BAFF member Douglas Young's paper Silence in the Ranks was produced on behalf of the 2005 Service Voting campaign, and helped to bring about important changes to electoral legislation and official attitudes affecting service personnel and their partners.
Young was also a member of the Service Voting Working Group formed by the Ministry of Justice for the 2010 General Election. The Working Group supported, as being the best which could be put in place in time for the General Election, special arrangements for electoral registration and voting by deployed personnel in Afghanistan.
Several founding members of the British Armed Forces Federation had been instrumental in the politically-neutral campaign to encourage Forces personnel and their families to register and vote in the 2005 General Election. The campaign was centred on the unofficial 'Army Rumour Service' website, which continues to carry news, information and debate about service voting - often contributed by BAFF.
- Army Rumour Service: Service Voting - Op STEEL VOTE 2010
Influence on the movement for establishment of a recognised Armed Forces Federation
While there is no suggestion that all supporters of the service voting campaign would necessarily agree with the Armed Forces Federation concept, the campaign was very significant in showing how service personnel of different ranks and experiences could work together on a responsible, innovative and effective campaign.
'Silence in the Ranks' concluded:
We would be happy also to contribute to a wider debate about the representation of the armed forces community and its relationship with the democratic system.
The service voting campaign in Parliament
There was one beacon of light in all this: there was an unofficial, if somewhat irreverent, website called the "Army Rumour Service", where volunteers posted information to encourage servicemen to register to vote and to get out and vote. This was done in a totally non-partisan way, and links were made to all the electoral registration offices so that registering could be done on a voluntary basis. That is the kind of thing that the MOD should have been doing.
The real hero, however, has been a retired Army officer called Douglas Young, the author of a report called Silence in the Ranks. He used the power of the internet through the Army Rumour Service network to identify the scale of the problem, and he gave helpful advice to servicemen and servicewomen on that website, so we got a better response in 2005 than we would have done otherwise. He also spotted errors in the official information on MOD and local authority websites, and he mounted the campaign to right what we have all agreed is a wrong. The chain of command has not come out of this with distinction, having shown a reluctance to tackle the problem. It is perhaps scarcely surprising that this week has also seen the launch of the British Armed Forces Federation.
His great legacy is the Electoral Administration Bill, for which he secured cross-party support to overcome, in the face of dogged Ministry of Defence opposition, the problems of registration and voting for members of the armed forces and their partners.
House of Commons Library
Armed Forces voting (18 pages; PDF). Research Briefing: SN04276, version of 17 November 2015.
3.2 ‘Silence in the Ranks’: paper published by the Army Rumour Service website
In September 2005 a paper was published by the Army Rumour Service website about the problem of under-registration amongst the armed forces. Silence in the Ranks, "an analysis of factors inhibiting electoral participation by HM Forces personnel and their families in the General Election of May 2005, with recommendations on the way forward" was submitted to the Electoral Commission, the Ministry of Defence and the then Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The Army Rumour Service drew attention to the lack of accurate information available to the armed forces about how they could register to vote in time to participate in the general election and had revealed that ‘the Electoral Commission leaflets which were intended to be circulated in early February 2005 did not actually reach any service personnel until the week beginning 4 March 2005. Many personnel did not see it – if at all – until after the registration deadline on 11 March.
The Army Rumour Service also found that some local authority websites contained out of date information or no specific information for service voters and that the Ministry of Defence website did not have adequate information about registration and voting options for members of the services and their spouses. ...
Silence in the Ranks and the Service Voting campaign feature at pages 7-8 of the House of Commons Library document.
More external links (as accessed 2010)
- Wikipedia - Air Marshal Tim Garden, Lord Garden
- Wikipedia - Electoral Administration Act 2006
- Army Rumour Service - The Service Voting 'sticky'
Do Politics - How to encourage members of the Armed Forces and their families to register to vote. This section of the Electoral Commission's 'Do Politics' website is aimed at local government Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and suggests methods of encouraging service personnel and their families to register to vote
Subordinate legislation which extended the duration of service voter registration from 12 months to 3 years - The Service Voters' Registration Period Order 2006 (UPDATE: the duration of service voter registration has been further extended to 5 years. This only works if the Electoral Registration Office has an up-to-date address to send voting papers to. The extended period doesn't apply to those who are eligible to register as service voters, but choose to register as ordinary voters like other citizens.)