Are the Tories introducing draconian measures to disenfranchise the opposition?
by Matt Coot
In 2017, Theresa May called a snap election, which nobody really wanted, in an attempt to strengthen her power with a larger majority in Government. Of course, this didn’t quite work out, as the Tories lost seats and could only stay in government by undertaking a controversial deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). During this election, which saw almost 45 million votes being cast, there were 28 allegations of someone having lied about their identity at a polling station. However, it was found that only one of these allegations led to a prosecution. Just one person was found guilty of electoral fraud. One out of forty five million. So, why exactly are the Tories introducing “draconian” measures for voter identification?
The Electoral Commission had carried out investigations into electoral fraud in 2017, and had concluded that “based on data” that there was “no evidence of any large-scale cases of proven electoral fraud”. So, again, I ask the question: why exactly are Tories tightening voter identification measures?
The Tories want all voters to provide photographic ID when they go to the polling stations to vote. No longer will it be acceptable to turn up and state your name and address. No longer will it be okay to show your polling card to those working at the polling station. Under these new measures, you would have to show photographic ID.
Let’s consider some data to see if we can understand why the Tories are introducing these changes:
11 million people do not have a passport or driving license. For the June 2017 snap election, the electoral register had an estimated 46.8 million people registered (information from the Electoral Commission). That would mean that almost a quarter of those registered wouldn’t be able to provide official photographic ID. In other words, a quarter of the electorate would be disenfranchised, they would not be able to vote. It is also thought that if any photographic ID was acceptable, it would still disenfranchise 7.5% of the electorate.
Who will this most severely impact?
- The poorer in society. We have even greater numbers of people living in poverty in the UK, and that number keeps on growing under the Tory government. A great number of those living in poverty are also in work. Yet, despite earning an income, these families living in poverty cannot afford to go on foreign holidays, so they don’t have passports. Those who don’t drive don’t have driving licenses. In 2013/2014, there was data to show that 1.7 million people didn’t have a bank account. So, even though there’s the option of providing a number of non-photographic forms of ID, for the poorest, this isn’t possible.
- Young voters. When you turn 18, you can vote. You can join in and have a voice in our democracy. But with the introduction of these voter identification measures, it will severely impact the turnout from young voters. Evidence provided from studies carried out in countries where voter ID measures were already used show that engagement of young voters, particularly those from minority groups, were disproportionately affected.
- BME voters. Many studies and investigations into the disproportionate affect that voter identification measures have on different groups in society, in those countries that already enforce voter identification, already show lower turnout from black and minority ethnic voters. It is feared that the same thing will happen when these draconian measures are introduced in the UK.
- Older voters. The 2011 census showed that 30% of people aged over 65, and an even greater number of 54% of people aged over 85, do not own a passport. As for driving licenses, 48% of those aged over 70 years do not own one. The requirement of photographic ID will be a massive barrier to the older generations.
Can this information provide us with possible reasons as to why the Tory government is introducing unnecessary and over-the-top measures? Perhaps we should consider some more data:
- 64% of registered voters aged 18-24 voted during the snap election of 2017. This was the highest youth turnout for 25 years. 60% of these young voters (aged between 18 and 24) voted for Labour. In fact, statistics show that Labour was most popular amongst those aged under 45.
- 73% of black and minority Ethnic (BME) voters supported Labour in 2017. Support for the Tories amongst BME voters fell.
- The high turnout for the 2017 election was mainly pushed up by young people and BME voters. Those additional voters, who didn’t vote in 2015 but did in 2017, mainly voted for Labour.
So already, with just a few statistics, we can see a reason why the Tories would want to disenfranchise young and BME voters. These are voters who do not support them, but support the opposition. Could it be as simple as this? The Tories are scared of losing the next election, so they introduce new measures that aren’t needed and will disenfranchise those who would vote against them. Where have I heard of this sort of strategy before? While I consider that, I’ll continue looking at some more data.
- Five million more people are living in poverty today than in 2010. That’s five million more that before the Tories took over the government.
- There’s been a 40% increase in children of public sector workers living in poverty. Public sector workers who have seen cuts to their sector, pay freezes, and, when there has been pay rises, these have been below inflation. In fact, those working in the public sector and needing to rely on charity handouts to make ends meet – i.e. to survive – has rocketed under the Tory government.
So it seems the poorest in society have some pretty good reasons for not wanting the Tory government to continue making their lives hell. This might be one of the motives behind the Tories wanting to introduce these new measures. Again, a simple strategy of cutting out the ability to vote of those who oppose them. I’m sure I’ve heard of this strategy being used by a political group at some stage in history. I’m going to have to think about this a little bit more.
- 61% of over 65 year old voters wanted to leave the European Union during the Brexit vote.
- People over 50 years old were more likely to vote Conservative during the 2017 snap election.
These statistics make it look like the Tories would be shooting themselves in the foot if they were to make voting difficult for the older generations. It seems their support base, amongst those aged over 50, is pretty strong. I must be wrong about the Tories only introducing these measures for their own gain.
Then again, the Tories know they can’t get a good enough Brexit deal going to satisfy all those who voted to leave. Also, the uncertainty of Brexit; the criticisms that the Tory government are facing; and the feeling that Brexit isn’t going to mean Brexit anymore, all of this could be adding up to a big let down to the older voters.
It is also worth mentioning that many of the older generations are also being let down by the Tories with regards to social care and the NHS.
Could it be that those older voters who supported the Tories might be disillusioned come the next election?
Could it be that the Tories are disenfranchising those who will vote for their opposing parties in the next election? And if they are, isn’t this repeating a part of history that we all agree should never be repeated?
In 1935, Nazi ideology became law when Adolph Hitler announced, what would become known as, the Nuremberg Race Laws. Among these laws were those that disenfranchised Jews, depriving them of their political rights. This was extended two months later to include other groups who were “racially suspect” to the Nazis.
This wasn’t the first time in history that people were disenfranchised. In fact, Hitler had been inspired by the Jim Crow laws of the United States of America. Between 1890 and 1905, every southern state in the USA passed laws to prevent African Americans from voting.
Am I comparing the Conservative government to Nazi Germany? No. Not yet. But I am saying that disenfranchisement of any kind has always been a bad thing. Democracy should be open to all, and restricting anyone’s right to vote is wrong. These new voting measures could be positive and being done in good faith, but when there’s so little reason for it, and when the experts are saying it will disenfranchise so many, then I’m afraid I doubt the good intentions and instead fear the worst. Could this be the death of democracy? I sincerely hope it isn’t.