Politics Explained

Will Boris Johnson’s voter ID plans really mean more votes for the Conservatives?

Critics suggest the plans represent an attempt to effectively to disenfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities who might otherwise tend to vote Labour. Given recent voting patterns, however, these old assumptions may not ring true, writes Sean O’Grady

Tuesday 11 May 2021 21:30
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<p>Increasing his lead: an idea the prime minister was, once upon a time, bitterly opposed to is now being wheeled out for the benefit of his future job prospects</p>

Increasing his lead: an idea the prime minister was, once upon a time, bitterly opposed to is now being wheeled out for the benefit of his future job prospects

If there is one measure in the Queen’s Speech that appears to be a more or less naked attempt at suppression of the Labour vote, it is the proposal for compulsory voter ID at polling stations. The many critics of the idea, again mostly on the opposition benches, argue it is as unnecessary as it is undemocratic. They note that in recent years there has been only one conviction for this particular type of election fraud, “personation”, as impersonation is known in this context. The Electoral Commission noted with some satisfaction in a 2014 review that there is “no evidence to suggest that there have been widespread, systematic attempts to undermine or interfere with recent elections through electoral fraud”. 

In the course of their discussions with election officials in town halls, the police and others, the Electoral Commission concluded this: “Electoral fraud is not widespread, and reports of specific fraud are focused on specific places in England in a few local authority areas”. Even in those cases, the type of fraud tended to be “harvesting” of postal votes by campaigners, rather than the very rare examples of personation. Outside Northern Ireland, where the old slogan was “vote early, vote often”, personation has never been an issue in UK elections. The problem of dishonesty, one might add, is more likely to lie with those who get elected rather than the electorate, given what we know about the MPs’ expenses scandal and various instances of hypocrisy and worse perpetrated by serving ministers.

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