Sometimes, the intricacies of Britain’s archaic parliamentary system confuse and shock me, and it happened again last week.
It was after I had called out Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons for his recent comments at the National Conservatism Conference, where he said that voter ID, which the Tories enacted at the local elections, was a form of ‘gerrymandering’ that had backfired on the party.
Given how strongly the government defended the policy, this seemed like a clear admission that they had misled the people, and warranted further investigation at the very least.
That should have been straightforward – but the lack of avenues for me to pursue this in Parliament has left me exasperated.
And that lack of avenues leaves the Tories the ultimate authority on their own behaviour – and I suspect that they know this. In my opinion they are trying to take the public for fools and quite frankly it is not OK.
Rees-Mogg admitted: ‘Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.’
As recently as February, minister Lee Rowley said the plans were a ‘basic, fundamental change to ensure that we protect the integrity of the ballot box.’
For me, this raises the inevitable conclusion that Conservative ministers openly lied about the intentions of their voter identification policy in the Elections Act 2022. It’s a very serious accusation.
In Rees-Mogg’s own words, the policy backfired for the Tories in the recent local elections because elderly people – the majority of whom tend to vote Conservative – did not take their ID with them to vote.
It certainly had an impact – data from 160 out of 230 councils that held elections this month suggests that 26,165 voters were initially denied ballot papers at polling stations and that 9,577 did not return with the correct ID.
So, it seems at least 10,000 people were stopped from voting, and we don’t even have the full picture yet – nor will we ever truly know how many people were put off from turning up in the first place.
These numbers could be huge – enough to influence elections.
Despite that, this week they announced voter ID will be in place for postal and proxy votes too.
In 2021, I wrote an article saying that the government introducing voter ID for elections was nothing more than a cynical attempt at voter suppression.
In April this year, just a few weeks before the election, I again said I believed this was just a Tory power grab.
It seems I was right, and the anti-democratic impact of these laws is now being seen.
But I didn’t expect that Rees-Mogg in his arrogance would give us the evidence. I suspect this will help ‘The Good Law’ project, who are planning to challenge the plans in court.
Over 2.7million people watched my Point of Order on the floor of the House last week, in which I raised his comments. The Deputy Speaker had no avenues to pursue and ultimately told me ‘we’ll leave it at that’.
I then reported it to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. However, I was told that they would not investigate, as this was potentially a ministerial code issue, not one for the Commissioner.
And now you see how frustrating how our Parliament works can be: Rees-Mogg’s admission means he and other ministers were dishonest and therefore potentially breached the ministerial code – but who is in charge of that code? The Prime Minister.
So, once again the Tory Government is the judge and jury of their own behaviour.
That is our system in a nutshell – it seems the Tories openly admitted gerrymandering.
But I can do little about it in the House of Commons, the Commissioner won’t investigate, and it’s obvious asking the Prime Minister to initiate an investigation against his own Government would be a waste of time.
I find it deeply sinister that time and time again this Tory Government is corrupting our policies, procedures and our democracy. We can see it, and occasionally they appear to admit it, but the system prevents us from stopping it.
And I think they know this, that is why they bend the rules. Our democracy is, in my view, breaking under the weight of the Tories’ corruption.
I will continue to passionately defend our democracy and for everyone to have the right to vote – no matter which party they choose to vote for.
That is the difference between the corrupt, self-interested Tories and us.
We want to extend the franchise; they want to curtail it. We cannot allow them to get away with it and I am heartened by the response I received from the public..
Ultimately, no matter what the Tories try to do, we must register to vote, bring our ID and remove this rotten Tory Government at the next election once and for all.
Democracy depends on it.