Fears that more than two million will be disenfranchised
When a senior Tory, along with opposition MPs, social liberty groups and equality campaigners line up to condemn a scheme that could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters, more than a hint of Machiavellian activity lingers in the air.
The controversial plan to make photo identification compulsory at future UK elections was introduced in the Queen’s Speech and swiftly described by Labour’s David Lammy as a “cynical and ugly attempt to rig the system to disempower the poorest and most marginalised groups.” Mr Lammy, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said that in the 2019 election there was just one conviction for voter fraud and added that more than three million British citizens do not have photo ID. And former Tory Cabinet Minister, David Davis, called the move an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem,” and urged the Government to drop its “pointless proposals”.
The move to make photo identification mandatory for voting has been denounced by others as an act of voter suppression, with opponents claiming that working class and ethnic minority groups are less likely than others to have photo ID. Jess Garland of the Electoral Reform Society said it was an “unnecessary barrier to democratic participation,” whilst Sam Grant of Liberty saidthat instead of creating barriers to voting, ministers should focus on “making it easier for everyone to vote”.
The message from Downing Street was that this was a “reasonable approach”, with Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution, saying it was designed to “stamp out” fraud and “strengthen the integrity of our elections”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson fully supports the scheme, despite previously voting against ID cards. And in a newspaper column back in 2004, he wrote that if he was ever asked “on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence of that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and when I am simply ambling along and breathing God’s fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded I produce it.”
The Government plans to have the scheme in operation in time for the next general election, when presumably Johnson will be eating his photo ID – or his words.
What our surveys show
We asked our readers how big a problem voter fraud had been in recent UK elections, and a mere 9% reckoned it had been a significant problem, with a further 22% saying that it had been a minor problem. But more than half of those taking part in this survey, 57%, said it was either a negligible or a non-existent problem, with the remaining 12% saying they don’t know.
However, when we asked if those surveyed agree or disagree with the Government proposal announced in last month’s Queen’s Speech to introduce mandatory photo identification in order to vote in UK elections, we saw a different picture. Overall, a small majority, 52%, agree with the proposal, with 38% being against it and 10% saying they don’t know. But as we have seen previously with a number of current issues, the overall figure masks a significant difference in opinion between Leave and Remain voters. Broken down between the two, 72% of Leavers support the Government’s move but only 32% of Remainers do. And more Remainers, 55%, disagree with the plan, while only 21% of Leavers feel the same way.