NVRD: Camden’s ‘adopt-a-bench’ electoral roll idea

ImageHandlerNATIONAL Voter Registration Day is here, a drive to get as many people on the electoral register as possible in time for the General Election. The cut-off is April 20.

Such an occasion, gives us an excuse to turn the clock back 20 years to recall Camden Council’s own headline-grabbing attempts to get more people on the roll.

Back in 1995, the Town Hall was widely mocked across the pages of the Daily Mail, and, to be fair, other newspapers as well for suggesting that it would be possible to register homeless people if they could list a regular park bench that they slept on.

“Labour-run Camden in North-West London yesterday admitted it was prepared to register people for voting if they ‘live in the open air and have a degree of permanence’,” the DM gleefully reported, a perfect chance to once more brand Camden as a a ‘loony left council’.

It went on: “The authority’s deputy electoral registration officer Barrie Lane said homeless people occupying a ‘park bench or the steps of a church’ would qualify as voters… Lawyer Judith Barnes, leader of Camden’s Conservative opposition, said: ‘My majority is 36. It won’t take many homeless to swing that away from the Tories.’

The paper went on to vox-pop homeless people and beggars around Camden Town, finding one who was “looking surprisingly healthy” and who had told them: “I came here after my boyfriend died from exposure and drink while we were sleeping in the park. Of course I can’t stay in the daytime, so I wonder how the council will deliver the ballot forms to me?”


3 Comments on NVRD: Camden’s ‘adopt-a-bench’ electoral roll idea

  1. History, Richard.

    It sounds funny now but there was a huge issue then in Camden and inner London of disenfrachisement due to the introduction of the reformed ‘Poll Tax’ (known now as Council Tax) for people in general. The new system had only been introduced 4 years before that.

    Those who were homeless – most of whom weren’t sleeping on benches but sofa-surfing or prey to dodgy landlords – found it hard to be on the register. The Tory tactic then, taken from the Republicans in the US, was to make it difficult for people with the greatest need to vote.

    The fear of being on the register lasted years, if not decades, as most canvassers will know.

    • Richard Osley // February 5, 2015 at 10:39 pm //

      Thanks Theo,

      Two things on your post there: 1. Blog says which newspaper was going hard on this back then, and talks about its spiky efforts to cast Camden as ‘loony’ 2. However,well meaning the idea was, it does sound funny, as in funny-odd, not funny-ha-ha, just because of the simple practicalities.

      • Sorry to rain on the Daily Mail giggles – it became law in the Representation of the People Act 2000 to allow registrations in respect of a local connection without a conventional, residential registration address.

        Provision is made for sending election information and registration forms to an address where the person can collect mail or for the person to collect mail from the office of the registration officer.

        This form of registration extends beyond homeless people and includes houseboat residents that do not have fixed moorings, travellers, merchant seamen and other similar groups of people.

        Camden was actually ahead of its time in homeless registration, particularly since ‘residence’ is not defined in electoral registration law.

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