Many people across the country will this week have seen an envelope from their local Conservative Party slither its way through their letter box. Inside, if they live in an area where the Conservatives do not control the local council, they may have found a letter of dubious literary merit, telling voters how terrible the current administration is, and (ironically) how important it is to register to vote, along with an encouragement to register to vote by post. This is all accompanied by a freepost envelope in which to return the completed form…to the local Conservative Party!
Now, this is not illegal. Given the Conservatives’ electoral prospects, it’s quite paradoxical for them to be exhorting people to vote. It’s also a bit rich coming from the very same political party that arbitrarily introduced voter ID to tackle the almost non-existent problem of voter fraud! Voter engagement is likely to be affected by the newly imposed requirement for a form of photo ID the Conservatives deem valid. In the circumstances, this latest move is more unseemly than anything.
What it does do is give the Conservatives a little advance notice of who is registering to vote by post. The party knows that by law they must pass these forms on to their local electoral office within three days, so there would be only a little time for anyone so minded to mark the person as a postal voter in the Conservatives’ database.
This information alone has value, however. A party handling these forms, albeit for this very short time, would find out who was a postal voter very much ahead of the other political parties, and could begin to target them with direct mail. Postal voter ‘turnout’ (around 80 per cent) is far higher than in-person turnout (usually around 30 per cent, but sometim as low as 12 per cent). Postal votes really can decide the outcome of an election because of this better turnout; if a particular political party can get advance knowledge of where these voters are, they can concentrate all their campaigning resources on those people, and pretty much forget about the others. This enables them to steal a march on all the other candidates, who will only find out when the electoral roll is updated and sent out some weeks later.
If this all sounds a little tricksy, it’s because it is. As I said, it’s not illegal, but it is certainly unpleasant and undignified: it gives the party and candidates able to invest significant money into pre-election leafleting and freepost envelopes (where the cost of the postage is borne by the sender) the advantage of time, during which they can target the people most likely to vote.
It smacks of desperation, of a party that knows it is losing ground and does even not mind looking bad in its frantic bid to cling to power. It is happening this week, all over the country, and may have already come to a letterbox near you.
The Tories want your vote in May because they know that MPs of any party stand on the shoulders of their local councillors. Local councillors probably have more effect on people’s daily lives than MPs; letting any Conservatives back into your nearest council will help their colleagues in government.
If you wish to apply for a postal vote, and exercise your democratic right to vote, please be assured you can send your application form (even the one supplied by your local Conservative Party) straight back to the council election office, whose address will be on the form. It will cost you a stamp but will save your data from being used to gain advantage.
You should also know that this election will be the first at which voter ID will be an absolute requirement. If you have neither passport, photo driving licence, nor over-60s bus pass, you can get free special voter ID from your local council’s election office ‒ altogether a much better option than handing data to a spent Tory party.