Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Published in Poland

The article below was written by Professor Tim Clapham of Warsaw University, translated into Polish and published in the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a quality broadsheet newspaper.
It is an example of  the influence British people  have with their neighbours.
If the British Government could honour the British Abroad. Then they in turn could exhibit a pride in their relationship with the 'homeland' . Reward would be great for Britain.
The article is written to be read by Polish people.

Give us a vote your Majesty!
What would you think if you heard of a country that deprived its citizens of a vote merely because they have lived outside the national boundary for a certain period of time. For example depriving a Polish citizen living in Berlin of that democratic right because he or she had lived there for fifteen years, That citizen may have retired to Berlin to be close to their children yet their pension may continue to be paid by the Polish government. Perhaps  the citizen fell  in love and moved to Berlin to live with a partner. Perhaps there were no jobs in their part of Poland and they were effectively forced to move. The number of reasons why people may choose to live outside their own country are many and in today’s world it no longer represents a fundamental break with one’s home country.
 Indeed no significant democratic country considers it acceptable to deprive citizens of the fundamental right to elect a Government world purely on the grounds of a citizen living outside the national boundary. Governments have to accept responsible for the rights of their citizens as they  are ultimately responsible for determining that persons status in the world. Or most Europeans would think so. After all what is the difference between living in France or the UK for a UK citizen, it is even easier and quicker to get to London from Paris than it is from Edinburgh to London.
Oh Dear, It’s the Brits Again
There is however an exception and that is the United Kingdom. A country that boasts of its democratic credentials, contains the mother of Parliaments, has a rather nice Queen and very good beer ( now that proves I am English through and through,  what other nationality likes warm bitter beer with no bubbles).  Yet next year I will deprived of the vote as I will have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years. I should mention that I pay taxes and pension contributions  to  the UK, I will receive a UK pension, I have close  family living in England (sons and grandchildren if you are interested), I have economically contributed to the UK in very many ways over the years. And of course many aspects of my life are controlled or influenced by decisions of whatever bunch of politicians control Parliament. Inheritance, decisions to go to war, access to health care, divorce, bank accounts, financial services, travel rights and so on and so on.
Last week one of the indomitable fighters for the right to vote Margaret Hales visited Warsaw drumming up support for a campaign to secure full rights for British citizens abroad (www.votes-for-expat-brits.com). Margaret Hales MBE (just in case you thought that the British Empire was history, that tag means Member of the Order of the British Empire) received the honour for public service in that part of the Empire known as Milton Keynes which is a new town just outside London. , She and her husband decided to retire to Spain and would you believe she will now be deprived of a vote, so even the favour of the Queen doesn’t stop you being deprived of a fundamental democratic right.
The Charm of Royalty
Incidentally Margaret told us a rather amusing story about the time she received the Honour. She and other recipients were in the rather fine art gallery in Buckingham Palace prior to receiving their award. They were addressed by a flunkey wearing metres of gold braid who informed them of the protocol such as what to call the various royals who would be present etc. It was around the time of the Charles, Diana imbroglio and the country had taken sides those for Charles and those for Diana. They were informed that Prince Charles was doing the honours . In front of Margaret was a rather strong willed female peace fighter from Northern Ireland who, on hearing  that Prince Charles would be honouring the recipients, went ballistic threatening to reject the award , tell Prince Charles what was what etc. She was calmed down, went in to receive her honour  and came out of the ceremony a changed person telling everybody just what a charming, thought and lovely man he was. Clearly they have some magical Royal dust to sprinkle around at such times.
Ignoring the disenfranchised voteless
But back to the fundamental  injustice being perpetrated by the UK. There are over 5 million British borne citizens around the world with some 1.5 million in Europe. Now not all will necessarily want to have a continuing relationship with the UK but all will be disenfranchised citizens after fifteen years unless they decide to adopt the nationality of their host Country. It places British citizens in a dilemma which is normally resolved by their ignoring their loss of political rights rather than adopt a new nationality.   In a globalising world therefore we have a growing number of citizens of a democratic county without a vote.
This is not acceptable and it is not purely an academic issue. The lack of political rights means that the interests of millions of people are being ignored.  In a couple of years there will be a referendum as to whether the UK will stay in or leave the EU. Many of the 1.5 million will have no say in something that is of vital concern to them and their families. The present government is currently attacking the rights of overseas British citizens to receive a winter fuel payment (it was an indirect way of increasing what is one of Europe’s lowest state pensions) they are also attacking the health arrangements for those citizens. It is worth remembering that many Brits like to retire to Europe after a lifetime in the UK as their pensions can go further and they represent a net saving for the British Health and Social security systems. Yet this and the significant contribution of UK citizens abroad to the UK economy can  be safely ignored by our British politicians as those overseas citizens are politically voiceless.
It need not be the case. French overseas citizens even have direct Parliamentary  representation and a number of other EU states are set to follow this route. Even Poland may face this demand in the not distant future. It’s a logical corollary to the free movement of citizens in the EU and the fluid global world in which we now live. For effective democracy a precondition  has to be the right to vote wherever you live and however long you have been there.
So my Polish readers the next time you hear a British politician talking about democratic rights and the importance of free and fair elections in some unfortunate part of the world agree, but remember to put some decent perfume on your handkerchief to obscure the stench of hypocrisy.
And so back to Margaret MBE who is fighting the good fight to secure the vote for all of us Brits abroad. She is following in the noble tradition of her ancestor Emile Pankhurst. Over one hundred years ago Ms Pankhurst fought to secure the vote for women. It is fitting that her descendent continues the fight this time for British citizens abroad. And it will be equally successful because the right to vote is fundamental for any country that considers itself a democracy. Good luck with the campaign Margaret.

Tim Clapham  14th October 2013

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