First time to the ballot box for voters in Twickenham, Putney and Kingston

Rachel Steinberg
December 11 2019, 20.10

You arrived home and there it wasanother poll card through the letterbox.

It shows a map but you already know you’re headed to the same village hall you where you voted in 2017. And in 2015, for that matter.

Here we go again, you sighed. Didn’t we just do this?

Many of us suffering election fatigue see this as just another campaign.

For others, however, tomorrow will mark a momentous occasion: the day they cast their first votes in a UK General Election.

We spoke to an 18-year-old, a new citizen and a Commonwealth transplant ahead of their trips to the ballot box.


Constituency: Twickenham

Emily Hemsley, 18, will be voting tactically in Twickenham.
Emily Hemsley wants to get Brexit done

Emily Hemsley is worried about fake news.

Though young people are often criticized for spending too much time on social media, Miss Hemsley, 18, is wary of its role during an election.

The journalism student said: “I think social media is quite vital, especially because the parties are trying to reach a younger generation.

“I’ve seen Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn pop up on my Snapchat.

“I understand how beneficial it is to the parties but it’s also dangerous because it’s unregulated.

“I think it’s quite difficult for the everyday person to distinguish what is real and what is not.

Miss Hemsley, who primarily gets her news from the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and Twitter, said she wished her education had left her better-equipped to vote.

She said: “I was taught barely anything in school. I don’t think they fully taught us about all the parties, the actual voting system and how important tactical voting is.

“I would much rather vote based on my local candidates but because Brexit is such an important issue I feel like I have to vote for the prime minister rather than an MP.”

For Ms Hemsley, that means doing something she’d never considered: voting Tory.

She said: “If it wasn’t for their Brexit policy I would be 100% Liberal Democrat which is quite common in my area.

“But I do think we should respect the vote of the people and I’d rather, as Boris Johnson says, get Brexit done than have a hung parliament again.

“It’s important to have your voice heard. You can’t complain unless you vote. You really have to make that decision yourself.”


Constituency: Putney

Architect Sheila Eilenberg will be casting her first vote as a UK citizen in Putney.
Architect Sheila Eilenberg will cast her first General Election vote as a UK citizen

“I’m fighting for my home here,” said Sheila Eilenberg.

Eilenberg, 41, was born in Germany and moved to London with her Turkish now ex-husband in 2007.

He chose to leave the UK after their divorce. She didn’t.

She said: “I knew I was going to stay. This was my home. I wasn’t ready to leave.

“London is a tough city but I want to be here.

“It fills my brain, my heart, my curiosity. I love that it’s in Britain. It’s a beautiful country.”

Ms Eilenberg knew she wanted to apply for citizenship in 2014 but there were far more pressing demands on her time and energy.

She was recovering from the dissolution of her marriage, working as an architect and was pregnant with her five-year-old son.

Ms Eilenberg’s permanent residency application was processing when Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016.

She said: “When the realities came hitting hard I realised I’d made a big mistake not being able to vote and have a say.

“I was angry with myself for not applying sooner.

“By that time I had decided to stay but by then I didn’t have the chance to at least give an opinion.

“Then I started to become angry with the government.”

David Cameron’s Conservatives announced a 25% increase to settlement, residence and nationality fees in January 2016.

Ms Eilenberg said: “The government really has done everything to prevent people like me and others from voting by making it more expensive.”

In March 2018, Ms Eilenberg took her citizenship oath in Wandsworth Town Hall, the same place she got married.

She said: “Where I had my ceremony was actually nicer than where I had the wedding!

“Leavers don’t see you as proper citizens but they’ve never had to go through a formal ceremony like this and swear to god and country in front of the Queen’s portrait and the Mayor of Wandsworth.”

Ms Eilenberg, who is in favour of proportional representation, added: “I’ve heard so many times, ‘Oh, why don’t you go back to Germany if it’s so much better there?’ but that’s not the point.”

She thinks she would probably be a Green voter but said a tactical vote for Labour may be her best chance at another referendum.

Ms Eilenberg said: “When you have all these opportunities and think you may lose them you try everything if you think there is a chance to keep them.”

She is certain of one thing: she’ll be voting for her local MP, not the future occupant of 10 Downing street.

She said: “It’s definitely not about the PM. I don’t want an old man and I don’t want a Tory man. They only think about themselves.”


Constituency: Kingston and Surbiton

Ms Zaltz, 33, feels privileged to have the opportunity to cast a ballot—especially because her partner can’t.

The Canadian, who makes props for film and theatre, moved to London with Guillame, 30, a French citizen, in August 2018.

As a Commonwealth citizen and UK resident Ms Zaltz, who also happens to be a duel citizen, is allowed to vote.

She said: “I’m not sure if I agree that the only expats with the right to vote here should be Commonwealth citizens.

“Either all expats living here for a certain period of time or on certain visas should be able to vote or no expats at all.

“I don’t think centuries-old colonialisation should give us rights that others aren’t afforded.

“Guillame is really disappointed not to be able to vote. We have flatmates who have the right to vote here and may not.

“It seems like a waste that someone as engaged as him isn’t allowed to participate when others can choose not to.

Ms Zaltz, who is Jewish, said her top election issues are climate change, the NHS, immigration, Brexit, and antisemitism.

She feels her politics align most closely with the Green Party’s manifesto but she may not cast her first ballot for Sharron Sumner.

Ms Zaltz said: “I’m in a traditionally Lib Dem constituency but the next closest contender is a Conservative.

“Tactical voting may factor in so I don’t end up with a Tory MP.”

No matter what box she decides to tick, Ms Zaltz looks forward to having her say.

She said: “I think it will feel momentous. I’ve chosen to be part of this society.

“It’s not mine by default, but I’m here now, contributing to the fabric of it and the diversity we have here.

“It will give a feeling of permanence to having moved here.”

She added: “I know people worked exceptionally hard for me as a woman to have the right to vote at all.

“We’re lucky to live in a democracy where we are able to have a say in what our government looks like.

“There are so many people in the world who don’t have that right.”

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