The Tories are planning to introduce voter ID for elections, as confirmed in the recent Queen’s speech.
Under these new rules, people will be required to show a photo ID – such as a passport or driving licence – to be able to take part in any UK-wide or English election.
The Tories claim that this is necessary to combat ‘voter fraud’.
But between 2010 to 2016 – a period that included two general elections, and the EU referendum – there were only 146 allegations of the offence of ‘voter personation’. Of these, only seven people were convicted, including five in a single incident.
By contrast, the government itself expects that over two million people will lack the necessary ID in order to vote under its new rules. The change will disproportionately impact the poorest, ethnic minorities, and the disabled.
The Tories claim that anyone without the necessary ID will be able to apply to their local authority for a free voter-ID card. But clearly they are cynically banking on the fact that many will not go to the effort, or will be otherwise caught out by the new rules.
The introduction of voter ID is only the latest of the Tories’ attempts to curtail democracy. Last year, for example, they pushed through a bill to shift the electoral boundaries in their favour.
Despite their current large majority in Parliament, the Tories are clearly worried about what the future holds for them. They are fearful of the backlash that will take place once they have to start winding down the furlough scheme, and the effects of the massive austerity measures needed to balance capitalism’s books.
These latest proposed restrictions on democracy therefore go hand-in-hand with the government’s recent attempts to take away the democratic right to protest, as well as existing Tory anti-trade union laws, which are designed to suppress strikes.
The Tories are taking their chance to consolidate their power now, before the coming storm. In the process, they are exposing how the ruling class really sees democracy: as nothing more than a tool to further its own interests – to be restricted when necessary.
Democracy for the rich
The rich and powerful have the time and money to engage in politics with ease. They have a full-time army of journalists, consultants, and lobbyists promoting their interests – day-in, day-out – in the media and in Westminster. The revolving door between big business and government is all-too well-known.
But for the working class and oppressed, all sorts of barriers exist in terms of political participation. For starters, most ordinary people do not have the time – on top of long working hours – to attend political meetings, write to their local MP, or petition the council.
The introduction of voter ID will be just one more obstacle designed to keep the poorest and most vulnerable from having their say.
For this reason, the labour movement must oppose these changes. Instead of meekly dismissing the new rules as a “pointless policy”, the Labour leaders should be laying bare the ways in which these restrictions serve the self-same interests of the Tories and the ruling class.
Ultimately, the challenge ahead is a political one. Millions will go to the effort to overcome any obstacles, if convinced that it is worth it to do so.
After all, the main cause of low voter turnout in Britain is not formal restrictions, but the fact that many ordinary people – particularly amongst the youth – understandably do not see anything worth voting for.
By contrast, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, there was a massive influx of young voters – not only inspired to vote for Labour’s radical left-wing manifesto, but also to actively campaign on the streets to bring about a Labour victory.
Labour must therefore fight on a bold socialist programme: a programme that would transform the lives of the working class, and make the bosses pay for the crisis.
Such an inspirational programme would galvanise workers and youth, and would see the party win a landslide, regardless of the Tories’ restrictive laws or the current voting system.
But this is impossible under the current right-wing leadership of Labour. We must therefore urgently organise to kick our Keir Starmer, and elect a left leadership prepared to fight for socialism.