How to… get involved in the general election

The general election has been called for 4 July. David Arnold and Aimy Saunders talk through the ways UNISON members and activists can get involved – and shape the future

                                                                                                                        Image: iStock

With the polls showing consistent double digit Labour leads, many might conclude that the outcome of the forthcoming UK general election is a forgone conclusion.

Unfortunately, it is not. Evidence shows that the more people assume the outcome of an election is guaranteed, the less likely they are to go out and vote. Added to this, we live in a period of political volatility and voter apathy.

In this context, it’s easy to imagine lots of voters changing their minds ­– or staying at home.

So, there is no room for complacency. Although UNISON members and activists can’t singlehandedly swing the election, one way or another we can all play our part in ensuring that the Conservative government that gave us austerity and the biggest fall in living standards since records began is removed from office.

We need as many members and activists to take part in the campaign as possible. Here are the main things that you can do, to get involved.

Volunteer to help the Labour Party

The only way to get rid of the Tories is for Labour to win seats and gain power. UNISON is affiliated to the Labour Party and, through Labour Link, the union has campaigned for policy commitments that would directly benefit UNISON members.

The work undertaken by Labour Link and other affiliated trade unions has helped to develop Labour’s New Deal for Working People. In addition, the party has committed to addressing the challenges faced by the NHS and creating a national care service, which would transform the lives of millions of people, as well as dramatically improving the careers and fortunes of workers delivering vital support.

How to volunteer

Labour will fight in every constituency in England, Wales and Scotland, so it is easy to volunteer locally via your Constituency Labour Party (CLP). You can approach the CLP directly, if you know how to find it.

Alternatively, there will be someone in your branch, possibly your Labour Link officer, or a regional organiser, who can help. You can also find out about how to volunteer for the Labour Party online.

Volunteering to help the Labour Party can seem daunting for someone who hasn’t been involved before. But UNISON members will be made to feel welcome and supported.

Support HOPE not hate

The rise of right-wing populism, the continued presence of Britain First and the British Democrats in some areas and the emergence of the Reform Party show that we must remain vigilant against the politics of hate.

HOPE not hate plays an important role during elections. They compile valuable information on the words and actions of notable candidates from across the far right and radical right, and hold them to account.

They have successfully targeted Britain First, British Democrats and BNP candidates in previous elections.

And they plan to undertake lots more campaigning during the general election.

If you want to volunteer with HOPE not hate in your own time, contact them directly.

Ensure you, your work colleagues, friends and family are vote ready

Are your friends, work colleagues and family members planning to vote? Are they registered? Do they vote by post? Do they know about the new voter ID requirements? There is only one way to find out: ask them.

Just asking the question can encourage people to vote. It’s also a great conversation starter about the issues at stake at this election, for public services and workers rights.

Registering to vote

In the UK it is not necessary to re-register to vote at every election. However, people who have moved since the last election, including young people who have been away studying, will be required to register.

This can be done online with your national insurance number, or by writing to your council’s electoral registration office:

The deadline for registering to vote is 11:59pm on Tuesday 18 June. 

Postal voting

Work and caring responsibilities could make it difficult to get to the polling station on election day. By applying for a postal vote, you can make your vote count even if you can’t make it to the polls in person.

Once you are registered to vote you can request a postal vote online.

The deadline for applying for a postal vote is 5pm on Wednesday 19 June.

Why are postal votes so important?

Postal voting increases the likelihood that people will actually vote. Evidence shows an increase in turnout among people registered for a postal vote.

Postal votes also make voting easier:

  • Flexibility. You can vote at a time that suits you, avoiding the hassle of queues or last-minute conflicts
  • No voter ID. Avoid the worry of being unable to find your driving licence or forgetting your passport on election day.

New voter ID requirements

Voters now need to show photo ID in order to vote in person.

There are 22 forms of ID that are deemed acceptable, including passports and driving licences. But some, like student ID cards and young persons rail cards are not. You can check here.

Anyone registered to vote without the correct ID – or who no longer looks like their photo – can apply here for a free document known as a voter authority certificate.

The deadline for applying for a voter authority certificate is 5pm on Wednesday 26 June.

Although UNISON hopes to see this unnecessary measure scrapped, it’s important to take ID with us when voting in person – and to ensure everyone we know is aware of this new requirement.

Compliance with the law

UNISON spending on politics-related campaign activity is tightly regulated by government legislation. The amount of money that the union can spend on the campaign, as a non-party campaigner, is capped, and must come from the union’s political fund.

Therefore, it’s important that regions, branches, SOGs etc. DO NOT:

  • hold public rallies (including events where UNISON would be a partner or sponsor)
  • brand election-related campaigns as part of campaign coalitions
  • pay for staff time related to election campaigning
  • produce any of their own materials related to the election (these can only be paid for from the political fund)
  • make any donations to the Labour Party or any other organisation campaigning during the election campaign.

The good news is that any volunteering undertaken as a citizen in your own time does not count under the legislation. Similarly, materials that you order that have been produced by UNISON nationally, for engaging with UNISON members, do not count.

If you volunteer with Labour or Hope not hate, materials you use will already be accounted for by them. If in doubt, please get in touch:

Social media

Any branches that post anything election related on their social accounts must include the following imprint in the account bio:

UNISON – the UK’s largest union. Need support? Call 0800 0857 857. Promoted by UNISON, 130 Euston Road, NW1 2AY.

For more information visit the Labour Link site.

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