During this parliament the Tories have introduced the requirement for electors to identify themselves with photo ID before they can vote. This is a blatant attempt to make it more difficult for groups more likely to vote progressively, such as the young , to exercise their democratic rights. We elderly (more likely to vote Tory, alas) have little difficulty as most of us have bus passes with our photos on them, which, unlike young people’s travel cards, are acceptable.
Happily the Liberal Democrats have adopted the policy to scrap the system when we get the chance. If you can identify yourself by your name and address you can vote. The Labour Party’s policy is feeble by comparison: they will extend the range of acceptable identification documents, but not abolish the requirement to have one.
In an article in today’s Guardian Polly Toynbee helpfully reminds us of several other measures the Tories taken to whittle away at our democracy:
· Universities can no longer add their student to the electoral register automatically: each student must register individually
· Households can no longer be registered collectively: each member must register individually
· The Electoral Commission, which supervises the proper conduct of elections, can no longer act independently to investigate breaches of the rules but must wait for ministerial instructions
· The Supplementary Vote (given in case no candidate gained an over-all majority) in the election of executive mayors has been abolished. It’s back to “first past the post.”
Ms Toynbee doesn’t mention it, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act, introduced during the Coalition by the Liberal Democrats, has been repealed: we’re back to allowing the prime minister to fire the starting gun for general elections when he/she thinks his/her party has the best chance of winning.
When I taught history I tended to accept, perhaps too uncritically, the “Whig View” that, by and large, on the whole, and in the main, things we getting gradually better.
That certainly seemed to be true of the development of our democracy, from the sorting-out of the constituencies in the Great Reform Bill of 1832, through the Secret Ballot Act and the gradual extension of the right to vote until we had Universal Adult Suffrage, first at age 21, then 18. Each reform seemed to be a step forward. Not any more.