Latest Event Updates

Automatic re-registration in Britain?

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We should have a system of automatic electoral registration in Britain to combat the crisis of millions of people missing off the electoral roll.  That was one of our core messages last week when we sent a report on elections in Britain to the government.

Most polling stations turned away would be voters at the 2015 general election, research from Alistair Clark and I showed.  On Radio 4’s Today Programme and Radio Norfolk I explained that many citizens think that they are on the register because they pay their council tax, renew their car tax and register for other government services.  But unlike many other countries, they still need to do more to register to vote.

Earlier this week John Penrose said that he is considering a form of automatic re-regstration. This is excellent news for democracy.

I flagged the problem of low levels of voter registration and how individual voter registration would worsen this in a report to Parliament in 2011. I have long argued that using methods used in other countries such as registering citizens when they use other government services would improve registration levels and turnout. This was based on my book and an article on electoral administration

John Penrose’s announcement is therefore very welcome news but there is a more to be done. Automatic re-registration stops names dropping off and might save local authorities time and resources. But what of those not currently ln the register? Upto 10 million could be missing from the register in December. And that is the register on which the boundaries for the 2020 general election will be fought.

The electoral register is the problem, not electoral fraud

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New Research on Individual Electoral Registration - Policy ImplicationsElectoral fraud isn’t the biggest problem at British polling stations….. it’s the electoral register

Last week Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, claimed that electoral fraud is a ‘growing phenomena’ in British elections.  It is a problem, he suggested, that was predominantly ‘where there are high levels of inhabitants from a community in which there is a tradition of electoral corruption in their home countries’.

He is not the first person to claim this.  Richard Mawrey QC has previously suggested that postal voting allowed ‘industrial scale fraud’ and Conservative Councillor Peter Golds has suggested that personation and undue influence was common at polling stations. The commonly proposed remedies are the abolition of postal voting and voter ID requirements.  As Eric Pickle’s review of electoral fraud closed last week, these ideas will no doubt be considered.

But there should not be a rush to introduce either voter ID or abolish postal voting.  Often allegations of fraud are partisan in nature, designed to discredit opponents. Both of these proposals would be likely to impact negatively on turnout at British elections, which is already low. Our new study, also shows that electoral fraud is not the biggest problem faced at elections.

Alistair Clark and I conducted a survey of poll workers at the 2015 general election – the first of its kind in Britain. We have provided a summary of this to Eric Pickles’ commission for consideration as evidence (download this here).

This found that elections were actually very well run.  Poll workers were highly experienced, well trained and had confidence in the electoral process.  Elections owe much to the ‘unsung heroes’ on the frontline of democracy.

There were some poll workers who were concerned about electoral fraud.  Roughly 1 per cent were concerned that there might have been a problem in their polling station but those that gave more detail stressed that this could have been due to a lack of understanding rather than a deliberate attempt to manipulate the process.  Roughly 5 per cent said that they were uncertain about at least one person’s identity in their poll.

But by far the widespread problem was people asking to vote who were not on the register, presumably because they were not registered or had gone to wrong polling station.  Over two thirds of polling stations turned away at least one citizen from voting because their name was not on the electoral register.

This points to how electoral fraud is not the only problem that needs to be considered when this review makes recommendations. Levels of electoral registration have been in long-term decline: from an estimated 96% in the 1960s to 82% in 2011.  The introduction of individual electoral registration has recently been implemented, which has tightened up opportunities for electoral fraud in registration process.  But it has long been forecast that it will lead to lower levels of electoral registration. If the transition is fast-tracked to December 2015, we may see more people being turned away in 2016’s elections.

Alistair Clark and I therefore recommended to Eric Pickles that the voting and registration process is not made more difficult for citizens unless other measures to redress crisis levels of participation and registration are introduced. In particular, we suggest that feasibility of automatic registration and allowing citizens to vote at other polling stations is investigated.  This could be done on a pilot basis initially, if necessary.  

Unlike politicians, citizens do not think about elections and electoral registration every day of their lives. Research that I have done elsewhere shows how many people think that they are already on the electoral register because they pay council tax. At the same time, electoral services departments are under pressure because of lack of resources, while the elections petition system is not fit for purpose. The polling and registration process needs to be made simple, convenient and properly resourced. 

How to improve electoral management

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logoInternational IDEA and the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network have just published my case study on how to improve electoral management.

The article from my research on the use of performance standards in the UK.  It suggests that many electoral practitioners worldwide should consider using a similar scheme to improve the conduct of elections

Both established and emerging democracies often struggle to run elections smoothly.  Common problems with electoral management include low levels of electoral registration, miscounts, lost ballot papers and delays in the announcement of results.  A cause in some circumstances is the poor performance of electoral officials.  Officials managing the local implementation of elections, for example, might not have followed the guidance that their supervisors or international donors have provided or they might have not undertaken sufficient planning for an election.  Equally, systems might not be in place for electoral officials to share ideas for best practice between themselves so that they can improve their efficiency and the quality of delivery.

Fortunately, there have been many developments in the tools that governments have used to increase the monitoring and performance of public sector workers…..

Read the full article here

British Leaders Book Series launched at the House of Commons

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Toby James speaking at the British Leaders Launch
Toby James speaking at the British Leaders Launch

Last week we launched a book series on British party leaders at the House of Commons, published with Biteback.

John Bercow kindly hosted the event in his State Office.  The three books, of which I co-edit two, all focus on the issue of how to assess party leaders.  Jim Buller and I provide a chapter in each that makes the case for the statecraft approach, a framework that we have been working on for some time.  Charles Clarke assesses the electoral success of each leader, before leading biographers assess each leader in turn.  In the final chapters, we interview seven of the past living leaders.

Extracts from the Tony Blair and Nick Clegg interviews were published in the Independent.

British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)

British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)

Five tests for Jeremy Corbyn

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corbynJeremy Corbyn was emphatically elected as the next leader of the Labour Party at the weekend.  In a blog in the Huffington Post last week, I suggest that he, as with any Labour Leader, faces five key tests:

‘Selecting a replacement for Ed Miliband has turned into an existential moment for the Labour Party, and become one of the most important crossroads in modern British politics. After Blairite candidates lined up to claim that the party needed to listen to ‘aspiration’ in the immediate aftermath of the general election result, the contest has taken twists and turns via the withdrawal of leading candidates because of the ‘pressure and scrutiny’ that came with being a candidate, Corbynmania and voter registration ‘purges’. Legal challenges and perhaps even MP defections may follow…..’

Read the rest here.

A new trilogy of books on British political leaders out in September

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British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)
British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)

This summer will be busy for politics in the UK as both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats are elected new leaders of their parties.

It is therefore perfect timing for a trilogy of books on British political leaders.  I’ve co-edited two of these on British Labour Leaders (with Charles Clarke) and British Conservative Leaders (with Charles Clarke, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond).  A third, on British Liberal Leaders has been edited by colleagues at the Liberal History Group.

All books begin by considering how we can assess political leaders and the challenges that we face in doing so.  Jim Buller and I then set out a statecraft framework (or an adapted version of anyway) as one way forward.  Charles Clarke then gives a statistical overview of each leader’s fortunes at general elections.  In Part II of each book there are chapters assessing each leader, written by leading biographers of their subject.  In Part III we have exclusive interviews with some of the leaders themselves (Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock, William Hague, Michael Howard, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg) on how they think we should assess leaders and their reflections on their own time in office.

The books are now available for pre-order.

The contents/contributors to the books that I’ve co-edited are:

British Labour Leaders


1          Introduction: the British Labour Party in search of complete leadership – Toby S. James

2          Statecraft: a framework for assessing Labour Party leaders – Toby S. James and Jim Buller

3          Measuring the success or failure of Labour leaders: the general election test – Charles Clarke



4          Keir Hardie – Kenneth O. Morgan

5          George Nicoll Barnes and William Adamson – William W. J. Knox

6          John Robert Clynes – Phil Woolas

7          Ramsay MacDonald – David Howell

8          Arthur Henderson – Chris Wrigley

9          George Lansbury – John Shepherd

10        Clement Attlee – Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds

11        Hugh Gaitskell – Brian Brivati

12        Harold Wilson – Thomas Hennessey

13        James Callaghan – Peter Kellner

14        Michael Foot – Kenneth O. Morgan

15        Neil Kinnock – Martin Westlake

16        John Smith – Mark Stuart

17        Tony Blair – John Rentoul

18        Gordon Brown – Steve Richards

19        Ed Miliband – Tim Bale



20        Neil Kinnock on leadership, the Labour Party and statecraft theory – Neil Kinnock, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

21        Tony Blair on leadership, New Labour and statecraft theory – Tony Blair, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)
British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)

British Conservative Leaders


1          Introduction – Tim Bale, Patrick Diamond and Alan Wager

2          Statecraft: a framework for assessing Conservative Party leaders – Toby S. James and Jim Buller

3          Measuring the success or failure of Conservative leaders: the general election test – Charles Clarke



4          Sir Robert Peel – Richard A. Gaunt

5          Lord Derby – Angus Hawkins

6          Benjamin Disraeli – Robert Saunders

7          Lord Salisbury – T. G. Otte

8          Arthur Balfour – Nigel Keohane

9          Andrew Bonar Law – Andrew Taylor

10        Austen Chamberlain – David Dutton

11        Stanley Baldwin – Anne Perkins

12        Neville Chamberlain – Stuart Ball

13        Winston Churchill – John Charmley

14        Anthony Eden – David Dutton

15        Harold Macmillan – D. R. Thorpe

16        Alec Douglas-Home – Andrew Holt

17        Edward Heath – Mark Garnett

18        Margaret Thatcher – John Campbell

19        John Major – Anthony Seldon and Mark Davies

20        William Hague – Jo-Anne Nadler

21        Iain Duncan Smith – Timothy Heppell

22        Michael Howard – Tim Bale

23        David Cameron – Matthew d’Ancona



24        William Hague on leadership, the Conservative Party and statecraft theory – William Hague, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

25        Michael Howard on leadership, the Conservative Party and statecraft theory – Michael Howard, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

Is the UK general election running smoothly

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c2bd1-ballotI have posted a blog on Eastminster:

Toby James provides updates on some of the problems that voters have experienced casting their ballot at the 2015 UK General Election (the blog will be updated during the day).

The general election is underway and the polls are open.  It is predicted to be a tightly fought contest.  But has everything gone to plan organisationally?  Allowing millions of citizens to cast their votes and have them counted is a major logistical challenge and election officials are often the ‘unsung heroes’ of democracy.  In 2010, after all, there were scenes of chaos in some polling stations, all be it a few.  Will the election be well run?

Read more, here