won’t – simply through apathy.
Yeah, that’s something else that bugs me. You actually get fined in Australia if you’re registered to vote and don’t. I’m not sure I go along with that level of state-led coercion, but I would much rather people got up of their arses and used this hard-won freedom/responsibility.
I don’t, actually, care who you vote for, as long as you ruddy well do it.
Jenny, could you expand a bit on why you think it’s appropriate that resident, non-nationals (who are taxed at a national level) should not be allowed to vote in national elections?
Richard, having lived outside the UK for a number of years, I consciously decided not to use my postal vote or give anyone a proxy, as I don’t want to influence a situation that will not immediately affect me (excluding initiation of holy wars). It has nothing to do with my tax status for investments. Honest.
However, there are a lot of UK nationals who are stationed abroad that don’t necessarily want to be. Should we exclude them the right to vote in the UK? Especially when they can’t vote in the country they find themselves in?
If you’re talking about military or diplomatic personnel, Mike, I’m pretty sure it would be reasonably straightforward to sort that out. They’re are still being paid by HM Govt and are paying taxes back to HM Govt, and they serve fixed-term o/s postings.
Richard: not really – as you say, they’re contributing directly to the UK treasury, and accounted for appropriately. I think it’s possible to flag up the sort of cases that might mean we need to start drawing ‘arbitrary’ lines to account for different possibilities.
A simple example could include newly minted UK PhD’s who really would rather stay in the UK, but need to go abroad to enhance future career options, or simply because there is so much competition for post-docs in the UK, from within and abroad.
There are people who would happily contribute to the UK economy, but the economy (after training them for the purpose) simply doesn’t provide any employment in the field they’ve been trained in. It’s the result of a series of short sighted policy makers that’s led to this situation, but around election time, those affected might not be able to tell the policy makers exactly what they think!
I second Mike, if you pay taxes here (and I imagine the bulk of it is national insurance and income tax not council tax), why shouldn’t you have a say at the national and EU level?
As an EU national, I can vote at council and EU level in the UK, but not national, that doesn’t seem very coherent to me. On the other hand, I can vote in the French national (presidential) elections only, but I don’t live there. That’s my only chance to participate and have my voice heard at a national level though, so unlike Mike I did use my vote.
In fact I am quite cross that a non-dom for tax purposes could be in a position of great power in the Tory party, influencing policy and potentially getting into the cabinet, but I don’t get a say because I’m not rich enough! Can’t remember the name of the fellow, has he sorted out his situation yet? And in the interest of balance, I’m guessing there might be similar cases in other political organizations.
I have voted in all Dutch national election and European parliament elections since I left the country, and will hopefully do so again next month (if they manage to process my change of address that I sent three times since January…)
No, I don’t live there, but if I get in some kind of diplomatic dispute (held hostage by pirates on vacation, sudden war between Holland and my country of residence, etc.) they are still the ones representing me, and the Dutch embassies and consulates are the ones I need to seek out when abroad and in trouble. Plus, I am affected by decisions involving the amount of money given to retired people depending on how long they have worked/lived in Holland, international relations, how long your passport is valid (a current point of debate) etc.
Foreign voters are often seat-deciding in Dutch elections (because of the proportional representation system) and at the last election it was just a matter of a few hundred foreign voters to determine whether a seat went to a green or a conservative party – both of which are popular among expat voters and have policies that do affect those living abroad, from concrete passport/immigration/citizenship matters to general international trade and global environment issues. I forgot which party got the seat (even though I voted for one of them) but the point is: the tie was between two parties who both have strong support abroad, and it makes sense for these parties to fight over the seat that was determined by voters who often have a life-long connection to “their” party, even while they’re away, and who really do care what happens with their Dutch pension, whether their elderly relatives are taken care of, what is done with the taxes they paid before they left, or how long their passport is valid.
Mike and Nicolas, I think we’re loudly agreeing.
Most people, I imagine, when they go abroad have some idea how long they’re likely to stay. Whether, in fact, it’s a permanent commitment or not. Certainly after a few years. So I’d say that voting in local elections should be a given after you’ve gone through one tax year. At the national level I reckon after 3 years you should be given the choice: you can commit to your new country and vote there (and surrender your ‘home’) vote or maintain your ties. After a bit longer (six years?) your right to vote at ‘home’ should, I reckon, be abrogated even if you’re still a citizen (*especially* if you’re non-dom for tax).
I think, Eva, if one cares that much about things one should be seriously considering whether one should be living abroad for so long. I resent that long-term expats have a say in what happens here–we’re generally talking about people who have every intention of retiring abroad. It all comes down to greed, as per usual.
In my case it’s long, but in many cases people are away for under five years, so long enough to have an election, but they still return at some point.
And as long as I still have a Dutch passport, of course I care what’s decided about that! Holland doesn’t allow dual citizenship for Dutch-born people unless they marry a foreigner abroad, so I’ll probably always have just this passport.
In general (unrelated to me, or you, or tea) this whole thing is a global issue: either all countries say that you can only vote by nationality, or all countries say that you can only vote where you live. If the UK were to allow Americans to vote, it would only be fair if the US allowed the British to do the reverse, etc.
It’s a huge thing, and that’s why they managed to have at least some sort of agreement (though still not perfect in reciprocation) among EU or Commonwealth, and perhaps other groups of countries. But for this to work globally, you’re looking at UN-level propositions.
(And this is why I always select the “strongly agree” whenever some quiz asks me about “seeing the big picture”. Three people throw tea in the Thames and I’m thinking about UN meetings…)
Seeing the big picture is one thing, but not acting at all is quite another. Think global; act local. Most people, especially ‘big thinkers’, end up doing nothing at all.
I don’t think this is a global issue, Anywheristan could decide to give voting powers to anyone that e.g. has lived in the country for three consecutive years and pays income and local taxes. I actually think this could happen at the EU level, after all EU nationals are even entitled to local benefits, so voting rights seem logical.
I understand and sympathize with your desire to see this implemented at a world scale, unfortunately some countries do even have free and open elections, or even elections at all! I believe Amnesty International have a list…
Um, I meant some countries do not have free and fair etc. Shame on me.
@Mike Jenny, could you expand a bit on why you think it’s appropriate that resident, non-nationals (who are taxed at a national level) should not be allowed to vote in national elections?
To be honest, I think it would be great to vote in the national elections as well, but I think it’s better to be realistic on that count and start with something small – allowing non-EUs the same rights that nearly half the rest of the world’s residents currently have in the UK.
@Eva. Four people throwing tea in to the Thames might be silly, but four people throwing the into the Thames and then getting a sympathetic mention of it in a prominent broadsheet’s blog is a little less silly. Thanks to our event, a lot more people now know a little bit about the disquiet that has been eating away at a large number of people. And it’s something I intend to build on: all movements have to start somewhere.
@Henry. How to get people to vote? I agree, it’s very frustrating. But perhaps, like them or loathe them, having the unexpected Lib Dem element in the current election might do what Obama did for the States – make it interesting enough to shake voters of all parties out of their apathy. I predict a larger than average turnout.
Nicolas, I’d like to add that there is nothing preventing one country acting unilaterally, nor two countries setting up reciprocal agreements.
Oh, I should have mentioned, I still do vote at the Presidential and Congressional level in my previous home state of Washington (thought I don’t vote at the local level because it’s not my community and I don’t feel it’s appropriate). I do this because, as Eva says, as long as I’m a citizen, I feel I have a right to help shape the major factors of its government. I see nothing internally inconsistent about voting in one’s home country and voting in one’s resident country – it’s not like being taxed twice, for example (and thank god for the tax treaty). I am currently affiliated with both countries so I would be grateful for a say in both.
Hmm, I’m not happy for one person to have two votes (admittedly in different governments). I guess that’s going to only be a problem with dual citizenships though.
Is representation without taxation just as immoral as taxation without representation?
Bah humbug, harrumpf, great days of the empire and whatnot eh!
I am about to miss my…6th, 7th? election on either side of the bloody pond. Bastards.
Much as we’d like to think otherwise, it’s actually nothing to do with Empire, innit?
When are you guys going to Strike Back, anyway? It’s been ages.
Just as soon as we’ve finished building this
Ian, suffering from the electile dysfunction blues, eh?
Jenny, if you colonials hadn’t got all hoity-toity about tea and taxes in the first place, you’d probably be able to vote in the good ol’ U of K by now.
I blame the French. As usual.
Just you wait.
I’m late to the party…. or maybe early depending on the UK election outcome I guess? ^^
Anyway, I think you should be allowed to vote in the local elections as an immigrant (with residency at least). In Sweden this is allowed, but not to vote for general election/government. I think there is an interest in general to have “newly moved” people involved in their new community and by voting there is an interest and learning and making a change etc. (might sound a bit naive but I belive in the importance of having incitaments for caring about your politics.)
The same thing, but reverse, should be for people who move away imho. You can vote for big government from abroad, but not local government since you don’t live there anymore and shouldn’t be allowed to influence more local stuff as much as the local people.
[I’m staying away from the EU vs UK vs French and the world thing… not as brave yet. Need some coffee 😉 ]
Jenny> your situation must feel a bit unfair to say the least. I hope there will be change soon, but I sort of doubt it?!
I was just wondering: how do UK citizens vote in UK elections when abroad? Holland has party lists that are the same no matter where in the country (or outside of it) you are, and the foreign votes are a virtual “distric” of The Hague for administration purposes, but the UK votes in MPs per region. Who is the MP for not-in-the-UK?
districT. That wasn’t Dutch, that was just a typo. (It’s spelled with a “t” in Dutch as well.)
So? Views on the outcome?
Honestly? I think—if the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives actually pull off some kind of agreement to govern—it’s the best possible outcome.
Åsa: UK citizens can register to vote from abroad, by voting in the constituency where they were last resident.
As for the result, I’m glad I don’t live in the UK these days. Too many voters have short memories and little sense of perspective. Northumbria should apply for asylum in Scotland. Only one conservative MP in Scotland and 2 in the ‘North East’ (of England). How would a Conservative government in London (in any shape or form) represent that?
Mike: It was Eva who asked*, but thanks for the answer. I thought it was more of a “diaspora” constituency but I hadn’t thoughts about it more. It seems a bit unfair to vote where you last lived, although I understand that it is the only way it can be done with the system as it is.
*I must say that I have mistaken who wrote what comment more now with the new NN … maybe I’m just sloppy and look at the top for “author” instead of reading it at the bottom or maybe it is because most communities I frequent have the top as a “header” more than a signature in the end?
Åsa: sorry and thanks for the correction! I’m just desperate to use the Å key on my Finnish keyboard as often as possible now I’ve left Finland.
Eva: sorry, that answer was for you. If only you had exotic letters in your name.
Mike, given the Scottish parliament, why the chuff do they get a vote anyway? I say, if you’re going to devolve, damn well do it properly. The Tories would be in a lot better position without those extra seats (hmm, because they always turn red, maybe that’s why Labour has never done the decent thing and given re bastards the heave-ho. )
Mike: no foul no harm 😉 I just found it interesting that other might have the same trouble like I have, seeeing who is sending the comment.
I didn’t think that the Finnish keyboard had the å 🙂 I’m happy there is other than then the Swedish though. I knew more had ö, ä I don’t know about though 😉
If the Tories and the Lib Dems do strike any kind of deal about changes to the electoral system, now’s the time they’ll do it. This is your big chance to change things! So those of us who do have representation might write to our local MP, if Tory or LD, urging them to think about ways in which foreign scientists resident in the UK might be able to get some kind of a vote. Although I campaigned hard for the Toris in my own constituency (North Norfolk), the sitting MP got in with an increased majority. That MP is Norman Lamb, LD spokesman on health. I don’t miond, because Stormin’ Norman is a capital fellow and an excellent constituency MP.
To: Norman Lamb, MP
Dear Mr Lamb
First of all, congratulations on your re-election. I am a member of the local Tory party and campaigned hard for Trevor Ivory, and although I’m disappointed he didn’t do better, I am consoled that you are my local MP, as your record for North Norfolk speaks for itself.
The current discussions between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats offer an opportunity for many changes, not least to voting reform. I’m not a fan of the current first-past-the-post system – however, I am not a fan of sweeping PR that would make it hard for voters to identify with ease the person they’ve voted for. I’m sure that as an active constituency MP who takes a personal interest in his constituent’s needs, you will have sympathy with this. I’d favour the present system of constituencies, each of which would return an MP to Westminster. However, I think that within each constituency one should be able to have a transferrable vote, such that one could express one’s opinion about candidates in an order of preference. This worked well, I remember, in my student days for Union posts – and I believe something similar has been used with great success in the elections for the Mayor of London. That last point should at least have some traction in your discussion with the Conservatives.
There is another, important issue I’d like to raise. As an Editor with Nature, the world’s leading professional journal of science, I interact with many scientists. As you will be aware, scientists are a nomadic lot, often spending months or years in countries that aren’t their own. Being intelligent people, they are politically aware – or want to be – but are frustrated that even though they pay taxes in the UK, they are deprived of representation, particularly at the local level. You can see some views expressed in the following blog post by my friend and colleague Dr Richard Grant
I am sure you’d find some of the comments very interesting.
With best wishes
Richard – if you’re actually interested in the politics of the UK, I’d recommend actually learning about the difference between devolution and independence 😉 And the fascinating history of various London governments interfering and actively doing their hardest to prevent either happening. Scotland doesn’t have total political independence – there are a number of important issues that remain governed from London, outwith the agreed terms of the devolved parliament.
Henry, the electoral system for the devolved Scottish parliament actually already uses a mixed member proportional representation system. You might suggest your MP reads up on that as part of his homework on electoral reform.
The point being, Mike, that the current system is a messy hybrid that benefits nobody except possibly the Scots, at the (vast!) of everyone else.
Brilliant Henry. Thanks
Richard, the Northern Irish benefit considerably more than the Scots in terms of redistribution of some money around the UK, according to a largely unpopular method of calculating these things. Even Barnett doesn’t think his formula should have lasted this long. It’s not a formula that takes everything into account in a simple ‘all this comes in, all that goes out’ equation. Hope you’re not naive enough to believe those who suggest it is.
London does considerably better than any other part of England if you look at these things in a similar light. And it continuously gets further investment that the rest of the country could use – who’s paying for the London 2012 games? Only people in London?
I agree with you – the current system is messy. But the rest of your statement is wrong. And it’ll never be easy to find the true figures – it’s clearly not in Westminster’s interest to advertise all the money that comes in from the different regions and all that goes out. And it’s not in the nationalists’ interest to advertise just how expensive independence will actually be.
As a denizen of the urban North of England, can I say that we feel equally as lorded over and ignored by the South-east and London as the Scots do?
I see the ludicrous Minette Marin was arguing for cutting the Scots adrift today, muttering that “the whole English map is blue [Tory]”. Well, if you look at the urban areas outside the South – and it is in the cities where the population mainly is, not in the shires – it is almost totally red, certainly north of Birmingham.
I’m pleased to see Henry arguing for STV. I absolutely concur that that would be a democratic first step, and I think that is what Clegg should be demanding – or at the least a Commons free vote on it – as the minimal price of a deal with Cameron. STV would certainly have seen Evan Harris returned in Oxford West, for instance, rather than the singing Tory lady.
I’ll chip in with info on how the French handle the conundrum of French people living abroad (permanently, I’m not talking about e.g. military personnel abroad).
We have our own “parliament”! It’s the Assemblee des Francais de l’etranger. 155 members elected by PR, 12 senators (equivalent to Lords, elected by the members, complicated system) and 12 “qualified persons” designated by the foreign office. Unfortunately, its powers are very limited if not imaginary.
At the next “legislative election” (equivalent to your general election), we are going to have 11 members of the assemblee nationale (MPs) allocated to us, out of 577. The fact that French abroad tend to vote for the right and that we have a right-wing government in power are probably not unrelated to this sudden generousness…
@Austin: it would be great to have a map of the UK showing different areas (and how they voted) with the surface being proportional to the population of said area. Scotland would look like ~10% of the whole, and London roughly as much, both mostly red and yellow.
Found one. Try the map here and hit the button that says “Change view”.
This makes all constituencies into polygons of the same size, and gives a more realistic view of the spread of support across the populations of different UK regions.
It is still imperfect, of course, as all constituencies do not have the same population. But it gives the lie to the idea that “England is solidly Tory”. The Tory bits are the South, the South East (where Richard lives!) and Norfolk (where Henry lives). So perhaps I should construct a thesis that people tend to end up in their own “region of comfort”, politically speaking..
Just what I was looking for, thanks Austin. Scotland is still over-represented there I think, but that’s better than most maps I’ve seen.
I like that polygon map. Look how big London is all of a sudden! It’s the size of all of Scotland! [clicks back and forth between map views] Whee!
Just seen this from Twitter:
“The Conservatives have a majority of 63 in England. The English have no devolved power of their own. When does the will of the English electorate get heard?”
Whatever your politics, doesn’t the thought of geographically and culturally distinct sections of the population having a disproportionate say in your govern-ment disturb you?
A federal/state system seems to work for the US, and (for small values of ‘work’) for Australia, which has a much smaller population. Small, local government also appeals to this libertarian.
Agreed to the extent that I think devolution ought logically to have been extended from Wales/N Ireland/Scotland to the English regions, Richard – notably the North of England, which is overwhelmingly anti-Tory and is arguably “culturally distinct” from London and the SE.
There are few people North of Birmingham, in my personal experience, who do not think that all policy for “England” is really policy made “for London and the South East”. The almost comically OTT London-centrism of the UK national media goes hand in hand with this.
However, what with manufacturing industry in the UK now something of a dodo, the powerhouse of the UK, economically and intellectually, is London and the South East so perhaps we should leave things as they are.
/deliberately inflammatory comment.
Less obnoxiously, I had a quick poke around and found some instructive maps.
Far too much information
To me it just makes the case again for how one might devolve regional assemblies to the SW, to B’ham and the Midlands, and to the North of England (possibly split NW and NE).
It is true that London is the population and commercial centre, but that just means all the regions get shafted by comparison. At least that is what they all think.
The difference with the Celtic bits is that they have been granted extensive autonomy.
Of course, another way to do it, since most population is urban, is simply to give back to the cities and their Councils the kind of local power they enjoyed before Mrs Thatcher began stripping it away and centralising things, a trend that Labour has continued with enthusiasm (London partially excepted).
At least that is what they all think.
Heh. You mean they’re just whining for no good reason? Say it ain’t so, Dr Elliott.
I must admit, being new to London and all, I do heart the idea of a major and the ability to keep rocking while the rest of the country goes titsup. Did you catch Paxman’s interview with Boris on Friday morning? Awesome stuff.
Re. “at least… think”, I really only phrased it that way as I don’t have figures to hand to demonstrate that London is “the great stomach”, eating away and ignoring the rest of the country.
A widespread opinion outside London is that the capital’s “Great Economic Engine” view of itself is a touch illusory, as it is nowadays based mostly on the financial sector, which the Tories (and the financial sector) are always telling us can re-locate abroad at a moment’s notice. There is precious little manufacturing left in the UK, and what tbere is tends to be in the West Midlands (light engineering) and certainly outside the SE as labour is cheaper elsewhere.
Within the Univ sector I have never met an academic outside the “Golden Triangle” who doesn’t think that Oxford-Cambridge-UCL-IC-King’s enjoy all kinds of embedded and systemic advantages. Equally true with doctors and the major London Teaching Hospitals.
Anyway, whether all this is actually true or not, I think we should devolve some meaningful autonomy and tax-raising powers out to the English regions (as we have done with the Celtic regions) and allow them the freedom to run their own show.
An obvious (and admittedly selfish!) example is as follows: Manchester is the biggest UK Univ outside the Golden Triangle, and (some would say) the most successful. A regional assembly might think this was something worth investing in. As an analogy, pretty well every US state has a major state research Univ because the state legislature wants their state to have a major research Univ, and therefore funds it. In contrast, Manchester (and other UK Univs) always have to pitch directly against the Golden Triangle for everything.
Among the non-Golden Triangle Univs in the UK it is widely understood/believed that Edinburgh and Cardiff enjoy a slightly privileged status by dint of being the Univs in the capital cities of Wales and Scotland, and hence a certain “first place in the queue” effect for funding from their regional Govts. Same perhaps true of Queen’s Belfast.
In this view, devolving power is actually a way of fostering both “diversity” (as not everything now depends on cap-in-hand lobbying in London) and also local connected-ness between regions and their resident civil institutions or industries.
Well, did anybody see that coming when I wrote this blog?