IN SOME households, the season ticket of the main breadwinner was once regarded rather like the family car. While the rail regulations clearly stated that the pass was only for the use of the individual who purchased it, the teenage offspring would to take it for a night on the town, saving money on transport. What could any ticket inspector do? The passenger would be in possession of a valid ticket for the journey, and if the teenager was old enough to be required to pay the full fare, the inspector’s suspicions that the young person was using daddy’s ticket for the night could be confirmed only if the passenger was female.
By the time I was of working age, Network SouthEast had cottoned on to this subterfuge. Season tickets required a companion document bearing a passport-style photograph of the holder. I recall that I had to provide a photograph to obtain a British Rail Young Person’s Railcard which allowed me a 30 per cent discount on off-peak rail travel across the country. The cost of the card was more than covered by the discount on a return journey to Carlisle to watch Chelsea playing away during the single season when both teams were in the Second Division.
My first visit as an adult to France was made using a British Visitor’s Passport. Unlike a full passport, this document could be obtained from any Post Office on presentation of certain proofs of identity and allowed a person to visit a Western European country for as many times as required for a period of 12 months so long as no stay exceeded three months. Millions of holidaymakers made use of this document from 1961 until its abolition under New Labour. It could be argued that Club 18-30’s business model in the 1980s and 1990s was based on the ease with which its youthful and hedonistic customer base could obtain this travel document. Certainly the proliferation of Photo-Me booths in shopping centres and supermarkets was not entirely based on a sudden random desire by a person to take a picture of his or her face.
It is in this context that objections over the requirement for photographic voter identification appear absurd. It is difficult to see how anyone can determine that ‘millions’ of potential voters lack any form of photographic identification, and this can only be an assumption. And since photographic identity documents are not only routine but also quick and easy to obtain, it is difficult to see how this measure amounts to voter suppression. Based on that logic, the requirement for photographic identification in the examples above amounts to travel suppression. Since it will be used for the narrow purpose of voting, it is not a step on the way to introducing mandatory identification cards.
What is entirely possible is that there has been widespread undetected voter fraud, or fraud that could not be investigated owing to an absence of powers to do so. While the amount of detected fraud is low, the ease with which an election may be stolen requires new measures to be introduced. It does not help matters when the Labour Party, which is leading the objections to this proposal, has used the services of convicted vote riggers. Marsha-Jane Thompson was convicted for fraud after submitting 100 voter registration forms that she filled in herself, complete with forged signatures. Jeremy Corbyn gave her a position in his events and campaigns team in his Westminster offices. Tariq Mahmood was jailed for 15 months for electoral fraud in 2008 and expelled from the Labour Party. However in early 2019 he was back helping Corbyn, supporting Lisa Forbes as she won the hotly contested Peterborough by-election. Investigations subsequently found no evidence of fraud, but public confidence in the validity of the outcome was severely weakened.
It is this public confidence in the democratic outcomes that the government is addressing. If people think elections can be stolen by organised criminal activity, they will not bother voting, and this will damage faith in governance and promote civil disengagement or even civil disobedience of a kind certain Labour MPs feel unable to oppose. https://youtu.be/-NkIKhfDAh4 It is therefore ironic that Labour accuses the government of having the potential to steal elections for introducing a measure designed to stop elections being stolen. Labour is also hypocritical: its party meetings require members to bring identification. People had to bring identification to attend ‘Labour Live’ in 2018, a financially catastrophic attempt by the party to recreate Corbyn’s 2017 Glastonbury appearance. If it is good enough for the Labour Party, it should be good enough for elections.
What is missing from Labour’s objections is any criticism over the practicalities of obtaining identification to vote. If Labour continues to protest against a law designed to protect the integrity of the democratic process, it is reasonable to infer that the Labour Party has in the past stolen elections. Certainly there was an egregious case of postal vote harvesting by the party in 2005; it is to be hoped that opportunities for Labour to steal an election have since been limited.
There is evidence of voter fraud and also that elections have been stolen in the recent past. A reasonable case can be made that this can happen in the future unless it is checked. A law to protect democracy is a rational measure. If Labour continues to oppose it, it is reasonable to ask how the Labour Party benefits from the current potential in our electoral system for voter fraud. Labour, being a rigidly ideological party, does contain major elements within it that do not believe in compromise with the electorate. It is to be hoped that this refusal to compromise does not include as yet undetected criminal activity around the ballot box.