Just after 6pm on Tuesday I received an emailed titled “Bad for democracy”! The email, from Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, was sent to tell me about the Government’s plan to test the use of photo ID in five areas during the local elections in May. Yes, it seems to this increasingly ridiculous Labour Party that the Government testing out plans to ensure that only those eligible to vote can do so — and only once — is bad for democracy.
This would be laughable if the reason I support this policy was not such a serious one. Growing up, I saw the votes of mostly women and older people within my community basically claimed by men even before they got to the voting booth. The Labour Party has said that introducing ID checks at polling stations will put up further barriers to voting at the next general election, but what it will actually do is open up the system for the first time.
The fact that anyone can turn up at a polling station with a card sent to a home address and cast a vote is scary. When I tell people this is how we still do it, they look at me as if I am joking. It’s harder to buy a lighter than it is to vote in this country.
When I was 15 I received my national insurance card nine months earlier than I was meant to, and a few weeks later I was sent in error a voting card for the Welsh referendum (I was living in Cardiff). I didn’t vote, of course, but I could have. If I’d wanted to, all I had to do was go down to the polling station and cast my vote. I was politically engaged and I knew how every vote counted, but I also knew the law.
I am sure there are a million stories like this, or the ones I would hear in the common room at uni, where someone was not able to get back home and they had not registered at their uni address so their brother or sister voted for them. As anecdotes go, these seem minor, but in reality they are the tip of the iceberg. Self-appointed community leaders have been known to fill out postal votes for others and even cast votes for people. As I say, I saw this growing up. Most of those votes were for Labour candidates, and therefore I can see why the party is against this move to tighten things up, but if they pull their finger out, it does not have to be an issue.
In the year we celebrate the centenary of some women getting the vote, let’s move into the 21st century. In Somaliland, one of the poorest countries in the world, they introduced an iris-recognition, biometric voting system. I am not suggesting we go that far but I will fight for the Government to pay for acceptable ID for those who don’t have passports or driving licences. The cost of ID is not the only valid issue here, but that is something the Government can be asked to ensure.