In 2019 there was one single conviction for voter fraud in the UK, following on from zero the year before.
It has been estimated that 3.5 million people do not carry any form of photo ID and would be prevented from voting. That is three and a half million people who will be excluded for no reason other than helping the political interests of the Tories. I am especially concerned that these measures are discriminatory, as 76 per cent of the white population hold a driving licence, compared with just 53 per cent of the black population.
It represents a very worrying move by Boris Johnson. It reminds me of an important United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in 2018.
The report said: “Once they are in government, nationalist populists often deploy a range of tactics to disenfranchise groups portrayed as outsiders, including racial and ethnic minorities. These might include, for example, seemingly race-neutral measures imposing specific photo identification and other requirements that disproportionately exclude marginalized groups from voting.”
The fact that the Conservative government is behaving in this way is deeply concerning. And it’s not just me, Conservative MP David Davis said this was an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”. It is not just people of colour who will be shut out – Liberty has said that if you’re young, disabled, trans or don’t have a fixed address, you’re much less likely to have a valid photo ID.
There can be no coincidence that at the last general election, Labour performed better among young voters and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Especially when you also consider that of the 650 parliamentary constituencies, 67 seats were won by a margin of 5 per cent or less of votes cast.
It is not good enough to say that people will be able to apply for a photo ID, especially as there’s no guarantee it will be free. An application for a provisional driving licence costs £43. Some may think this is not a lot of money, but for low-income or unwaged families struggling in the pandemic, this could be unaffordable. While the cost of a passport is even higher.
For all these reasons, these proposed measures are cynical, divisive and discriminatory and the government must change course. I passionately believe that voting should always be made as simple as possible, not harder. When I served as Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement, this was something I worked towards every day
We should be expanding the franchise, not reducing it. I want to see the voting age reduced to 16 so that young people have a say in their future, allow people to vote at train stations and other places of convenience, and expand online voting. But at the bare minimum, we must maintain the current system where voters do not need to present any form of identification.
What our government is doing is exclusive and hostile. And the truth is, this is not new, but it is wrong. The public must not be not blind to this government’s attempts to roll back democracy.
Whether it is proroguing parliament so a few ministers could make all the decisions, giving themselves “Henry VIII powers” to limit the powers of the courts, or the Police Bill which included draconian powers on where, when and how people can protest, this government has rolled back democracy at every step.
I hope people will come together to reject this latest affront to our democracy. We must take back control from this authoritarian and nationalist government, which seeks power just so that they can give their mates millions of pounds of public money. It’s time to stand up against voter identification and defend our democracy for all.