While the Elections Bill is not expected to return to parliament until the new year, opposition is still growing against this dangerous legislation.
The most recent conservative to speak out is former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. In a piece in the Times Grieve argues that “voter ID will be the nail in the coffin for democracy and MP’s integrity” with current lawmakers rewriting the law for their benefit. The former minister lays into the government’s handling of the bill criticising the lack of scrutiny over key amendments to change the voting system for mayors and police and crime commissioners.
Grieve has called for parliamentarians to look at the current Elections Bill and scrutinise the draft legislation in order to create a law that consolidates British democracy.
As Grieve points out, voter ID disproportionately impacts those most marginalised in society, who are far less likely to have access to ID. Official figures estimate that 3.5 million people do not have access to photo ID in the UK and 11 million do not own a passport or a driving licence. Grieve is right to raise this issue – the proposals risk equality in our democracy and, as he points out threatens to “create a two-tier electorate” with the least advantaged shut out.
As we at the Electoral Reform Society have also argued, these changes are unnecessary and expensive. The Government have estimated that implementing voter ID could cost £120 million – a lot of money to demand ID at polling stations. A lot of money to tackle an issue that barely exists. Cases of electoral fraud are extremely rare. In 2019, there were only 33 allegations of voter impersonation.
In his piece, Grieve also highlights the unnecessary amendment to change the election of Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners from the Supplementary Vote to First Past the Post. This late addition to the bill has received little scrutiny – being introduced at committee stage, too late for MPs to properly interrogate the proposals. As Grieve points out it’s a proposal designed to benefit those already in power.
And that’s what this bill is all about – a power grab by the government over our Elections.
And worse than that they’re racing it through the Commons without giving it the necessary scrutiny such important legislation requires.
During an evidence session on the bill in September (after the changes had been announced) Labour’s Cat Smith tried to question the academic, Alan Renwick on the amendment, but was told the proposal was outside the scope of the session. However, the amendment was then passed for inclusion, without scrutiny a mere four days later.
From the damaging proposals on voter ID, to attempts to give ministers power to direct the work of the currently independent Electoral Commission, this bill is about centralising control over how our elections work in the hands of the government of the day – allowing ministers to set the rules by which they themselves play.
That conservatives such as Dominic Grieve are speaking out about this legislation is a clear sign that the government have got it wrong. Much like ministers’ attempts to override the Independent Standards Committee earlier this month, the Elections Bill provisions to overturn the way we run our elections is a step too far for many MPs.
As opposition continues to grow, and the bill is expected to return to the Commons in the New Year, now is the perfect time for ministers to stop and re-think this dangerous legislation. Listen to feedback from MPs, campaigners, academics and experts and bring forward an Elections Bill we can all get behind – that strengthens our elections and puts voters first.
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