Under the guise of tackling election fraud, the government is attacking democracy


Show caption ‘For all UK elections in 2019, there was just one conviction for voter ‘personation’.’ A general election polling station in Bermondsey, south London, December 2019. Photograph: Vedat Xhymshiti/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock Opinion Under the guise of tackling election fraud, the government is attacking democracy Angela Rayner From suppressing votes to gagging workers and communities, the elections bill is an assault on our hard-won rights Angela Rayner is the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, and deputy Labour leader Fri 3 Sep 2021 13.53 BST Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share via Email

Next week the government will try to reverse centuries of democratic progress in this country. The Conservatives’ elections bill – copied and pasted straight out of the Donald Trump playbook – is a blatant attempt to rig democracy in the favour of the Conservative party by suppressing votes, gagging organised opposition and neutering our independent electoral watchdog.

The government argues that its plans to bring in voter ID would combat voter fraud, but the truth is that widespread voter fraud just doesn’t exist. For all UK elections in 2019 – including a relatively high turnout general election, in which 32m votes were cast – there was just one conviction for voter “personation”. Instead, US civil rights groups have warned that the government’s voter ID plans will “allow politicians to choose their voters” as the new measures would disenfranchise millions of voters.

If the government cared about the health of our democracy then it would extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and concentrate its efforts on registering the millions of adults in this country who are not on the electoral roll and can’t vote, instead of spreading baseless scare stories.

The bill also seeks to disincentivise trade unions, charities, civil society groups and campaigners from fighting for the same demands as political parties by introducing complex rules around financing “joint campaigns”. This will have a chilling effect on organisations being able to raise awareness and take action on social injustices. As the Committee on Standards in Public Life said in 1998, “there is absolutely nothing wrong with individuals and organisations engaging in such activities [political campaigning]. On the contrary, a free society demands that they should be able to do so, indeed that they should be encouraged to do so”.

This is an affront to free speech, freedom of association and the rights of working people to organise politically to further their interests – cornerstones of our democracy. Around six million people are members of trade unions – any attack on the rights of trade unions to organise and campaign on pay, rights at work and the issues that affect their members’ lives is an attack on the working people who got our country through the pandemic.

Taken alongside the government’s policing bill, which seeks to impose authoritarian limits on peaceful protest, what we are witnessing is a determined effort to silence any communities or workers who seek to hold the government to account.

Even the government watchdog, the Electoral Commission, which upholds electoral law and safeguards the integrity and transparency of political parties’ finances, has come under attack. The elections bill seeks to completely undermine the commission’s role and end any semblance of independence – at the same time as the commission is halfway through its investigation into the financing of the redecoration of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat.

We already have an independent adviser on ministerial standards who is not independent – he can only investigate breaches of the ministerial code once the prime minister says so – and the prime minister can simply ignore his rulings. Now the independent watchdog will be dictated to by the very ministers it is supposed to be regulating, too.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the bill will also carve a loophole into existing political donation laws to allow donors who have lived overseas for decades to bankroll campaigns. There is no possible motivation for changing this law other than to enable super-rich Tory donors to funnel cash into the Conservative party from the beach in an offshore tax haven.

This bill is an attack on our democracy. Labour will oppose it, as will everyone who believes in the right of each citizen to have an equal say in who governs them. Before voting for this assault on our rights, Conservative MPs should consider how many people sacrificed so much in the name of our hard-won rights, and decide whose side they want to be on.

Angela Rayner is the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, deputy Labour leader, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work

{{topLeft}} {{bottomLeft}} {{topRight}} {{bottomRight}} {{/goalExceededMarkerPercentage}} {{#goalExceededMarkerPercentage}}{{/goalExceededMarkerPercentage}} {{heading}} {{#paragraphs}} {{#ticker}}{{/ticker}}{{#paragraphs}} {{.}} {{/paragraphs}} {{highlightedText}}

{{#cta}} {{text}} {{/cta}} Remind me in October Email address Please enter a valid email address Please enter your email address Set a reminder Sorry we couldn’t set a reminder for you this time. Please try again later. We will send you a maximum of two emails in October 2021. To find out what personal data we collect and how we use it, view our Privacy Policy We will be in touch to remind you to contribute. Look out for a message in your inbox in October 2021. If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us {{/paragraphs}}