Thursday 12 November 2020

Voter suppression: alive and well in the UK


One benefit of the prolonged and in-depth coverage of the US election and its aftermath is that we've learned a great deal more about voter suppression.  I  think most of us have known for years about the difficulties faced by black people in exercising their right to vote: outright prohibition, education tests, complex documentation required for registration and so on.  

However now we know about other measures.  The closing of polling centres in predominantly  black areas, so that potential voters have to make longer journeys and queue for longer in order to vote - some say five times as long as in white areas.  Add to that the placing of fake ballot boxes in areas likely to vote Democrat, so that the votes can indeed be "stolen" and destroyed, and the starving of resources for the postal service so that "mail votes,"  more likely to be Democrat votes, arrive too late for the count.

 Such tactics are a disgrace in the world's most powerful, and probably most influential, democracy.  Sadly they are not entirely absent in this land of the alleged Mother of Parliaments.

I have a tangential personal interest.  Late last month a very dear friend of mine, David Shutt, a fellow campaigner for liberalism for over fifty years, moved this amendment in the House of Lords (he's risen to greater heights than I, and deservedly so) to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill.  

It is the practice that young people are added to the electoral registers at the age of 16 and 17 so that, if an election takes place when they are just 18 they are able to exercise the newly-acquired right to vote. * Apparently the proportion of these young people, called "attainers", who actually get on to the register has fallen from 45% in 2015 to 25% in 2019.

The amendment, which has cross-party support, including Conservatives, proposed that these young people should be automatically registered to vote by the Department of Work and Pensions when that department allocates them a National Insurance Number at the age of 16. Alternatively, the DWP could provide the electoral registration officer of the names of those in their areas, or advise the 16 year-olds on the details of how to register for a vote.  

 The amendment was carried overwhelmingly and, sadly, proved to be David's last contribution to British democracy.  A few days after the debate he was unexpectedly taken to hospital with a condition from which he has since died.  His funeral is next week. 

Earlier in this week the House of Commons with its 80 seat Tory majority rejected this and several other Lords' amendments.  You can bet your bottom dollar (to revert to the US analogy) that had young people been overwhelmingly likely to vote Tory rather than for more progressive parties, it would have been overwhelmingly carried..

 You can find further details of this and other amendments here


*  There is evidence  to show that if young people cast their vote at the first election at which they are elegible - it's a significant rite of passage - they are more likely to vote regularly for the rest of their lives.  Surely another reason, if you believe in democracy, to support this amendment.


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