This year’s general election is set to be full of surprises and close results. With several marginal seats up for grabs, overseas votes could be more influential than ever.
Just how influential they will be is up for debate, it’s notoriously difficult to get solid data on UK overseas voters and their voting behaviour.
When asked to picture the average expat, most people will have an image of a sunburned retiree on the Costa del Sol, but the numbers tell a different story.
There are around three quarters of a million British citizens living in the EU, nearly 75 per cent of those are below retirement age.
These figures also only include those living overseas for a year or more. Those that have been abroad for less time – often young students and seasonal workers – will be under counted in the statistics. This could add anywhere up to around a million younger eligible voters.
Potential voters who have been overseas for more than fifteen years are currently excluded from voting; something the government has sought to change but faced resistance from Labour MP’s wary of letting a new wave of older voters cast their votes for the Conservatives.
When opposing a bill to grant “votes for life” in 1989, Jeremy Corbyn himself denounced the bill claiming the Tory party was being forced to “scrabble round the world looking for tax dodgers, crooks, thieves and wastrels” to be re-elected.
If young people with a stake in remaining in the EU were mobilised in large numbers, this could make a difference. The chances of this happening, however, are slim.
Of the approximately 4.4 million eligible overseas voters, only 285,000 were registered to vote at the last election (0.6 per cent of the UK electorate). A survey conducted by the Electoral Commission in 2016 after the EU referendum, found that a third of eligible overseas voters were unaware they could vote in a UK parliamentary election.
Overseas voter numbers are currently well under the amount registered at the last election. In an increasingly rare democratic fallow year in 2018, over 150,000 people dropped off the register. As an overseas voter, you need to renew your registration every year. But there are signs that this is picking back up. 13,000 overseas voters registered on the day the election was announced and more than 44,000 have registered since.
Due to the condensed timeline of the election overseas, voters have been urged by local authorities to elect a proxy, just in case their postal votes do not make it back in time. They are keen to avoid the chaos of the European Elections in May that saw many postal votes arrive after the deadline.
The Foreign Office is doing its bit to get out the vote with its embassy network posting register to vote content on its digital channels. The Electoral Commission has also issued assets for use on social media in a bid to get this underrepresented group involved.
Presuming that everyone gets registered and votes in time, will they effect the course of the election?
The stats say the answer is likely to be no. In most regions in the UK, overseas voters represent well under one per cent of the electorate. In London, the picture is a little different. In 2017 over 60,000 votes were cast, 1.1 per cent of all voters.
While that doesn’t seem much, it was as high as 6 per cent in two London constituencies (Dulwich West Norwood, and Streatham). Both are fairly safe Labour seats on paper, but in this election you never know.
When you start to look at some of the more marginal seats in the UK you can see where a few hundred votes could really make the difference. Kensington, Richmond Park, Crewe and Nantwich were all held by less than 100 votes and North East Fife was held by only two.
While voter turnout and enthusiasm in the UK may be hit by cold and gloomy weather, the sun will set at 3:36 PM in Fife on election day, we have no such excuses here in Doha. We should still be enjoying sunshine and 25 degrees temperatures throughout December. With that in mind, it’s perhaps worth keeping an eye on the wastrel’s vote after all.