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Does the general election’s record-sized electorate mean the Tories are doomed?

The government changed voter registration rules, but that hasn’t stopped a record number signing up to vote.

The general election in June saw the UK’s biggest ever electorate. A record number of people were registered to vote by polling day – 46.8 million in total, up 500,000 from 2015, according to the Electoral Commission.

Yes, part of this is simply that the population is increasing. But we don’t get a record-sized electorate every year, or every national vote. For example, in 2015, the number of people registered for parliamentary elections was 1.3 per cent smaller than in 2014. So there are other factors at play, too.

One is simply that online electoral registration has made the process easier. There have also been high-profile campaigns to sign people up – so successful that more than 2.9 million applied to vote between Theresa May’s announcement of the snap election on 18 April and the deadline a month later. This included 612,000 on deadline day (22 May) itself.

Plus – as I have written before – the EU referendum and numerous other votes in a short period have got people into the habit of voting, or at least registering, rather than giving the population “election fatigue”.

But what does this mean for future elections? The dip between 2014 and 2015 coincides with the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration in 2014. This was a change to voter registration rolled out by the government in England, Wales and Scotland that year – controversial for making more than 800,000 people drop off the register.

The reform, which changed household and university block registering to individual registering, had a particular impact on traditionally Labour-friendly voters. Students and young people – more likely to be registered by university and someone else in their household, respectively – were the worst hit by the changes.

Labour accused the Conservatives of playing politics with the electoral register. Whether or not this is fair, the Tories clearly feel less obliged to join in with voter registration campaigns generally – a Press Association analysis found that the party didn’t once use social media to encourage people to vote a week before the deadline this year.

Yet it increasingly seems that neither inaction nor action by the Conservatives will stop the numbers registered to vote rising. And in a way that they should fear. The Electoral Commission found that 69 per cent of online applications made after the election announcement were from people aged under 34, compared to the mere 8 per cent from those over 55. This shows that young people – overwhelmingly more likely to vote Labour – are receptive to voter registration drives, and reforming the system is no longer putting them off, or shaking them off.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.