Beeston Civic Society members embrace optimismLike Nick Palmer (to name drop), I went to the Beeston Civic Society meeting on Friday and came away pleasantly surprised by how positive the occasion had been, given the hundred or so present were, for the most part, oldies like me. It had been my intention to write a few words, but I will redirect you to Nick's blog instead at: http://www.nickpalmer.org.uk/beeston-the-new-deal-developing/.
The meeting was about the next five years and one of the suggestions made was that consideration should be given to re-locating the Bandstand presently located in Dovecote Lane Recreation Ground in The Square, so I went in search of an image to remind folk of what the bandstand looks like and found this photograph by Roger Templeman.
This led to a short discussion about whether a 21st century bandstand type structure might be more in keeping with The Square once its makeover was complete. I rather like the idea of a public space where live music can be performed, but for Beestonians and visitors to enjoy the experience fully I suspect such a facility should have pubs and cafés where people and sit and listen. Unfortunately, The Square does not offer that beyond the new Costa coffe bar, although Birds and The Last Post are within sight.
One aspect of Beeston town centre which went unmentioned was its pubs and cafés. As a newcomer, I am convinced that this is an area which offers great potential when it comes to attracting visitors.
Proving I'm me after 50 years if I want to keep my vote
On moving to Beeston in November 2014 one of the first things Susan (my wife) and I did was register to vote, so we filled in the new online forms which now want your National Insurance No. and date of birth as well as your address, Enough personal information to by any measure, given that you do not, as far as I know, have to de-register your vote when moving (especially when a good few people, especially young voters, register at two addresses in different parts of the UK).
We believe voting is very important and that, ideally, it is something we should do in person at a polling station. Postal votes should not be so easy to obtain, as they are open to abuse by candidates and their agents (this abuse is well documented). 'e-votes' are also suspect.
I first registered to vote in 1965 when I was 21, by which time I had been politically active for six years as a Young Socialist. In the years since I have been a councillor for thirteen years and a election agent on more occasions than I can remember, so it came as a surprise yesterday to learn that before I can vote in May 2015 I will have to prove who I say I am — a question I have never been asked once during the fifty years I have registered to vote!
The letter dated 8 January 2015 from Ruth Hyde OBE, Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer for Broxtowe Borough Council says 'I have not been able to process your application because I have not been able to confirm your identity' and goes onto explain why this may be the case.
In other words my NI No., which I have had since 1959 and my date of birth must be suspect in some way, which I find worrying. Is someone else out there using my identity?
The letter from Ms Hyde is perfectly reasonable as one would expect from a ERO. In my considerable experience over nearly fifty years (Harrow, Birmingham, Mansfield and Nottingham, now Broxtowe) EROs have been unfailingly helpful and I am sure that this letter is prompted by the new 2014 voter registration system, which means we have to register as individuals and not via annual property/household returns.
The old system, for the most part, worked. There were problems which living in Lenton, with its large number of student residents, one could not help but be aware of. The old system did allow names to be added up until days before an election (once, in earlier times, this was not the case) and I am in no doubt that the new system, which has caught me in its net, was designed to make registering to vote harder and that this was a politically motivated decision by the Tories and their Liberal partners in the Coalition Government.
As it happens I should have a new driving licence in the next week or so with my new address and a photograph of me, so I can take this to the Council offices in Beeston to prove my identity after fifty years!
If you do not have a passport or a modern driving licence which includes a photograph then proving who you are becomes much more difficult. These extra checks remind me of the criminal checks procedure now in place for volunteers and there will be people who will have difficulty proving who they are.
The homepage on Broxtowe Borough Council's website does not show any box/direct link to 'Registering to vote'. I found a link at: http://www.broxtowe.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=597 by typing 'voter registration' into the search box on the homepage.
Nor does the page on 'Individual Voter Registration' prepare you for the fact that you might be further asked to prove your identity, especially when your application now has to include you National Insurance No.
I am sure this failure is an oversight on the part of Broxtowe Borough Council and now that I am drawing their attention to the problem they will be adding a 'Registering to vote' box/direct link to their homepage in the next few days.
The Coalition Government might not want individuals to register, but I cannot believe this applies to Broxtowe Borough Council.
I suspect that there will be would-be voters receiving the letter I received yesterday who will simply do nothing. I wonder how many letters have been sent out like the one I received and how many have yet to complete the voter registration process?
One thing I am sure of is that Cameron and Clegg will not take my vote from me, despite their best efforts to make the process difficult. After 50 years of being a registered voter this is what democracy has come to — me having to prove who I am despite being born, educated and working in England all my 70 years.
They may already be a 'Your right to vote' campaign/group in Beeston. One thing is sure I will be drawing attention to my experience so as to encourage everyone to register as a voter and not to be deterred if they get a letter like the one I received yesterday!