I’ve been interested in politics since I was a teenager, supporting the Liberal Democrats through thick and thin since then. I’ve voted in every election, including local and European elections, which is more than most people can say. So you can imagine that for me, the fact that I will lose my right to vote in a few years is a bitter blow.
No, I’m not about to be classed as a lunatic, nor am I to be made a peer of the realm, I will be disenfranchised because of the law that says after 15 years away from the UK you can no longer vote in British elections.
I know that many people are unsympathetic to my plight. They say that if I choose to leave the UK, then I should lose my right to help decide how the country is run. After all, I’m no longer paying taxes in the country.
But the taxes argument doesn’t hold. There are many people who don’t pay taxes, but still have the right to vote. Plus the UK government doesn’t just tax and spend. Many of its decisions affect me even though I am out of the country. An extreme example, but if a loony government took power and decided to wage war on Spain, who would be immediately affected? British expats like me who live there.
You might think the situation would not be so terrible if I could swap my right to vote in Britain for a right to vote in Spain. I can’t. Spanish law doesn’t allow dual citizenship except for certain nationalities, so to do that I would have to renounce being British and become Spanish. But I’m not Spanish. I’m British, born in Britain, raised and educated in Britain. English is my first language. Culturally, I’m certainly British - just ask my Spanish partner! I support England at football, I’ll be cheering on Team GB in the London Olympics. All my family live in the UK. I love my country and could never renounce my citizenship.
Other countries don’t do this to their citizens. If you’re French or American but live abroad, for example, you always keep your right to vote in presidential elections. Nick Clegg’s Spanish wife, Miriam, lives in Britain but has a lifelong right to vote in Spanish national elections.
There are a large number of Britons living overseas - estimated at 5.6 million. In this age of falling democratic participation it makes no sense to me to be excluding people who may well want to use their vote. And why have an arbitrary cut-off point of 15 years. Why will I be less British after 15 years than after 14?
If you’re interested in this issue then contact me at Liberal Democrats in Spain. We’re planning a campaign to try and persuade the British government that we should retain our right to vote in general elections.