Mandatory voter photo ID is an illiberal and discriminatory solution to a problem that doesn’t exist
As opposition strives to unite around a vision of a post-pandemic future, a government so adept at divide and rule would be wise not to unite us in resistance to these measures.
A recent election leaflet from West Yorkshire scans as follows. On the left and against a blue background, the Conservative candidate is promoted. “Voted to Leave and Believes in Britain - backed Brexit and understands local people wanted to take back control. Proud of Our Flag - Believes we should fly our flag proudly across Council buildings. Protecting our Heritage - Defends our statues, monuments and road names against Labour’s woke culture. Won’t take your vote for granted and will stand up for your values.
On the right and red side of the page Labour is described: “The Labour Party and ... Labour MP tried to block Brexit, ignoring your views and vote....Labour Councillors voted against flying the flag. Labour Councils are identifying monuments and heritage to tear down. Labour will take your vote for granted whilst taking the knee.”
One in five members of the electorate don’t have any form of photo ID and they are disproportionately young, black and working class
You can imagine my views on the communication as a whole. To stoke so-called “culture wars” rather than tackling profound inequality, has been a divide and conquer technique of right-wing nationalists the world over throughout time. However, just as Theresa May warned of the “fine line between being popular and populist” in the context of the infamous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the comparison between a Tory who will “stand up for your values” and Labour who “will take your vote for granted whilst taking the knee”, discards even the dog whistle for the fog horn. Who is the “you” of the “your vote” being wooed by the author?
If government plans for requiring photo voter ID are anything to go by, one thing is clear. The audience in this calculation isn’t one of millions of our citizens who would find £75.50 for a passport application or even more for driving lessons plus test, hard to compute for voting and even harder to afford.
One in five members of the electorate don’t have any form of photo ID and they are disproportionately young, black and working class. So, the ironically titled “Elections Integrity Bill” would take us over a line from current divisive culture wars into the practical deprivation of one of the most fundamental and precious civil rights in any democracy. And why? As an illiberal and discriminatory solution to a problem that both the negligible numbers of fraud prosecutions and Electoral Commission suggest doesn’t really exist.
Of course, those who govern will protest verification not disenfranchisement as their motive. They always do.
A poignant moment of 2015 cinema comes to mind. In Ava DuVernay’s “Selma”, a care home worker played by Oprah Winfrey seeks to register to vote. A white male bureaucrat accuses her of “starting a fuss.” He proceeds to ask her to recite the preamble to the US Constitution. “Do you know what a preamble is?” I the viewer have my heart in my mouth with I have no doubt; democratic Conservative friends on both sides of the Atlantic. She begins: “We the people...” and proceeds flawlessly before he interrupts: “How many County judges in Alabama?” She continues with “sixty-seven” and he replies: “Name them.” She sighs and on her application he stamps: “Denied”. The rest as they say is history.
The UK vaccine roll-out has been an NHS triumph for which political incumbents up and down these islands have already been rewarded. Its success is not just speed but universality. Many found the queues for vaccination moving, not unlike voting itself.
As opposition strives to unite around a vision of a post-pandemic future, a government so adept at divide and rule would be wise not to unite us in resistance to measures such as these.
Baroness Chakrabarti is a Labour member of the House of Lords.
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