By Brett Gibbons

EX-PATS are being given a unique opportunity to learn about the benefits of registering to vote in UK general and European elections in a specially-arranged rally in Palmanova tomorrow.

Tory Party chairman Eric Pickles MP is the guest of Majorca's Conservatives Abroad branch, and he will chair the rally at the resort's Agua Beach Hotel, beginning at 1pm. Mr Pickles will be joined by Lesley Taylor, the party's international branch director, who will monitor the effectiveness of the event before deciding whether to stage similar rallies across the globe.

She commented: “It's a great opportunity for the people of Majorca to come along and find out how their vote can make a difference. “People don't lose interest in their home country when they 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,” added Lesley, who works as a volunteer from the Tories' Millbank HQ in London.

Conservatives Abroad was established over 20 years ago in an attempt to try to 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 ranches operating in 21 countries around the world.
As 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 Conservative Central Office as well as being a nucleus for organising social events at which MPs and MEPs are invited as guest speakers.

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

Lesley said: “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 is our primary vehicle to reach out to the missing 2.4 million, to encourage them to vote,” said Lesley.

Her views were echoed by Peter Newey, chairman of the Majorca branch of Conservatives Abroad. He commented: “They are not all Conservatives, but some 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.

Peter said the different branches of the group, stretching from the Far east to the Spanish Costas all had differing ideals and needs.
He said: “It's a real kaleidoscope of people - put together they make Conservatives Abroad. It's not just ex-pats who are members, but different branches cater for members of the armed forces, civil servants and other mainly professional people living and working abroad. “It's an honour for Majorca that the party has chosen us to stage the first rally to see if it is viable to organise them for different branches around the world. There has not been a rally like this before and it's a platform for the organisation. “The visit of the party chairman is a real honour for Majorca,” explained Peter, who stressed that tomorrow's event was a nonpartisan information event for all British residents. Conservatives Abroad has also recently launched two websites aimed at spreading information about the voting rights of ex-pats. They are www.dontleaveyourvoteathome.com and www.conservativesabroad.org. “Something has to be done to simplify the process of voting abroad,” added Peter. “The present government has altered the regulations regarding ex-pats' votes. Why is it not possible to replicate the process used in America, where people can vote by post from around the globe?”