Great Britain has had a trust based system of voting for many decades. I have always voted in person because the visit to the polling station is such an important part of any election but I have always thought it a little odd that I never had to prove my identity. Just turning up and telling the officer in the polling station was enough to help determine my local councillor, Member of Parliament and, more recently, whether we remain in the European Union.
These are profound decisions that can rest on a small margin. We only have to think of colleagues who are nursing tiny majorities – together with our small majority in Parliament, we can see how easy it would be to have a different government and Prime Minister. All major political parties spend a huge amount of time and resource focusing on a small number of seats that will tip the balance: the strategists and campaign managers know that the future of the country can rest on the decision of a few thousand votes.
Electoral crooks also know how tight the margins can be. They are increasingly undermining our trust based system and the British public know that it is happening.
When David Cameron, as Prime Minister, invited Sir Eric Pickles to be his anti-corruption champion he specifically asked him to look into the problem of electoral fraud. Obviously, the scandal in Tower Hamlets, which resulted in the removal from office of their Mayor, is the most high profile electoral corruption scandal but there are many legitimate concerns being raised elsewhere. Sir Eric produced a report, Securing the Ballot, which identified problems from postal ballots to personation in polling stations and much else besides and gave solutions for how we can put it right. These fifty recommendations all read as common sense and range from people producing identification at polling stations to improving the postal vote application system.
I took the recommendation of requiring voter ID from Sir Eric’s report and proposed it as a 10 minute rule bill in Parliament. I thought I made a reasoned argument which boiled down to two points: firstly was that Northern Ireland had problems with personation in polling stations and it was largely stopped by requiring photographic ID so Great Britain should do the same; and secondly was people need to show ID to pick up a parcel from the post office so would hardly be inconvenienced if they had to do it when participating in democracy. Often these bills are not challenged but, considering the nature of the Labour Party, I wondered to myself if it would be. I had espied John Spellar MP across the chamber so was not surprised when he stood to oppose.
What I was surprised about was the way he went about it. He believes that any requirement to show ID in a polling station is straight out of the ‘Donald Trump school of disinformation’! Anyone can read the merits and demerits of our contributions to the debate but it did highlight one of the greatest problems the Labour Party currently has: identity politics. No issue however great or small is beyond being characterised as an attack on a “vulnerable group”. As Jeremy Corbyn will be able to confirm, common sense goes out of the window as soon as a socialist can make up a reason to man the barricades.
As a Conservative, I am concerned about voter fraud and people’s legitimate worries about it. That’s why I believe that Great Britain should follow Northern Ireland’s example and have voters properly identified in the same way across the whole United Kingdom.
Chris Green was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Bolton West Constituency at the 2015 General Election.