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Tories Call it Electoral Reform

by Erica Farmer
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Electoral Commission

It looks more like a bid to rig the system.

The party is doing everything it can to disenfranchise every sort of person who is unlikely to vote for it. Consider the mayhem that will ensue during the next general election. Officials refuse to let voters into voting places because the Johnson administration has denied democratic rights to anybody who cannot or will not present picture identification.

Some are upset because they don’t have the compulsory documents. Others seem worried when they tell reporters they don’t want to display their passports or driver’s licenses because they are concerned about governmental surveillance. If nothing else, COVID has shown us the depths of the conspiratorial mindset. On election day, the government reveals that it is willing to foster an environment of fear if it means giving the Conservatives an edge. As the extent of voter suppression becomes clear, trust in the integrity of the election dwindles.

Last Monday, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, led by a Conservative MP, William Wragg, stated that if Northern Ireland is any indicator, ID checks will reduce turnout by 2.3 percent. On this basis, the Conservatives would deprive around one million of the 47.6 million people registered to vote of their right to vote.

In contrast to Northern Ireland, the remainder of the United Kingdom has no history of sectarian gerrymandering or civil conflict to justify regulations. Michael Gove is unconcerned with current history. Since 2019, he has pursued vote tampering with a Gollum-like obsessiveness. His tyrannical goal is clear in his refusal to offer evidence that fraudsters are showing up at voting places and snatching the identities of honest voters. If that fear story were real, protests by those denied the right to vote would be all over the news. As it stands, there was just one conviction for impersonation during the 2019 election, and the Commons committee called the government’s claim of a hidden pandemic of voting fraud “simply not good enough.”

It’s clear from the haste with which the administration is rushing its election measure through parliament. The absence of public consultation and bipartisan backing exemplifies this. It is most visible in the government’s choice of targets.

In a humorous touch, Gove’s Department for Levelling Up has been tasked with removing the level playing field of free and fair elections. They assume that people who do not have a driver’s license or a passport will be impoverished and less inclined to vote conservatively. I wouldn’t bet on it in every Leaver town, and neither should ministers. They’re not leaving anything to chance. Expats, who are more likely than not to be conservatives, will be eligible to vote regardless of how long they have been overseas. No matter how long they have stayed in the UK, all foreign nationals will be denied the right to vote. People over the age of 60 who tend to vote conservatively will be permitted to use their travel passes as picture IDs.

If this happened in Hungary or Zimbabwe, we’d know what to call it: a corrupt clique twisting the laws to keep control. We don’t know what to say when election manipulation occurs in our own nation since the UK’s fortunate past has taught us that “it can’t happen here,” even when it’s occurring right here. Protests against the election law have been limited to a nerdy collection of politicians, journalists, and academics.

The destiny of the Electoral Commission should jolt the smug. Boris Johnson is endangering the referee’s independence, which safeguards against corruption. The elections bill gives ministers the authority to determine the commission’s “strategy and policy.” The administration argues it was obliged to intervene due to a lack of trust in the panel. According to the Commons inquiry, there was no indication that the people had lost trust in the commission, just as there was no proof of hordes of fraud at voting places.

Instead, it warned of the possibility of the government misusing its position to stay in power, even if that meant damaging “public trust in the effective and independent management of the electoral system.”

We run the risk of becoming like the United States, where every vote is contested by the losing side and unbiased arbiters are replaced by political lackeys. We

are, in fact, already on that route. Undermining checks and balances has been the government’s mode of operation, whether in the courts, media, or the regulatory system.

The controversy that cost the Conservatives North Shropshire began when the cabinet orchestrated an attack on Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards. She found Owen Paterson guilty of advertising firms that paid him £110,000 each year for his customized services. Stone’s inquiry found that Johnson, who was the target of Stone’s inquiry, wanted the regulations altered so that he and his coworkers might sponge at their leisure. The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, demonstrated his unsuitability for public service by declaring it was “impossible” to see how Stone’s career could withstand such an indiscretion.

Stone slashed her adversaries. On the other hand, Lord Geidt, Johnson’s ministerial standards advisor, now strikes a pitiful figure. The gullible individual believed the prime minister when he stated he had no knowledge of a businessman friend, Lord Brownlow, paying for the restoration of his Downing Street residence until the media brought it to his attention in February 2021. A thorough examination by the Electoral Commission revealed that Johnson was soliciting funds from Brownlow in November 2020. Johnson now wishes to punish the Electoral Commission.

Wragg wrote to Geidt on Tuesday, questioning his independence given that he did not appear to have the authority to conduct appropriate investigations. What options do you have if you believe you have been misleading during an investigation?

Conservatives were formerly concerned that if they exploited their parliamentary majority to pursue their opponents, those opponents would one day turn the weapons they fashioned on the right.

Perhaps today’s Conservatives think there will never be a Labour administration that treats the Tory press the same way it treats the BBC, or that twists the rule of law and election rules to benefit Labour rather than the Tory cause. After the resurgence of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, it may seem absurd for Conservatives to believe they can remain in power indefinitely. If that’s the case, I urge you to look at how they’re using election legislation to give themselves the best chance of succeeding.

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