Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Democracy Under Threat: The Tories Are Suppressing Voter Rights

The Queen announced in her speech today that photographic identification will be required at all future general elections. Anyone who fails to provide photographic identification will not be allowed to vote. 

My whole life I've been told the Queen is here to protect our "democracy" from authoritarianism, and yet here she is, announcing an attack on our "democracy" from an authoritarian government, leaving me to ask what exactly is the point of the Queen?

Now I didn't watch her actual speech (because who would?), but unless I've missed something, no plan was announced to provide free identity cards, which would be problematic in itself, and if photo ID is not provided free of charge, it makes matters significantly worse. It means poor people have to pay money and follow a bureaucratic process just to have the right to vote. 

Now when I pointed this out on social media, Tory apologists were quick to insist voter IDs will obviously be provided free of charge, in which case they would effectively be mandatory IDs, unless someone is willing to accept disenfranchisement. 

Shameless plug alert! In my Skye City novels, which I started writing in 2010, all Citizens are required to have citizenship cards (or Citicards), and anyone who refuses is considered a non-Citizen (or bottom-leveller) who is cut off from society. Yet some people intentionally choose to be bottom-levellers, rather than live under the authoritarian control of the Aspiration System imposed by the San Terian regime.

A little over a decade later, much of what I wrote about is potentially around the corner, and if this doesn't concern you, it really should. Let's break this down:

Democracies don't impose ID cards, dictatorships do.

Identity cards were a key part of the apparatus for controlling civilian populations in places like East Germany throughout the 20th century. Now we don't know if ID cards are coming to the UK, but Tory voters are insisting they are, and anyone who wants to vote will be forced to have one, if they can't afford an alternative.

It would be unacceptable for voter ID cards to be imposed onto the poor, but the risks extend beyond voting rights.

Please don't think for one second that identity cards, if they were to be introduced in the UK, would forever be limited to voting. We would sooner or later be told it makes sense for your identity card to function as your bank card, your passport, your driver's license, and anything else the government could think of. 

Identity cards could eventually be used for everything, and with a simple microchip, they could contain all of your personal information like your address history and credit reference data.

Before you know it, your landlord, creditors and employer would be demanding access to your identity card, and you would be totally disenfranchised if you refused, or did not have one. 

And you can imagine a situation where anyone who was a bit "foreign-looking" was stopped by police and asked to produce an identity card. If they didn't have one in their possession, they could be whisked away to an immigration detention centre until their status could be verified. Please don't tell me any of this is hyperbole in a country that had the Windrush scandal.

I'm not suggesting all this would happen overnight, of course, just that creeping authoritarianism is a very real threat which is happening before our eyes. Identity cards are a slippery slope and our government clearly has an authoritarian direction of travel that should concern all reasonable people. You either care about civil liberties for all, or you don't care about them at all.

In free societies, you don't have to justify your existence, but in societies with mandatory IDs, you do. In such societies, you would be expected to show people who you are, and face negative consequences if you fail to do so. 

Now you can argue all day that such ID cards wouldn't be mandatory, but if the alternative is that you can't vote, then that is not a reasonable democratic alternative. In a system where ID cards are optional, those who already have ID, already have the right to vote, and those who do not already have ID, do not already have the right to vote. 

Obviously, there should be no barrier to voting rights and no negative consequences for exercising your voting rights. 

Democracy should not be hidden behind a pay wall.

The cost of a provisional driving license is £43 and the cost of a passport is £85.50. I was in my late twenties when I was finally able to afford a passport (yes, really), and let's not forget many people can't even have a driving license for medical reasons. 

Where I'm from, £85.50 is a huge outlay, and applying for a passport is a complete pain in the arse that  requires a signature from a professional (I had to pay my doctor £25), and when you include the cost of  photos, bus fares, and the passport checking service (if you use it), that suddenly means a cost of £130-plus.

ID is expensive when you're poor, but an optional free ID card would still be problematic. 

First of all, a person has to take time out of their day, presumably pay for the photo, and pay for their bus fare, etc., just to go through the application process. A "free" ID card is still going to cost people time and money, and when you're talking about the poorest members of society, you're often talking about people who are stressed, exhausted and overworked. 

Maybe people will just forget to apply because they're so worried about paying their electricity bill and trying to make their food last the month and they're always short on sleep and their kids aren't giving them a moment to breathe. Or maybe they'll just be so exhausted and disillusioned, they will not bother to take the time out of their day, even if they could find the time. Either way, the poorest members of society would be less likely to vote, and therefore politicians would have less incentive to represent them.

And let's not forget a free ID card would not be free. 

A "free" ID card service would be paid for by the tax payer at a cost of millions and a Tory donor would no doubt get that contract. 

Also, would free ID cards last indefinitely, or would people be expected to renew them once every few years, creating an additional cost to the tax payer and additional barrier to the voter? 

And who is to say free ID cards would be provided free of charge forever? 

This is the Tory Party we're talking about. They love to apply a price to everything and their supporters would probably whinge about "scroungers" getting cards for free. I could easily foresee a situation where ID cards were free for the first 12 months or so to shut up us moaning lefties, and then a small charge got introduced when the furore had died down. And then before we knew it, the charge was getting increased year on year.

Let's not forget the Electoral Commission says voter fraud is a non-existent problem.

In recent trials in the UK, 750 people were prevented from voting due to lack of photo ID. To put that into perspective, only six examples of voter fraud were found at the last general election.

If you scaled voter ID up to national levels, you would be looking at tens of thousands of people being prevented from voting. All to stop about six incidents of voter fraud...

Like Twitter user Guy Fawkes recently put it, this is not to stop some people voting twice, but to stop many people voting once. We know from voter ID laws in other countries that they disenfranchise the poor and racial minorities, but do little or nothing to prevent election fraud, because again, election fraud is a non-existent problem. 

Many poor people and racial minorities will be disenfranchised, and those who take up a hypothetical offer to use free ID cards would simply help Tory donors make a nice profit, as well as risk putting themselves further under authoritarian control.

Let's not forget, the Tories are looking to gerrymander our constituency boundaries and jail protesters they find annoying for up to ten years so don't even think of protesting the new rules! They're doing everything they can to silence people who disagree with their policies. At the same time, they're giving right-wing extremists the right to sue universities if they're prevented from speaking on their platform! 

Wealthy conservatives can demand a voice and yet the poor can't even have a voice.

Our democracy is being eroded piece by piece before our eyes.

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