Electoral Commission tells Parliament: block the Tory electoral registration plans

Individual electoral registration has been a long time coming. It’s a sensible reform to our antiquated electoral registration system and is one which Labour, along with the other political parties, signed up to support back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister – but Labour then moved remarkably slowly in enacting the idea. (Which, as an aside, is an ironic backdrop to Labour complaints since 2010 about how individual electoral registration is being implemented. Had Labour not be so laggardly in power, it could have been Labour mostly deciding on the details.)

The moves so far to switch to individual electoral registration have also been rather successful, especially if you step back from the micro-focus on the day-by-day story of politics whereby everything is either a disaster or too boring to mention. The legislation in the last Parliament was a good advertisement for how pre-legislative scrutiny should work, doing over the details of what was proposed in an area where the details are all important and as a result producing better legislation.

The hiccups with the roll out of individual electoral registration have also all been ones that are clearly transitory rather than signalling long-term problems. The failure to register in decent numbers people who are going to turn 18 during the year looks to have been down mostly to how such “attainers” information was asked for, and other gaps in the data are down to the decision to skip the annual canvass for one year – something which Nick Clegg ensured would be a one-off by getting the money secured to do it again in future years.

So far, so good then – especially if you remember to spot the flaws in the WE’RE DOOMED AND A MILLION PEOPLE HAVE BEEN WIPED OFF THE REGISTER myth.

However, there is one problem. There are good reasons to be very positive about how those transitory problems will get sorted out in future years. But the decision by the Conservatives to rush the final move to individual electoral registration by introducing it before that sorting out has happened, and so setting the electoral registers for the next boundary review ahead of that sorting out too, is so unwise it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is a crude attempt to fiddle the boundary review.

The problem with Labour’s repeated cries of wolf over individual electoral registration, at times over the last five years even managing to disguise pretty well how it was Labour who took the first steps to introduce it all, is the same as in the fairy tale.

So good news that the Electoral Commission is taking a very robust line:

The electoral watchdog has advised peers to block the government’s plans to delete up to 1.9 million people from the voting register in December.

Ahead of a debate in the House of Lords next week, the Electoral Commission warned that there was a risk that people could be disenfranchised at next May’s elections because the government was trying to bring in its new system too soon…

With the Lords due to debate the issue on Tuesday, the commission has advised parliament not to approve the order as the government has acted without reliable information about how many eligible voters are being removed.

The vote in the Lords is on a ‘fatal motion’ put down by Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler, which if passed would defeat the government’s proposal.

UPDATE: The Conservatives got the changes through the Lords by 11 votes.

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