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My evidence to Parliament’s Voter Engagement enquiry

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Toby JamesI gave oral evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s inquiry into Voter Engagement yesterday.  The Committee is concerned about levels of voter registration and turnout in the UK.  The inquiry is timely because voter engagement is a pressing problem for British elections and democracy. One in five people are now missing from the electoral register and less than 15 per cent cast a ballot at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012.

There are many reasons why voter turnout and registration levels have dropped. My research shows, however, that making the electoral process more convenient for citizens, and investing in electoral services could make a real difference to levels of registration and voter turnout.

The committee should therefore recommend allowing citizens to register on the day of election, give them the opportunity to register when they come into contact with other government services and keep Internet voting under review.

See my written evidence for further information or watch the session here (I am on from 10:49:34).


Why we should keep postal voting in the UK

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Richard Mawrey QC claimed yesterday that postal voting was ‘not viable’ in the UK yesterday.

I written a blog post for Eastminster and the Democratic Audit which has been published today, offering a reply, and explaining why we should not be so hasty to scrap it.

Similar arguments were raised today in separate posts from Stephen Twigg MP and Jessica Garland of the Electoral Reform Society.



Election-day registration in Britain: an idea whose time has come?

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Earlier in the month the Labour Party suggested that we should consider election-day registration in the UK.  This is something that I have thought would make a good evidence based policy.  This week I have published my thoughts on Eastminster and the Democratic Audit this proposal.

You can also view my evidence to the parliamentary select committee that is considering how to increase UK voter engagement.

Vote rigging in the Eurovision Song Contest

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ImageThe Eurovision Song Contest has to worry about electoral integrity too, it seems.

I have just written a short blog for a website which looks at the popular culture of the contest:

Labour announces good news for British elections?

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Will Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband take electoral registration in the right direction?

Voter registration is a problem in the UK.  Approximately one in five citizens are not on the electoral register.  When it is reported that only 65% of registered people voted at the 2010 general election, we forget those people who are not on the register in the first place.

The Guardian is today reporting that Labour is looking to respond to this problem with three promises:

Labour is looking at bringing in a US-style system of allowing voters to register on election day….


….Labour will also ensure people are encouraged to sign up to vote every time they come into contact with a government services, including the DVLA, Passport Office, universities, schools, colleges, blood donation, council tax payment and parking permit applications….


….Labour will pull the plug on individual voter registration if it leads to a large decline in democratic participation


Good news?

I will write more in a fresh blog soon.  However, to give away the ending of the story, you might be interested in what I wrote in May 2012 on the Electoral Reform Society and LSE blog (and many later posts since), after my research had shown that individual electoral registration was likely to lead to a decline in registration.

Five things that you may (not?) know about voter registration on National Voter Registration Day

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Bite the BallotBite The Ballot have made Wednesday 5th February 2014 National Voter Registration Day.

This is a great initiative.  There have been citizen-led projects to increase voter registration in the USA for decades.  The UK is only now catching onto the importance of this topic.

Here are five things you might may not know about voter registration in the UK.

  1. Registration levels are getting lower.  A recent piece of research from the Electoral Commission estimated that only 82% of people were registered in 2011.  This compares with rates of 91-93% in the 1990s.
  2. It is lower amongst some groups.  Research has identified it as being lower amongst the younger, Black and Minority Ethnic communities and those who privately rent.
  3. It is lower than many other countries.  Comparisons with other countries are difficult because of poor data quality.  A high registration rate might also result from duplicates or inaccuracies.  For example, one estimate put the registration in the Czech Republic at over 120%, which suggests other problems with the quality of the register.  But the UK still lags behind many other countries.
  4. Things might get worse.  We will soon be required to register individually and provide a National Insurance number, under changes planned by the government.  My research has suggested that this will reduce registration rates further.  This decline is likely to hit students, the young and geographically mobile the most (see: here for the full piece).
  5. There are things that we can do.  The government has invested resources into a scheme called ‘data-matching’ to register people whose identity can be confirmed using other government records.  This is a really important step in stopping registration rates falling further.  However, more can be done such as thinking about election-day registration and holding days and events to focus the media and public on registration, just like today.

Well done Bite the Ballot.

Political Leaders are facing challenging times

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conference imageI recently convened a Political Studies Association workshop on political leadership at the University of East Anglia.  Below, I reflect on some of the lessons learnt.

Political leaders are facing challenging times.

International financial austerity has had dramatic consequences for leaders around the world. Leaders have often had to campaign for (re)election and govern with significant public deficits, stagnant growth and public unrest. The rapid evolution of social media has affected the way in which leaders communicate to citizens, and how citizens communicate to each other about leaders. In many democracies electoral support and membership of the main political parties has been in long-term decline.

On 17th January UEA hosted the Annual Political Studies Association workshop to critically examine this topic.  The event brought together leading scholars disciplines as diverse as electoral studies, organisational psychology, elite theory, public administration, international relations and many more  to study this topic.

Professor Tim Bale was the keynote speaker. His address, published in the Guardian evaluated the performance of Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition and argued that despite some criticism Miliband had performed well as party leader.

The workshop the received papers which considered alternative frameworks for evaluating and thinking about political leadership.  These included papers on the concepts of statecraft, political capital and the personal characteristics that make for a good leader.  Among the papers, Jim Buller (University of York) and Toby James (UEA) outlined a framework for thinking about the nature of the context in which leaders find themselves.   Using this approach they suggested that Gordon Brown had initially performed very well in a very difficult context, but that his performance deteriorated very quickly after 2008.  Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church University) and Ben Worthy (Birkbeck University) introduced a framework for examining the political capital that leaders have.  Jo Silvester (City University of London) demonstrated how studies from organisational psychology can help to identify the characteristics of good leaders and Alan Finlayson (University of East Anglia) explained why we should look at the rituals and performance (in a theatrical sense) of leaders in leadership contexts.


Some panels in the afternoon focused on political leaders in Britain with assessments of dispatch-box opponents Ed Miliband and David Cameron.  Among these, Andrew Gamble (University of Cambridge) argued that the Coalition government’s policies of austerity might not be good economics, but was a politically astute strategy for the government.  Paul Whiteley (University of Essex) argued that the performance of leaders was very closely tied to the economy under the Labour governments.  But since the Coalition came to power, the relationship between the economy and political support has changed, with neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats gaining from a fairly rapid growth in economic optimism which has taken place since early 2013.  Ivor Gabor (City University of London) noted how the Daily Mail had tried ‘attack’ Ed Miliband by painting him as ‘Red Ed’ and attack his father, but that this ‘attack’ had not been successful.  Miliband’s oratoral style was also examined by Andrew Crines (University of Leeds) and his strategy of moving the party to the left questioned by Thomas Quinn (University of Essex).

Other panels considered political leadership at the local, European and international level; or the challenges facing leaders in France, Greece and elsewhere.  In the management of foreign policy John Gaffney (Aston University) noted that the poor judgement of Hollande Presidency in dealing with Syria and the Chemical Weapons Crisis of August-October 2013 and Kleanthis Kyriakidis and Petros Siousiouras (University of the Aegean) argued that the leadership of the West had more generally failed to manage the opportunity and challenges of the Arab Spring. Austerity, demands for new forms representation and changing institutional structures have posed challenges for leaders in Greece (Marina Prentoulis – University of East Anglia), Britain and Germany (Ekaterina Kolpinskaya (University of Nottingham), (Nicholas Wright (UEA)).  Changed institutional landscapes also pose new opportunities and challenges for leaders at the local level claimed Alex Marsh (University of Bristol) and European level claimed Hussein Kassim (University of East Anglia).

Some of the challenges that leaders face are new, some are very old.  But overall the workshop was very successful at bringing together scholarship from a variety of academic sub-disciplines to bring new perspectives to the field of leadership.  Select items will be published in the near future.  Some papers from the workshop are available here:  If you want to know more about what was said, please see the Storify of tweets below.

Dr. Toby James is a Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics at the University of East Anglia.

This post was originally posted on the Eastminster blog