By Richard Wood
The UK Government’s “Elections Bill” was voted through by MPs on the evening of Monday 17 January 2022.
Very little time was given to the Bill which will have some significant impacts on the nature of British democracy when it is likely given Royal Ascent.
The Bill, which will next go to the House of Lords, is symptomatic of the current government’s commitment to consolidating power and introducing regressive electoral reforms. Both the Elections Bill and the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill will have major negative repercussions.
One of the main controversies of the Bill is the introduction of voter identification requirements which campaign groups have said will further marginalise those groups already less likely to vote. While there is a logic to requiring voters to verify their identity, the problem the bill claims to tackle is almost non-existent. The number of voter fraud cases in the UK stands at only a handful. What’s more, trials in England in 2019 led to the turning away of hundreds of voters, almost half of whom did not return to vote. Instead of addressing a non-existent problem, voter ID will create a whole set of new issues, namely voter suppression.
The Bill will also replace the Supplementary Vote with First Past the Post for mayoral elections in England. The Supplementary Vote is far from the best way to elect single-member positions like mayor or president (the best system would be the Alternative Vote) but it is superior to First Past the Post as it provides a broader, more representatie mandate to the winning candidate. Instead of replacing First Past the Post with Proportional Representation and preferential systems where necessary, the government is expanding a clapped-out system that fails to represent the people time and time again.
Democracy activists and campaign groups took a strong stance against the bill while opposition parties tabled a series of amendments to rip out the bill’s worst elements and improve it overall, but ultimately none were successful.
The Elections Bill puts Britain on the wrong track. The use of First Past the Post needs to be ended not extended.
Westminster is in desperate need of an upgrade. We need real democracy now.