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Michael Rutt: What is Conservatives Abroad?

Conservatives_abroad Michael Rutt is Operations Director of Conservatives Abroad.

Many people have asked me what Conservatives Abroad is. Answer: It is the Conservative Party’s best kept secret! Let me explain.

Conservatives Abroad was established over 20 years ago in an attempt to try and help expats living throughout the world continue to participate in British politics. The 1992 election saw the pinnacle of Conservatives Abroad’s history, with the expat vote recognised as helping the party win a number of marginal seats.

Conservatives Abroad operates a branch structure with 35 active branches operating in 21 countries around the world. With each branch having around 40 members, there are about 1400 members of Conservatives Abroad, a number that is rising. As more and more people choose to live and work abroad, this number will continue to increase. The branches act as a distribution centre to their members for information originating from CCHQ as well as being a nucleus for organising social event at which MPs and MEPs are invited as guest speakers.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. 2.5 million ex-pats live abroad with the right to vote in UK elections. Only 17,500 registered to do so at the 2005 election.

When Gary Streeter was appointed as chair of our International Office, he quickly recognised the untapped potential of this organisation. We now have a target to go after the missing 2.4 million. This year has seen the organisation re-invigorated through greater funding which has allowed us to set up two new websites. Firstly, we have re-branded and re-designed the Conservatives Abroad website. The main aim of the website is for it to become a forum for like-minded individuals, wherever they may be in the world, to exchange thoughts and opinions with one-another. To this end, the Conservatives Abroad website contains a number of blogs and message boards. The site also aims to keep members up to date with developments in London, and contains a guest blog, and video and audio interviews with MPs and Peers.

We have also set up a voter registration website, Don’t Leave Your Vote At Home. This is our primary vehicle to reach out to the missing 2.4 million, to encourage them to vote. They are not all Conservatives, but many of them will be. Each year, another 200,000 people leave the UK to live abroad. They also are in our sights.  The potential effect of the overseas vote in the next election is huge.

Any British citizen, who is over 18, and has been on a UK electoral register within the last 15 years can register to vote in UK General and European elections from overseas (this information can be found on the Don’t Leave Your Vote At Home website).

Often the question of who can vote from overseas is followed by why would they want to vote from overseas?; or why should they be allowed to vote from overseas?

Francis Maude summed up the answer to these questions in a recent interview on the BBC website:

“You don't lose interest in your home country when you move abroad. They've got family back home, and many of them will have financial interests at home, and draw their pension from Britain. So there are many reasons, other than the merely emotional, for people continuing to take an interest in affairs back home, who should be entitled to express a view."

Spread the word: ex-pats, we want your support.

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