I have just returned from a couple of hours at a polling station for
today’s Polish elections at the Polish Cultural Centre (or POSK) in
Hammersmith (I’m pictured with its Chairman, Dr Olgierd Lalko).
The Poles at the polls – if you excuse the pun – are rather an amazing
sight. The queue at around 3pm was two hours long, despite polls having
been open since 6am. A carnival atmosphere was starting to take hold,
with plenty of media interest from Poland and from the UK, with BBC
London and News24 each sending teams. A walk through Ravenscourt Park
would make you think you were in Lazienki in Warsaw!
Today’s Polish election is quite important for Britain and for the
Conservative Party. The Poles are key partners for us in Europe, and
represent one of a group of Central and Eastern European countries that
warm to our vision of a grouping of sovereign nation states freely
trading and co-operating with each other. There may even be future
partners for us in our new MER Group in the European Parliament.
The election is also important here in our domestic politics. 431,000 Polish nationals have come to the UK since EU accession in 2004. Many have since returned, but Poles represent a substantial part of the population in many parts of the UK. The highest percentage concentrations are in Ealing and in Hammersmith & Fulham. Due to Labour’s inability to count people entering (or exiting) the country, nobody really knows for sure, but National Insurance number registrations seem to imply that around 6% of my constituency are now Polish nationals.
At POSK in Hammersmith today there were 8,500 registered electors for the Polish election – that’s around 1 for every 9 of my total constituents! Across the UK, there are 17 times as many registered for this Polish election than for the one in 2005.
In the space of about an hour, I handed out around 2,000 leaflets advertising my services, and telling people about the Conservative Party, and doing interviews for Polish and UK TV. Although Polish nationals cannot vote in elections to the House of Commons, they can vote in local Council elections and in next year’s London Mayoral elections. Nobody would expect there to be a huge turnout of Poles next year, but if today’s experience is anything to go by, even half of them showing up to vote makes them a crucial part of the electorate for Boris Johnson.
The first exit polls are due to be released at 6.20 pm tonight, but full results may not be known until Monday or Tuesday.
I first went to Poland in 1985, at a time when voting, such as it was, was pointless – only Government approved candidates (all allied to the Communist Party) were allowed to stand. Today’s sight of thousands of Poles – overwhelmingly young people – queuing up to cast their vote reminded me of how much has changed. Ronald Reagan – who has streets named after him in Poland – once said that "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." Seeing today’s display made one feel that young Poles know this better than many of our own young people.