Here’s why canal boat dwellers find it so hard to vote

Oooh, a boat. Image: creative commons.

‘Not my problem’. This was, in essence, the response received by worried boat owners when they reached out to Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushnara Ali following a spike in crime along east London’s canals. The boaters had contacted Ali after one particularly bad night when eight of the forty-odd boats moored along Victoria Park were broken into, but they struggled to foster much sympathy.

“Unfortunately, per strict parliamentary protocol, Members of Parliament may only make enquiries on behalf of those living within their constituency.”

Forced to move every two weeks, boaters rarely have a postal address in the area they are moored; instead usually having their post delivered to places of work or to long suffering friends. This means that, in the slightly Kafkaesque logic of parliamentary democracy, should boaters run into trouble, MPs can’t offer much help – despite them technically living in the constituency, albeit only temporarily. Although the postal problem can be resolved with an arbitrary local Amazon Locker, it highlights the issue of representation for communities not fixed to a particular area.

Registering to vote is a challenge but not one insurmountable. For anyone with no fixed address, whether they are homeless, living in a boat or part of one of the larger travelling communities, a ‘declaration of local connection’ must be filled out. As you’d expect from the name, this shows the electoral services that an individual has a particular affiliation with a constituency and therefore is warranted to vote as part of that area.

Engagement is another problem entirely. In 2012, a representative for Roma Gypsies in the south of England estimated that as few as 10 per cent of Gypsies or Irish Travellers vote. As with most demographics that have a tendency to avoid the ballot boxes, politicians give little concern for their problems or worse, use them as a target to gain votes.

Campaigns like Operation Traveller Vote are trying to turn this around. As you would expect for the name, the movement aims to encourage traveller communities to register to vote and then turn up on the day. They hope politicians may actually listen to the traveller communities should the 350,000 members around the UK start flexing their democratic muscles.

And although it’s hard to know whether it bears any relation to such campaigns, it’s worth noting that last year’s Labour Manifesto pledged to protect the rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Having no fixed address may make it more difficult to engage democratically, but it’s not impossible. Far trickier is encouraging such communities to vote in a system that has long ignored them. But as soon as political parties start engaging directly in a positive way, just as Labour has begun to do, then there’s no doubt that those who are usually constantly moving will be increasingly heading for the polling stations.



The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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