Young people have dropped off the electoral register in their masses. Photo: Getty
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Over 200,000 young people have fallen off the electoral register: time to get them back

It's National Voter Registration Day today and time for the young people hit by the system changes to sign up.

If you’re a parent or grandparent of someone who recently turned 18, or is just about to, you’ll want them to have their say in the future of the country.

Today, make sure they get their right to vote.

Today is National Voter Registration Day, pioneered by the brilliant Bite the Ballot. When the Tories are persistently attacking young people but the number of 18-year-olds registered to vote has almost halved, it’s time to take action.

Young people have dropped off the electoral register in their masses – not by choice, but because the rules have changed. New rules mean parents can’t register their children to vote, while universities and colleges can’t register students in halls of residence. In just one year, over 200,000 young people have disappeared from the electoral register.

That’s a terrifying number. It’s a city the size of Southampton, all left without a vote.

It’s not just 18-year-olds, either. The Electoral Commission says three in 10 people under 25 are missing from the electoral register. Their voices won’t be heard, whatever they have to say.

Often, the way politicians try to get young people involved in politics is to talk about "youth issues". Today, I want to try something different.

In my work as shadow minister for care and older people, I meet lots of young people who really worry about their grandparents or aunts and uncles, and who go out of their way to help out. Just as older people are concerned about younger family members getting a good education, finding a home and getting a decent job, young people want to know that their relatives are being well looked after if they’re sick or frail – be that in their own homes, in a care home or in hospital.

I know many young people do their best to help out with their elderly relatives when they can. So on National Voter Registration Day, if there’s a young person in your family who does something caring, whether it’s a bit of help with chores, volunteering, helping you sort out paperwork, or just phoning for a chat, do something caring for them.

Tell them to get on the computer or get their smartphone out and register to vote here.

It’ll only take five minutes and all they need is their name, address, and National Insurance number. They should have got their NI number at 16, but if they’ve lost or forgotten it, then get them to call 0300 200 3502 to find it.

It’s not difficult to do. Since I started my voter registration campaign in the New Year, I’ve been working with older family members across the country to get their younger relatives online and registering. Thanks to the work of my colleague Ivan Lewis, we’ve registered thousands of young people to vote.

Get a relative on the register today. I doubt you’ll be thanked for keeping on about it, but you’ll have given someone you care about a voice in how our country is run.

Tens of thousands of young people give up their time to help others.

Today, let’s give them a say in their future.

Liz Kendall is the MP for Leicester West and shadow minister for care and older people

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.