If you want to vote in an election, you will have to produce proof of your ID in future. That’s according to plans drawn up by former Conservative Cabinet Minister Sir Eric Pickles. But what the Tories aren’t telling you is this will mean over four million people won’t be able to vote.
Tories twisting the truth
In a report released quietly on 12 August, Pickles outlined his recommendations for tackling electoral fraud. He cited the case of Tower Hamlets’ Lutfur Rahman, who was returned as Mayor in the 2014 elections. But in April 2015, Rahman was stripped of his title after an investigation into corruption. In the High Court, Richard Mawrey QC found that Rahman had secured his win with the help of the following “corrupt and illegal practices”:
[T]he payment of canvassers; the false portrayal of his Labour rival John Biggs, a white man, as racist; the allocation of grants in a manner that amounted to bribery; the somewhat arcane offence of bringing “undue spiritual influence” to bear on Muslim voters; and the casting of invalid votes.
In an article for The Telegraph, Pickles said of the Rahman case:
The damning judgment and an associated forensic investigation that I commissioned as Secretary of State revealed extensive electoral and financial corruption going on in 21st century London. This was not an isolated case, as previous court judgments showed … Since the Tower Hamlets judgment, there has been silence from our supposed watchmen. Sadly, the Commission has put its head in the sand before over the risks of fraud.
But the Rahman case is not all as it seems. A media frenzy surrounded the allegations and subsequent removal of Rahman from office. But in the case of actual voter fraud the truth paled in comparison to the media hype.
Evidence obtained by The Canary via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests show that 64 potential cases of voter fraud were passed to authorities. Of these 64, the police deemed only three cases involved any wrongdoing. And ultimately, only one incidence was ever upheld. Any reforms should not be based on this one, misconstrued case.
Is fraud really a problem?
Pickles also cites that there were 665 “alleged” cases of electoral fraud in the UK last year. This is just 0.002% of all votes cast. Evidence gathered by The Canary through FOI requests further backs this up. Evidence from the Electoral Commission shows that between 2010 and 2012, over 98.4m votes were cast. Of these, 948 were investigated for suspected electoral fraud. And only three of these ever went to court.
Evidence provided by numerous local authorities to the Electoral Commission supports this. It demonstrates that Pickles is addressing a problem which doesn’t exist.
Gateshead County Council said, “fraud is a problem but it is an extremely limited one that, in reality, affects only a very small proportion of the electorate”. Derbyshire County Council said, “While [we] recognise a few individuals do abuse the system, these are isolated incidents”.
The Canary also had access to the official Labour Party evidence sent to the Electoral Commission. This was related to a review by the latter into electoral fraud. The evidence suggests that the problem of fraud is greater within political parties themselves. Not the individual electorate. The document says that:
The Labour Party has direct experience of this. [We] brought a successful prosecution against several Conservative party candidates in Slough in 2009 … More recently individual members of the Labour Party in Woking brought a successful prosecution. [This was] against a Liberal Democrat candidate for electoral fraud. This followed the refusal of the police to mount a prosecution despite considerable evidence of wrongdoing.
Summing up, the document states that:
The Labour Party’s experience of electoral politics … finds that fraud is a very exceptional occurrence. Moreover … where electoral fraud is evident, it is reported to be more prevalent among certain social groups. Even here … fraud is very much the exception. It is important not to tar particular communities with the same brush because of the actions of a very small number of people … while some argue that the potential for electoral fraud is great … incidence of fraud is very small.
No ID? No vote
Pickles’ plans are based on assumptions which appear contrary to impartial evidence. But he and the Tories appear keen to push the reforms through, regardless. What Pickles doesn’t mention is the number of people that will be affected by the rule changes.
Research conducted by The Canary using data accumulated (csv) for the GOV.UK website, shows the results are shocking. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) compiled evidence of how many people have the correct ID to access online government services. 22 ID options were used in their modelling. They included either a passport, driving licence, bank account or utility bill. Note this compared to Pickles’ proposed three forms of ID needed to vote. As of March 2016, just over 86% of people aged 16 or over had the correct ID. If you take out the 2 million 16-18-year-olds, this means that, on average, around 4.3 million people would not have the right ID to vote.
Also, it will impact women and the poor the most. Example percentages of people with the correct ID include:
- Less than 1% of men, economically inactive in the urban South East, aged 25-44.
- 13% of men, economically inactive in urban London, aged 25-44.
- 16% of men, employed but not classified in urban Yorkshire, aged 25-44.
- 20% of women, employed in routine or manual jobs in the rural East Midlands, aged 45-54.
- 25% of women, economically inactive in the urban North East, aged 75 and over.
- 26% of men, economically inactive in rural Scotland, aged 55-64.
- 26% of women, employed in routine or manual jobs in the urban South East, aged 45-54.
Contrast this with the statistics for those in management roles. Nearly 100% of people in these jobs have the correct ID. And where the percentage does drop, it’s among women.
Who’s committing electoral fraud?
Pickles told The Telegraph that:
Electoral fraud is a blight across the political spectrum. We like to boast that Britain is home to the “mother of Parliaments”. But this country’s democratic foundation is being systematically undermined. [It is] further weakened by a reluctance to tackle the problem … I believe electoral malpractice is far more common than one isolated London borough thanks to the state’s collective state of denial … It’s time to take on the electoral crooks and defend Britain’s free and fair elections.
There appears to be no hint of irony in Pickles’ citing of “electoral crooks”. Even though the Tories are under investigation over allegations of electoral fraud. Also, these plans reek of attempting to stop the working class voting, and crush the Labour Party both in and out of Parliament. All off the back of, essentially, trumped-up evidence.
The Tories are already trying to push through constituency boundary changes; the alterations would favour them by around 30 seats. More than 800,000 voters have been ‘lost’ due to the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER). David Cameron was seen to be filling the House of Lords with Tory peers to try and gain a majority. And ‘English Votes for English Laws’ means the Tories can pass legislation almost unchallenged.
Voter engagement is already low in the UK. The turnout at the last general election was 66.1%, meaning nearly 16 million people didn’t vote. Factor in the 800,000 lost via IER changes. Then add the 4.3 million who won’t have the right ID. This may mean in 2020 that over 20 million people won’t vote. Pickles said of electoral fraud: “We should never be frightened to look under the rock when what crawls beneath threatens us all.” Maybe the UK should begin by looking under that rock for the Tories.
– Join the Electoral Reform Society.
– Sign the petition in support of proportional representation (PR).
– Write to your MP telling them to reject Eric Pickles’ proposals.
Featured image via US Embassy London/Flickr
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