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UK General Election: Why can’t I vote?

United Kingdom
2017.04.19 Theresa May 590.jpg

British PM Theresa May.

Peter Kenworthy, British Citizen based in Denmark, tried to register to vote for the next UK general elections, and discovered he can’t.

Why can’t I – a British citizen living abroad – register to vote in the next UK general elections, and why must I thus be denied the right to help determine the future of my country, and how it acts internationally, at a time when my vote matters more than ever?

I was born a British citizen in 1972 and have remained one to this day, although I have lived outside Britain (where I grew up in Cambridgeshire) since 1980. I eat Marmite on my toast, dream and swear in English, and hope England do well at every World Cup and Euro finals, even though they always end up underachieving.

I have always voted in local and European Parliament elections in my country of residence, Denmark, assured that the system of proportional representation would ensure that my vote would always count.

But I have never voted in a UK general election. Mainly because I have never found a party (-leader) that I agreed with enough to make the effort to become registered to do so, and because the first-past-the-post system means that anyone I might have considered voting for never stood even the remotest chance of actually winning the Cambridgeshire constituency that I belong(ed) to.

All this has changed. The stakes are much higher with Brexit, both nationally and internationally, and the new Labour leader is not a New Labour leader.

I therefore rushed online to register to vote for the next election, only to be met with the following upsetting sentence on the electoral commission’s website: ‘If you were too young to register after you left the UK, you can still register as an overseas voter … as long as you left the UK no more than 15 years ago.’

But why should it matter when I last voted, or if I have indeed ever voted in Britain, as long as I am a British citizen?

Why should I be denied the right to vote, simply because the first-past-the-post system in Britain means that anyone with a non-mainstream set of beliefs under normal circumstances might as well not bother voting?

And why can’t I be allowed to vote, now that my vote might for once actually help challenge a Thatcherite consensus that began before I left Britain at the age of seven, and has now lasted for nearly 40 years?

Peter Kenworthy is a Copenhagen-based British journalist who writes for an array of Danish and English-language publications.

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