An Electoral Integrity Bill has been outlined in the Queen’s speech to open the next session of Parliament, which includes provisions for implementing voter ID requirements for all UK-wide and English elections.
This represents a huge threat to the democratic right of working-class people – especially those in minority groups – to be able to vote.
On the face of it this bill may seem like a common sense idea to solving the problem of in-person voter fraud (personation); however in the 2019 general election, of around 32 million votes, there were just 33 allegations of personation with only one of these resulting in conviction and one in a caution.
By contrast research published in 2019 by the Electoral Commission showed that “17% of eligible voters in Great Britain are not correctly registered at their current address, representing as many as 9.4 million people. Meanwhile 11% of the register entries are inaccurate, affecting up to 5.6 million people”.
The Electoral Commission have also found that “Most cases [of electoral fraud] related to campaign offences (49% of all reported cases in 2017 and 48% in 2018), for example where a party does not include details about the publisher on election material.”
If Boris Johnson’s government is worried about ensuring that everybody’s vote is counted properly then why they not invest in support for people to register to vote, or focus on ensuring that the Tory party and its candidates are following electoral law?
Currently in the UK ~3.5 million electors do not possess photo ID and ~11 million do not have a passport or photographic driving license.
Among those lacking a passport or driving license we can see huge variations among different ethnic groups; 24% of white people in England do not hold a full driving licence, compared with 39% of people of Asian ethnicity and 47% of black people.
So we can begin to see that a voter ID system is not about protecting our democracy or ensuring everybody gets to cast their own vote but is rather designed to suppress voting from workers and young people, in particular those from ethnic minority groups.
This sentiment has been echoed by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Commons Cause, three leading civil rights groups in the US who opposed Donald Trump’s attempts at voter suppression using similar voter ID proposals.
What we can see is a government attempting to shield itself from accountability. It is a reminder that, far from enjoying mass support, Johnson’s government is actually deeply unpopular. This attempt to rig the electoral system speaks to a lack of confidence on the part of the Tories. This is a part of the Tories’ preparation for the big class battles that lie ahead as they attempt to make working-class and poor people foot the bill for a crisis of their capitalist system. Indeed, the Queen’s speech exposed the Tories’ anti-working class agenda.
Fixing the electoral system
The working class must oppose this bill. We must build a fightback against any and all attacks on the right to vote.
More than that, we must demand the government invest in the support necessary to make it easier for working-class people of all backgrounds to register and to vote. Any genuine attempt to tackle electoral fraud would start with the likes of Boris Johnson, who allegedly broke the rules when running the EU ‘Leave’ campaign. Such charges should be subject to a proper, independent, trade union-led investigation, organised democratically including by workers’ organisations and community groups.
Even if barriers to registration were removed, however, it would still be the case that many people who are eligible to vote would not do so. In fact the figures from Ipsos MORI show that whilst whilst 74% of over 65’s turned out to vote just 47% of 18-24 year olds did; we see a similar trend by social class where 68% of upper and middle class voters turned out whilst just 53% of working class and non-working voters did (this figure is likely given a boost by the aforementioned pensioners being counted in this group).
So why are so many young and working-class people not voting and what might inspire them to do so? We believe that there simply isn’t a party in Britain that genuinely represents workers’ interests. Jeremy Corbyn’s left leadership of Labour offered a glimpse of what could be possible, and encouraged many young people in particular to become active in politics for the first time. But he was undermined at every stage by a parliamentary Labour Party dominated by pro-capitalist politicians. Corbyn’s failure to mobilise the working class to drive out the Labour right, along with his over-focus on parliamentary maneuvers, meant it was possible for the Blairites to retake the leadership following the 2019 general election. This should serve as a reminder that the capitalists are not willing to cede any meaningful power to the working class unless forced to by determined, mass struggle.
A socialist democracy
Democracy is therefore not simply a matter of people having the right to vote, important though this is. A society in which a tiny minority own and control huge swathes of the economy, and consequently the lives of millions, can be democratic in only the most superficial sense. Socialists fight to dramatically deepen democracy.
On the basis of a break with capitalism, it would be possible to massively increase the control that workers have over every aspect of society and their own lives. This would go far beyond simply voting for which capitalist politicians will preside over our exploitation for the next five years. Public ownership and socialist democracy would include workers having control of their workplace. This would allow both for workers to benefit fully from their labour and for them to make the decisions that will impact their daily lives, rather than these being made by a board of unelected executives in the interest of capitalist shareholders.
Rather than being governed by a small group of privately educated people, who come from wealth and understand nothing of working class issues, workers could organise at a local, national and international level to plan production in the interests of people and the planet.
A democratically planned economy would ensure secure jobs that pay a real living wage, an end to the big rent rip-off, full funding for our health service, a universal social care system free at the point of need for all and high quality, comprehensive education for all.