Tory chair seeks to defend voter suppression as ‘perfectly legitimate efforts to reform electoral laws’

Oliver Dowden made the comments during a speech to the Heritage Foundation

Oliver Dowden

Much has been made of Tory chair Oliver Dowden’s speech to the ultra right-wing US think tank the Heritage Foundation this week, where he slammed ‘wokery’ and whipped up the culture war.

Dowden decried the evils of cancel culture at an event hosted by a think tank which supports banning books they don’t like from US schools and libraries. Clearly he didn’t see the irony.

Yet what hasn’t been picked up much from his speech, the full text of which can be found here, is that he also sought to defend voter suppression tactics as ‘perfectly legitimate efforts to reform electoral laws in democracies’.

He told the audience: “And we must also not be frightened to expose the behaviour of some corporate giants. And you know, all know, the sort of corporations that I’m talking about.

“Ones that denounced perfectly legitimate efforts to reform electoral laws in democracies, whilst at the very same time, keeping a profitable silence whilst flogging their goods to authoritarian regimes.”

The only major example we could find of corporate giants denouncing efforts to ‘reform electoral laws’ was when last year, more than  100 business leaders in the US spoke out against denying eligible voters the right to cast ballots.

The likes of Target, Snapchat and Uber issued a statement condemning moves to restrict voting rights, after legislation in states such as Georgia and Texas clamped down on ballot access.

The companies had formed a Civil Alliance, issuing a letter which said its member companies “stand in solidarity with voters” and that Americans “must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.”

In Georgia, a bill was signed into law which restricts the use of ballot dropboxes in parts of the state more heavily populated by Black Americans. In Texas, a bill was signed into law that banned 24-hour voting as well as requirements for those voting by mail to produce ID and new requirements for assisting voters.

If Dowden views such discriminatory practices as ‘perfectly legitimate’, then it doesn’t come as a surprise given that the Conservative Party has been engaged in voter suppression in the UK.

Even the Joint Committee on Human Rights confirmed the threat posed by the government’s Elections Bill to the ability of millions of people to vote, warning that the government had to do more to “demonstrate the need for voter ID and mitigate the potential barriers to voting its proposals may create”.

The bill requires individuals to show photographic ID for UK Parliamentary elections in Great Britain, local elections in England, and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales.

Although the government says that the measures would protect against voter fraud, it’s worth noting that there were only six known cases of voter fraud at the last election, a fact admitted to in May last year by former health secretary Matt Hancock.

The types of ID accepted include passports, driving licences and blue badge cards, yet according to a UK-wide study commissioned by the Cabinet Office, more than 2 million people lack the necessary ID to take part in UK elections. 

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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