Conservative manifesto: ERS warn against ‘undemocratic’ voter ID plans – but welcome u-turn on pledge to impose First Past the Post

Posted on the 25th November 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Monday 25th November 
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The Electoral Reform Society have said Conservative proposals on political reform represent ‘one step forward, two steps back’.

The party have committed to imposing mandatory voter ID for all Westminster elections – despite widespread opposition in Scotland and Wales, as well as a major UK-wide coalition of charities and campaigners. However, the Conservatives have u-turned on a 2017 pledge to impose First Past the Post on proportionally-elected bodies like the London Assembly.

Commenting after the Conservative Party’s manifesto launch [1], Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society said:

“It’s good news that the Conservatives recognise the need to modernise our political system. However, many of these proposals fall well short of the mark, with some being outright dangerous.

“With trust in politics at rock bottom – and Westminster’s system clearly not working – we have to be much more ambitious in building a stronger democracy.”

Voter ID

“Once again we are dismayed to see the Conservatives continued support for this ‘show your papers’ policy, that would make it harder for millions of citizens to exercise their democratic rights.

“Make no mistake – these plans will leave tens of thousands of legitimate voters voiceless. All parties must focus on combating the real threats to our democracy, rather than suppressing voters’ rights.

“The government have been left with only a dog whistle to justify this undemocratic pledge, with no evidence of widespread impersonation.”

The Electoral Reform Society have led a coalition of organisations including Age UK, Liberty, the Runnymede Trust, Stonewall and many more. A 2016 Electoral Commission report pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, and 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence [2].

Westminster’s voting system

The manifesto includes commitments to ‘continue support First Past the Post’ but reverses a 2017 pledge to impose First Past the Post in elections that currently use proportional systems.

“It is disappointing to see the Conservative Party’s continued support for this broken electoral system in this manifesto [3]. First Past the Post has repeatedly proven itself to be unfit for purpose, and lies at the heart of the current political crisis where tribalism and partisanship are rampant. Winner-takes-all is fine for horse-racing but is an undemocratic disaster when forced on a diverse voting public.

“It is time Westminster was brought into line with Scotland, Wales and the rest of the advanced world in adopting a fair and proportional voting system, giving voters a strong voice and real choice in each election.

“We call on all parties, including the Conservatives, to make this commitment to fair votes now. This election campaign has already seen stitch-ups – with parties standing down for each other – and an epidemic of tactical voting that simply wouldn’t be necessary under PR.”

House of Lords

“The Conservative Party now stand alone among Great Britain’s main parties in rejecting real reform to the unelected and undemocratic House of Lords.

“Whilst there is a commitment to a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission to review the role of the second chamber, this falls far short of the clear pledge made by other parties to deliver much needed changes to the chamber itself and deliver a fully elected upper house.”

The House of Lords is the largest second chamber in the world and retains 92 hereditary peers. It has seen ‘scandal after scandal’ in recent years due to a lack of scrutiny, the ERS say [4].

Other proposals

“Banning foreign funding of parties is long overdue. For too long there has been an online ‘wild west’ with weak regulation allowing interference, and these proposals must form part of a real effort to close the loopholes. This election we’ve seen misinformation and dodgy ads across parties. Let’s work together to sort out this free-for-all and protect decent debate.

“The announcement of a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission to look at how to ‘restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates’ is potentially positive.  Any such commission must include the voices and views of ordinary citizens, rather than being a talking shop for the ‘Great and the Good’.

“The Electoral Reform Society have long called for a Citizens’ Assembly to look at these issues and we hope that the Conservatives’ announcement is the first step to supporting this wider, deliberative democratic exercise.

“In other areas we are concerned that the Conservative’s commitments on areas such as Voter ID and supporting our broken voting system risk taking our democratic system in the wrong direction.”

ENDS

The ERS have warmly welcomed commitments from the Liberal Democrats, Brexit Party and Green Party to replace First Past the Post with proportional representation for Westminster and local elections. The Greens, Lib Dems and Labour have also committed to ERS policies on votes at 16, Lords reform, and opposition to voter ID, as well as pledging to update to ‘dangerously out-dated’ election campaign rules in the digital age.

The ERS have previously warned that our elections are at high risk of being undermined in the face of major electoral loopholes.

Notes to Editors

[1] https://vote.conservatives.com/our-plan

[2] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/Proof-of-identity-scheme-updated-March-2016.pdf

See the ERS Briefing on the 2019 Voter ID pilots here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/the-2019-voter-id-pilots/

[3] Proportional representation is already used across the UK – Westminster just needs to catch up https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/where-is-proportional-representation-used-in-the-uk/

Wales is pushing ahead with political reform: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/westminster-looking-ludicrously-outdated-as-wales-pushes-ahead-with-pro-democracy-reforms/

The ERS is part of a new campaigning coalition for an overhaul of the electoral system: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/new-campaign-coalition-calls-for-overhaul-of-westminster-and-broken-electoral-system/

[4] Briefing here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/locked-out-of-the-lords-the-state-of-the-second-chamber/ 

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