Cllr Andrew Wood represents the Canary Wharf Ward on Tower Hamlets Council
“No taxation without representation” was the battle cry of the American colonialists as they threw off the British yoke in the 18th Century. But today there are people living and working in the UK who have no right to vote despite paying tax. For citizens of the United States you could argue there is a perverse satisfaction, in that, they should have stayed with the Crown. But increasingly there are citizens of other countries who have made the UK their home, who work, pay taxes, own property here but who are not able to participate in the democratic process.
Currently EU and Commonwealth citizens can vote in our local elections. Usually while out campaigning in my ward, Canary Wharf in East London, the three main groups who fall into the disenfranchised category are from the United States of America, South America, and those from East Asia, especially China.
That will change when we leave the EU at which point some 3.5 per cent of English and Welsh residents (excluding the Irish) may lose the vote. In my ward I estimate that perhaps up to a quarter of residents will be unable to vote for me as a councillor post-Brexit if you include EU and non-Commonwealth citizens. Does that mean they are not deserving of my support or should not have the opportunity to exercise their opinion of the work I do at the ballot box?
Through Brexit we should not disenfranchise existing EU voters but actually we should go a step beyond. Paying council tax should enfranchise you to vote locally whether you are a US, Brazilian or Chinese citizen. It is perverse that we expect people to pay Council tax but have no say in how it is spent. This is not an argument for extending the franchise to national issues as the issues are different. By signalling that EU citizens won’t lose the right to vote locally we send a signal that their contribution is welcome at a time when they are feeling a little unloved.
Given the localism agenda, this is also not just about local council elections anymore but also about referendums on Neighbourhood Plans or the setting up of new parish councils. I have two American citizens who are making a very active contribution to the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan but won’t be able to vote in the referendum.
This would also set a clear example, that we welcome the contribution of citizens from other countries. The additional cost would be minimal and it means all residents can hold their local politicians to account. It would also set an international example as many countries do not involve long standing residents in their political process at all. Given that most foreign residents paying council tax are here to work they should welcome voting for a party dedicated to providing the best local services at affordable levels of council tax. It would also help protect the position of British citizens living in other European countries who are active in local politics in their adopted countries.