Protecting the right not to vote: The scourge of voter ID

In disenfranchising people on lower incomes, younger generations and ethnic minorities, what looks to be the latest Tory ruse to drain the Labour vote, could easily backfire for the government.

Right-Wing Watch

It doesn’t matter if you’ve not got any photo ID, because you’re probably not going to vote anyway. This viciously elitist and patronising assumption was made by Conservative minister Lee Rowley, as he unsuccessfully attempted to reassure MPs that it didn’t matter that up to two million people can’t vote in the forthcoming local elections, because lots of them weren’t planning on doing so anyway.

The MP’s figures were pulled from the Cabinet Office’s own research in 2021 which showed  2 million  people in the UK – 4 percent – don’t have official ID. Though this figure is notably modest compared to separate polling that shows up to one in eight voters lack photo ID ahead of the local election.

Attempting to justify his hypothesis, Rowley told the Commons that many people “have chosen never to have voted, and we would encourage them to do so, but ultimately that is what the purpose of a democracy is – people have a right to vote and not to vote.”

So, there we have it, the reason why people have fought so hard for voting rights, and Emily Davison threw herself under the hooves of a galloping horse, was to give people the right not to vote.

With the local elections just over a week away, when 8,057 council seats are up for grabs, polling cards are making their way into homes up and down the country, with a new addition to the small print – must bring photo ID. Wanting to double check that this was the case and for the first time in my life I would need to take my passport to the polling station, I rang my local council, where an agent confirmed: “Yes, if you don’t have the accepted ID, you will be turned away.” Not everyone however has received such information, as according to polling for Byline Times, a majority – 53 percent – of people in England haven’t had any communication from their local authorities about the new ID rules. 

There is no election fraud

The policy, which was announced by the Conservative government in 2021, is part of the new Elections Act, designed to ‘strengthen the integrity of the electoral process’ and ‘combat electoral fraud.’ This in itself is almost laughable, given that at the 2017 election, there was only one conviction for voter impersonation, and, in the last general election, only six cases of ballot fraud, something Matt Hancock admitted to when quizzed about the tiny number of fraud cases as health secretary in 2021.  In fact, in the past seven years, there have been only three convictions of voter impersonation. Furthermore, the Electoral Commission’s 2021 data found 90 percent of the public considered voting to be safe from fraud at the polling station. 

The Secret Ballot Act of 1872 no less, largely ended the long-standing British tradition of fraudulent elections, although it persisted for rather longer in Northern Ireland. The old saying attributed to Al Capone, ‘vote early, vote often’ was well known during the ‘Troubles’ but even here, the tradition ended with the Electoral Fraud Act of 2002.

This begs the question, why on earth would the government commit to a policy designed to combat a fraud that virtually doesn’t exist, and that is expected to cost up to £180m a decade, money which could be spent on the NHS, schools, policing, and all the other public services that are desperately starved of cash?

Vote rigging?

The possibility that the policy has something to do with election manipulation that favours the Tories by weeding out Labour voters who are more likely to not possess the required ID has been raised. The Labour Party described the move as ‘vote rigging,’ which will discriminate against marginalised groups and lock millions of people out of the electoral process. 

A group of MPs, including Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East, and Baroness Jenny Jones, delivered a petition to Downing Street this week, calling on the government to ‘urgently scrap’ the new compulsory rules. Baroness Jones, a Green Party peer, described the Act as: “A disaster for democracy.”

UNISON, which has repeated calls for the government to scrap the scheme, condemned the policy as ‘voter suppression’ and a ‘threat to our democracy.’

Alienating young people

Did you know that voters over the age of 70 are three times more likely to vote Tory than 18 – 24s? What’s more, every year of life we get older, we are 0.35 percent likelier to vote Conservative. While we can safely assume Left Foot Forward readers wouldn’t follow such a trend, no doubt Tory ministers and lawmakers are aware of such statistics, which could explain why the accepted ID listed by the government is discriminatory against young people. For example, an Older Person’s Bus Pass is an accepted form of ID, however an equivalent travel card for younger people is not.

The prospect of the policy being deliberately tilted towards facilitating voting by older people while penalising the young has been made. When attacking the scheme during the debate in the Commons earlier this year, Labour MP Clive Betts asked: “What has the government got against young people?” 

Youngsters have also voiced their anger of the so-called ‘rule rigging.’ 22-year-old Serena Richards accused the Tories of ‘trying to silence young people.’

“They have saddled us with student debt, denied us a chance to get on the housing ladder and clobbered us with high rents and taxes. The last thing they want is for us to be able to register our anger at the ballot box.

“It’s clear that our vote isn’t welcome – maybe because they know we’ll want to kick them out at the first chance we get,” she said.

Americanisation of British politics

Then there is issue of the Americanisation of British politics, which is vital to this discussion. In the US, many states have been fighting to introduce hundreds of anti-voter bills, including voter ID laws.

Politicians there have long used unfounded claims of voter fraud as a means of attempting to justify voter suppression. In 2011, for example, Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, citing false claims of voting among non-citizens, championed a law which meant citizens had to show “proof of citizenship” in order to register to vote. In a victory for voter freedom, in 2018, a federal court struck down the Kansas’  documentary proof-of-citizenship law. The three-week trial pulled back the curtain on Kobach’s dangerous lies about voter fraud. As for Kobach, he was made to attend several hours of legal training, as a sanction for his “repeated and flagrant violations of discovery and disclosure rules.”

Take note UK Tories, some of whom are becoming worryingly enamoured by the democracy-suppressing policies of right-wingers in America. Liz Truss of course is the biggest follower of the Republican playbook and look what happened to her.

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who worked on the voter ID legislation at committee stage, said that even in the US, college cards are accepted. Even so, “Will it mirror US voter suppression? The answer is yes,” he said.

Adding more bureaucratic hurdles to those already facing inequalities

Whether intended or not, what the Tories are framing as necessary to strengthen public confidence in the electoral system, reeks of marginalisation against the poorest and most underrepresented groups, as well as young people.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that by adding more bureaucratic hurdles and costs to people who already face inequalities, the barrier will disenfranchise many low-income voters, as such constituents are much more likely not to have photo ID compared to richer potential voters – 1 percent compared to 6 percent. All voters must bring along identification that is listed here. But for many families struggling with soaring costs of living on stagnant wages, paying the £82.50 passport application fee is prohibitive, especially as foreign travel is a luxury that they have long learned to forego.

To help the people who lack the right documentation, the government has created a special “Voter Authority Certificate.” However, in late February it was revealed that only 1 percent of those without valid documents have signed up to the schemeThe deadline for applying for a voter ID certificate is 5pm on Tuesday 25 April, yet where are the government announcements informing people of the new law and the alternative ID option?

Besides the lack of information at a government level, if you’re working in an insecure job with unpredictable and long hours, or juggling multiple jobs and care responsibilities, and don’t necessarily have access to technology, or have come to mistrust or fear official systems, applying for the free Voter Card might be unlikely to be high on your list of priorities.

Critics also warn that the Voter ID law could disenfranchise members of ethnic minorities, LBGT+ people and the homeless. In November 2020, a report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities showed 25 percent of black Britons were not registered to vote compared to the national average of 17 percent.  The Commission warned of the “potentially racial discriminatory impact” of the proposals. Equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust said they were likely to have a disproportionate impact on Black and minority ethnic (BME) people.

“The government’s own data shows that white people are most likely to hold one form of photo ID – 76% hold a full driving licence. But 38% of Asian people, nearly a third of people of mixed ethnicity (31%), and more than half of Black people (48%) do not,” the group said in a report published late last year.

The marginalisation of ethnic minorities through voter ID takes us back to the US again, where there is a growing body of evidence showing the strict voter law disproportionately impacts voters of colour. In Michigan, for example, administration records found people of colour in the state were more likely to show up to polling stations without proper identification.

Housing charities have warned the ID requirement could make it even harder for homeless people to vote. Jon Sparkes, head of the homeless charity Crisis, said:

“When you’re living out of a rucksack, whether on the streets, in hostels or shifting between friends’ sofas, important documents like ID can frequently get lost or stolen.

“With replacement costly, it can cause people a lot of difficulty claiming benefits, accessing healthcare and opening bank accounts.”

What looks to be the latest Tory ruse to drain the Labour vote, could easily backfire for the government. Disruption at the polling stations is predicted on May 4, when people who may be unaware of the changes are told they have to go home for photo ID. Extra staff are even being drafted in to help out with the new checks.

For undecided voters who may be disenchanted with or alienated from current politics, but who nevertheless were drawn by more recent populist campaigns to vote Tory, are surely the very people the Tories are trying to attract. Being ordered to go home and get their photo ID or not vote at all, could be the nail in the coffin for their cross for the Conservatives on the ballot paper.

So, the world of the franchise and who will get to vote and who won’t in the forthcoming local elections remains uncharted waters, but what we do know is that for the first time in 150 years, a Tory government has made putting that all important cross on the ballot paper more difficult.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Will the humiliating Fox News lawsuit settlement embolden people in the UK to take on Murdoch media?

What is the cost of spreading lies and misinformation? Fox News believes it is $787m, as that’s how much America’s most-watched cable news network agreed to settle a lawsuit.

In what was one of the biggest defamation trials in recent US history, Fox News averted a high-profile jury trial, by agreeing to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5m (£633m). The voting machine company had accused the news network of spreading false information about its business in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

The lawsuit accused Fox News of amplifying fake and damaging claims about Dominion, claiming the company was responsible for ‘flipping’ or manipulating votes, had ties to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, and provided ‘kickbacks’ to election officials. The claims were made when conspiracy theories about the outcome of the presidential election were rife within Republican circles, elaborated by Donald Trump and his allies, and across the right-wing media, including far-right competitors of Fox News.

In a statement, the network said: “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”

What a load of hideous baloney. In spreading lies and misinformation, which led to the Murdoch-owned network being caught up in one of the most high-profile defamation trials in history, Fox News failed to adhere to basic journalistic standards.

But this comes as no surprise and is almost expected from the right-wing media channel, as it isn’t the first time Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been embroiled in a costly legal defeat, and it certainly wasn’t the costliest. In 2011, the billionaire media tycoon, who owns The Sun, Times, and Talk TV/Radio in Britain, faced questions about the claim that his newspapers had illegally hacked into the voicemail boxes of celebrities, royals and others, in order to get scoops and dig the dirt.

The phone hacking scandal cost Murdoch dearly. Murdoch’s News Corp. deserted efforts to take over the TV network Sky, and the media mogul pulled the plug on the News of the World, which had been published for 168 years and was Britain’s best-selling weekly tabloid. The scandal and subsequent legal issues are said to have cost Murdoch’s UK publishing business over £1bn.

At the time, Murdoch was apologetic, saying, when he faced questions from UK lawmakers, that it was the ‘most humble day of my life.’  

But as proven by the Dominion defamation lawsuit, Murdoch’s empire has learned absolutely nothing, and no hogwash talk of the ‘highest journalistic standards’ will convince us that the conservative news network will really change its ways.

But will Dominion’s triumph, which saw momentous questions about the principles of journalism raised, not by a media regulator or the government, but by a humble voting machine manufacturer, embolden people in Britain to take on, not only Murdoch’s media, but the likes of the Daily Mail and the Express, which have peddled dubious ‘news’ stories for years?

On a political level, politicians know they need Murdoch’s media, as it can counter the critical appraisals of authentic and principled journalism. This is turn has encouraged the rise of the Murdoch empire, despite scandals that should have definitively buried the empire on both sides of the Atlantic, regularly rearing their head.

We would love to believe this week’s lawsuit will change the media landscape, making it more transparent and honest, and thereby encouraging the ‘victims’ to take on the perpetrators. But with those in high places, namely politicians and a toothless regulator, seemingly turning a blind eye to media abuse, the prospect feels unlikely.

Woke-bashing of the week – Bud Light, Mickey Mouse, and the Brecon Beacons!

It’s been one hell of a week for the woke-bashers. In the US – which I seem to have mentioned a lot in this week’s RWW – Conservatives have been venting their woke fury at Bud Light.

Yes, the much-loved beer has ruffled the feathers of conservatives, for an ad that features a trans influencer. And it gets worse. At the crux of the wrath is Brendan Whitworth, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Bud Light. When right-wing, culture-war stoking commentators unearthed – via his LinkedIn page, oh the investigative skills – that Whitworth had been formerly employed by the CIA, they went into meltdown, feverishly speculating that he is part of a wide-ranging cult designed to launder ‘woke’ ideas for the masses.

Naturally, the right-wing culture war warriors in Britain were keen to advance the incredibly ridiculous story.  “Partnership with trans influencer Mulvaney has proved disastrous for Bud Light,” trumpeted the Mail.

Vying for woke-disparaging coverage this week, was another ridiculous nonstory, claiming that Mickey and Minnie Mouse are undergoing a ‘woke’ transformation. Leading the charge was GB News, which insisted Walt Disney would be ‘spinning in his grave’ as ‘entertainment giant prepares for Mickey and Minnie Mouse revamp.’

You’d think something colossal was taking place at Disney venues, but in actual fact, all that is happening is Mickey and Minnie mouse characters are being dressed in rainbow costumes at a Pride Nite event at Disneyland, California. The report gets even more hilarious when the reporter notes that the event was announced moments after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had threatened to build a state prison next to the location. The mind boggles!

Away from the sunny climes of Florida to the lush hills of the Brecon Beacons, and yet more woke washing tripe has been taking place.

Author Harry Mount – who else? – has been walking in the ‘lush, green valleys’ of the Brecon Beacons all his life, but will never, ever, call them Bannau Brycheiniog.

What he is referring to is the news this week that the national park has replaced its English name with Bannau Brycheiniog. Bosses say the new name, which is Welsh for “the peaks of Brychan’s kingdom”- promotes the area’s culture and heritage, well it is located in Wales after all.

Without consulting residents, the name change apparently upset some locals, but for the Daily Mail author it is “purely the brainchild of an unholy alliance of virtue-signalling politicians and civil servants who appear to be prepared to spend taxpayers’ money on the most lame of initiatives, as long as they can be passed off as contributing in some way to the sunlit uplands of ‘net zero.”

Yes, not only does Mount attempt to link the story to ‘woke philistines,’ but he makes efforts to whip up outrage towards the climate change agenda by accusing ‘self-indulgent pen-pushers’ of declaring the old name as being ‘out of step with their battle against climate change and ‘does not fit with the ethos’ of the national park as an eco-friendly organisation.’

Nothing to do with wanting to reflect the history and identity of the place and promote the Welsh language, which has been in sharp decline for years, eh Harry?

Could they possibly stoop any lower?

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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