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Polling station

Polling station. Photo: secretlondon123 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

Boris Johnson plans to use Trump-style voter suppression as part of his desperate bid to cling to power, writes Sean Ledwith

Amid all the media tumult surrounding the Downing Street parties, the Tories took the opportunity to slide through, below the radar, a devious piece of legislation designed to tighten their grip on power. This week MPs voted 325 against 234 to back the third reading of the Elections Bill which will require voters to show an approved form of photo identification before they can collect their ballot paper at the polling station. Intended to be in place from 2025, the new scheme will apply to all general and local elections in the UK.

Chicanery

Such is their unseemly haste to get this blatant piece of electoral chicanery onto the statue books, the government rigged the parliamentary process. The report stage of the legislative process was slashed to two hours and twenty minutes and the third reading stage was curtailed with an unusual 10 pm cut-off point. The devolved governments of the UK have rightly smelt a Tory rat and stated the ID requirement will not apply in elections to the national assemblies in Wales or Scotland.

Despite centuries of parliamentary democracy, no previous government has deemed such a reform of the system necessary. The Tories also probably know in private that it is an utter superfluous issue, but it suits them to go down this path as they confront what is likely to be a growing wave of resistance to the confluence of crises they are inflicting on the country.

Republican playbook

This insidious form of voter suppression has become an endemic problem in American politics over recent decades, as Republican-controlled state legislatures have moved to deter predominantly African American communities from participating in the electoral process. All the evidence from the US indicates that requiring voters to bring ID has the effect of excluding marginalised groups who are, unsurprisingly, unlikely to vote for right-wing parties.

Those with severe disabilities, those lacking educational qualifications, the unemployed, and first-time voters are all less likely to have photo ID. As in the UK, the lower a person’s position on the income scale, the less likely they are to possess either a driving licence or passport - the two recognised forms of photo ID most people will require.

The sledgehammer and the nut

Apart from the dubious ethics of the plan, it would be absurdly expensive to implement with even the government’s own impact assessment estimating the cost would be £180 million over ten years. There would also be longer queues at the polling stations as already over-stretched local government workers would have to spend additional time matching ID to voting papers. The potential for arguments and disputes between voters and electoral officials escalating out of control is clear.

The Tories claim the scheme can be justified on the grounds of voter fraud but virtually all objective analysts describe this as a completely non-existent problem in the UK. In the last general election there were three alleged cases of impersonation at the ballot box out of 58 million votes cast. One of these led to a conviction, which adds up to a grand total of two such convictions in the last two general elections. One analyst has noted you are more likely to get struck by lightning than encounter a fake voter at the polling station. Tory MPs rebelled against the idea of Covid passports before Christmas but hypocritically think this version of essentially the same thing is somehow justifiable.

Spring of discontent

Voter ID is part of the creeping authoritarian streak of this embarrassing and embattled government. Added to Priti Patel’s war on immigrants and protest, this nefarious ploy reflects the desperation of a hideously callous political clique steeling itself for a wave of resistance over the coming year. Johnson and his cabinet know once the cost of living crisis hits the country in the spring, there will a furious reaction from millions as energy bills drop through letter boxes.

The Tories’ crass attempt through this bill to limit the electoral option of expressing opposition means it is even more imperative for the left to construct networks of resistance outside parliament.

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Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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