On the 5th May this year local elections were held across the UK, which resulted in a large Conservative defeat. Over 1000 councillors were lost, as were 48 councils. This was in spite of a brand new requirement for photographic voter ID, which in my opinion was a shameful USA-style attempt at voter suppression, despite the claim it was intended to tackle voter fraud.
Voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the UK, with only 1 court case in the whole of 2022. Why was the government suddenly so keen to tackle this non-existent problem? Did it have anything to do with their worry over local elections widely regarded as a barometer of the next General Election? At best, the Voter Identification Regulations 2022, as the policy is formally known, are a misguided ‘solution in search of a problem’ with side-effects far greater than any supposed benefits. At worst, the policy is a deliberate attempt to damage democracy in the UK by preventing those without photo ID, disproportionately poorer, younger voters who tend to be anti-Conservative, from voting. If the former then it is a significant act of negligence, since the UK Electoral Commission estimated up to 3.5 million people do not have suitable ID. If the latter, then it is an egregious subversion of the right to suffrage, which I cannot help but think was inspired by the Republicans’ championing of the same measure. In the USA, the issue of photo ID in the modern day bears uncomfortable similarities with the literacy tests and poll taxes used to unfairly penalise black Americans in the Civil Rights period.
One thing is for sure, the requirement for photo ID is a backwards step for democracy in this country. It also undermines our championing of democracy worldwide – how can we champion something we ourselves are rolling back? The principle of “Don’t throw stones in glass houses” may well be thrown back in our faces. Finally, it is against the best traditions of conservatism. It must be remembered that the Reform Act 1867, which doubled the electorate from one to two million to include poorer workingmen who rented, was passed by a Conservative government. Today the great project of electoral reform is still unfinished. Our system of First Past The Post denies millions living in safe seats a true choice of representatives. Instead of taking the backward step of making it harder for citizens to vote, Conservatives should take a bold step forward, and introduce Proportional Representation.