The expat in Oz : voting in the British General Election

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April 19th 2010
Published: April 19th 2010
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Is that the moonIs that the moonIs that the moon

...or Australia?
It appears I chose a very good time to leave the country and to travel the world for a bit. The UK couldn’t feel more distant at the moment, what with the endless reports of economic meltdown from the global recession, deep freezing winters and transport melt-down.…whereas the "wonder from down under" goes from strength to strength. Becoming the first G20 country to raise interest rates from the emergency level. Unemployment actually went down, bucking the global trend and surprising local economists who had all predicted a small rise.” Meanwhile back in Blighty:

Elected members from the so-called “mother of all parliaments” disgrace themselves by being rather keen on claiming fake expenses; British Airways goes on a week-long strike - ruining everybody’s holidays and making us look like the keen as mustard strikes a-go-go French; the coldest winter in 30 years hits with snow lasting for weeks and causing more transport chaos; and volcanic Iceland heaps on more misery by coughing up its nasty ash and preventing all flights in and out of the country - causing hundreds of thousands of people to be stranded.

Me, smug? Never. Mind you, the most devastating thing that’s happened since I’ve been in Melbourne was a “super cell thunderstorm” - that flooded the CBD and produced hail stones as big as tennis balls. I was out in it - it was very sudden and dramatic (what with the constant sunshine here) but also scarily fun! Here’s some of the entertaining pictures.

"No matter how far from the UK you go, your right to vote goes with you"

I have been keeping track of events back home despite the gloomy news headlines and recently noticed a small item in world news pertaining to the UK in particular. The insufferable, incessant and facile obsessing of personalities in the quinquennial popularity contest known as the General Election. At least I no longer have to watch silly-glasses baldy and former Tory boy turned chief political correspondent of the BBC Nick Robinson bleating on self-importantly as ever.

Anyway, regardless of being aloof from events from back home I have to say it’s encouraging to see the perennially third-placed losers the Liberal Democrats making a fight of it in this election. I read that they are dong rather well following its leader Nick Clegg’s performance on the televised debate: “We can rise to the challenges if we say no to the two old parties, which have been playing pass-the-parcel for 65 years.” All three parties now seem to be near parallel according to the latest opinion polls. Amazing. Although I generally don’t agree with the Lib Dem’s party’s policies on criminal justice, immigration and foreign policy it is refreshing that another party has a credible chance at power-sharing in this election.

What I am annoyed about is that, “There are fewer than 13,500 British expatriates on the electoral register, a tiny fraction of the estimated six million Britons living abroad.”

Six million!? That’s an awful lot of votes being lost in British elections, and I would argue a massively crucial block in the choosing of our elected governments. So, I've look into voting from this here land of Australia. Here are three steps to registering according to

It’s a bit of a cumbersome process - I have to fill out a few online forms and print one off to send onwards to the UK where they then send me a ballot paper which I then have to send off to them again with my preference for elected government.

I’m worried that I’ve missed the voter registration deadline (it seems to be the 20th of April) - but then I did get this information from that tainted source Wikipedia and it’s entry on the UK Election:

“Day 15: Deadline for applications to be included on the register of electors to be used at the election. Last day for requests for a new postal vote or to change or cancel an existing postal vote or proxy appointment (by 5pm). Issue of postal ballot papers (after 5pm) - Wednesday 18 April."

And of course there is no mention of deadlines from the UK voting from overseas website.

So, I’ve dutifully completed the online application, printed it off and have sent off the application for a postal vote from Australia to my local electoral office in Barnet. In the meantime I’ve contacted both website and electoral office to inquire as to the veracity of this information and whether this whole taking an interest from afar was actually worthwhile or not. Keep yer fingers crossed.

UPDATE: 21/April/2010

I emailed The Electoral Commission in London asking them if the deadline was correct for registering to vote was correct but also querying why this pretty CRUCIAL information didn't seem to be on their own website. I've since received this e-mail on the 20th of April from the Public Information Officer in London:

"The information is correct. As the deadline to register is today, 20th April, I would strongly recommend that you contact the electoral registration officer at your local authority as there is a possibility they may accept a scanned version of the form by email or fax. You can find their contact details by visiting our website and inputting your postcode.

Please let me know if you require any further information."

Well, that's handy then - I email my local office asking if I can scan a copy or fax a copy of my registration. Ain't gonna happen I'm afraid. They must be panicking about registration forms not being received from abroad because all flights in and out of the UK are currently down because of that pesky Icelandic volcano. So much for ease and the right to vote. Also I didn't receive an answer as to why this info wasn't on their website when I looked into voting from abroad - so I've replied haughtily asking for this.

UPDATE: 23/April/2010

Apparently applying for a postal vote in the General Election is too late for me (20th April). This date was on the website - but to my mind it wasn't prominent enough before I filled the postal vote application online. Nor do I think it took into account distance and postal times - the fact I would have to post my application to England from far-off Australia and then wait for my ballot paper in the return post - delays were inevitable. That's me - but what's added to the complications for ex-pats abroad is the recent no-fly zone over the UK which has probably cancelled those postal vote applications if they were received after the 20th. (more than likely)

The alternative is now to apply for a proxy note - i.e. somebody votes on your behalf.

The UK Electoral Commission said: “Voters have until April 27 to apply for a proxy vote. You can download proxy vote applications from our website (

“These must be printed off so that they can be signed. We advise local authorities that they should accept faxed or scanned signed applications. “

“So if anyone is stuck abroad and not sure if they can get back to the UK by May 6, they should apply for a proxy vote. It is too late to cancel a postal vote and if someone has applied for a postal vote, they cannot apply for a proxy vote.”

It's nice that those who cannot make the election can apply for a proxy vote by scanning their application. But the last bit is a bit galling - I applied for my postal vote registration which clearly won't be accepted now as I sent it just before the deadline. But it means I won't be able to vote via proxy either.

Who'd have know that voting in this election from afar would so frustrating?


Right so, I still don't know who's actually 'won' the election - wither the number or parliamentary seats and the actual popular vote. No one has won 'outright' so I still don't know who the next government will be either. This has happened before apparently but the first in my lifetime - so it's all a bit bizarre. And watching from afar the British General Election looks like a complete bloody mess and frankly an embarrassment. So much for being the mother of all parliaments, it looks like the mother of all shoddy democracies more like:

1) British citizens who have been abroad for more than 15 years cannot vote in British elections - despite still paying taxes to the UK Government. So basically that excludes an estimated 5.5 million British expats, approximately 10 per cent of the UK population, living overseas. This is simply BIZARRE.

2) In Chester there were reports that 600 voters who were registered to vote were unable to vote due to the electoral roll not having been updated, while in Hackney, Islington, Leeds, Lewisham, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield long queues led to many voters being turned away and unable to vote as the 10 pm deadline arrived. Some dissatisfied voters staged sit-ins to protest against what some of them had called "disenfranchisement". In Liverpool, higher than expected turnout meant several polling stations ran out of ballot papers, with defeated council leader Warren Bradley stating that some residents were unable to cast their votes. There's this video of angry voters being turned away at a polling station which really angers myself because they have been denied their democratic rights

Book I’m reading:
Conversations with V. S. Naipaul (Literary Conversations Series), Feroza Jussawalla (Editor) - 1997

"I’ll tell you the way I try to write. If you look at anything very honestly, without prejudices - prejudices either of hope or a political point of view - many things are contained within what you observe. But you can only say I saw what I saw - and try to look at that.”


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