Electoral roll 'danger' - Miliband
The loss of hundreds of thousands of names from the electoral register is the Government's "final insult to young people" and a denial of their "sacred democratic rights", Ed Miliband has said .
In a calculated incursion on to Nick Clegg's political home turf in Sheffield, the Labour leader said almost a million people had "fallen off" the electoral roll because of a rush to introduce individual voter registration and accused the Government of betraying young people.
In a speech to students at Sheffield Hallam University - in the next-door constituency to the Deputy Prime Minister's - Mr Miliband said: "This Government has betrayed young people. I'm determined that we do it differently and we will."
He told the audience of mainly students: "There is a clear and present danger that young people will not even have the right to use their voice.
"In the last year, almost one million people have fallen off the electoral register - hundreds of thousands of them young people.
"This is a direct consequence of the Government's decision to ignore the warnings that were made that rushing through new individual voter registration would damage democracy. It has.
"Having broken their promises on tuition fees to young people, having failed to build an economy that works for young people, having short-changed young people's future, this is David Cameron and Nick Clegg's final insult to young people.
"They are sitting by and watching as hundreds of thousands of young people in our country lose their sacred democratic rights. We will not sit by. We will not allow this scandal to happen and no right-thinking person should either."
The allegations drew an angry response from the Lib Dems, who accused Labour of "scaremongering", pointing out that Mr Clegg had secured extra funding to boost registration rates among students and other under-represented groups.
The Government introduced individual voter registration to reduce electoral fraud. Labour says many of the missing voters are young people - in part due to the decision to end the block registration by universities and colleges of students living in halls of residence.
University cities and towns such as Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Brighton and Hull have all seen five-figure falls in the numbers of registered voters, according to Labour, while in London the numbers are down by almost 100,000.
In his speech, Mr Miliband promised to lead a "national mission" to ensure young voters were able to hold the coalition leaders to account on May 7.
He called on the Government, the Electoral Commission, universities and local authorities to take urgent action by the end of the month to ensure that people can get back on the register before the deadline of April 20.
His claims were dismissed by Lib Dem MP Tom Brake who said Mr Clegg had been responsible for securing £10 million of extra funding to support registration by students and other under-represented groups.
He said many of the "missing" student voters would still be on the electoral roll but would have previously been registered twice.
"Labour must have forgotten they began the policy of individual electoral registration while they were in government and still support it in principle," he said.
"Instead of scaremongering, Labour should be working with their own local authorities to ensure that the large amount of money available is spent helping people, particularly students, register to vote."
An Electoral Commission spokesman said: "It has always been known that some areas with large student populations would initially see a fall in the number of students on their register and that extra effort would be needed to ensure as many as possible are on the register before the April 20 deadline.
"Electoral registration officers all have detailed plans in place to target areas with high student populations. This work will continue right up until the registration deadline."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said the move to individual voter registration was necessary to make the electoral system "fit for the 21st century".
"Things are proceeding to plan and nearly 90% of electors have been automatically transferred to the new system without having to do anything," the spokesman said.
"Everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system.
"We're also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register."