By Richard Wood
The UK Government’s regressive Elections Bill returns to the House of Lords for its Second Reading (Wednesday 23 February 2022).
The Bill passed in the House of Commons on Monday 17 January (Report Stage and Third Reading) with very limited time dedicated to its debate. Unfortunately none of the amendments designed too remove its most oppressive aspects were successful due to the government having a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
With the Bill now in the House of Lords, there is an opportunity for government defeats to push back against the watering down of our democratic standards.
Reasons to oppose the Elections Bill
The Bill will weaken the UK’s already shaky democratic foundations. Instead of upgrading our political system by introducing Proportional Representation and modernising parliament, the Elections Bill is a direct attack on representative democracy.
It contains provisions to expand First Past the Post through abolishing the Supplementary Vote used for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and mayoral elections. The current system is far from perfect but it provides a broader mandate to PCCs and mayors than the unrepresentative FPTP set-up currently used to elect Member of Parliament to the House of Commons.
The Elections Bill is also set to weaken the vital independence of the Electoral Commission. This is an affront to democracy which the Electoral Commission have firmly taken a stand against. In their letter to the government they say:
We therefore urge the Government to think again about these measures, to remove the provisions, and to work with the Commission and Speaker’s Committee to ensure that suitable accountability arrangements are in place to ensure confidence across the political spectrum. Strong accountability is essential for this, but so too is demonstrable independence. The Commission’s independent role in the electoral system must be clear for voters and campaigners to see, and preserved in electoral law.Electoral Commission (21 February 2022)
Furthermore, the government’s bill will introduce voter identification (ID) requirements to address alleged voter fraud. Of course, electoral fraud is wrong and should be stamped out where present, however, the issue is barely a footnote on the pages of modern British politics, not to mention that trials in England have found voter ID to be highly ineffective. What’s more leading campaigns and organisations, such as the Electoral Reform Society and Hands off Our Vote have highlighted that voter ID is inherently exclusionary – it will have a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, young people, older people and other demographics. Instead of tackling fraud, voter ID will suppress voters.
The Electoral Reform Society’s briefing on the Bill provides more details and further reasons to oppose the Bill here.
What can you do? Taking action to defend democracy
The House of Lords has an opportunity to defeat the government but that is not without its challenges. Here’s what you can do.
Campaign groups from across the democracy sector are coming together to put pressure on the House of Lords to do the right thing.
Unlock Democracy’s action centre is a good starting point, full of calls to actions to campaign against the bill.
Make Votes Matter, who strongly opposed the expansion of First Past the Post, also provide some key actions to take.
The Elections Bill is a regressive piece of legislation that must be stopped. The government’s unrepresentative majority in the House of Commons seems unassailable but there is a real opportunity to make a difference in the Lords.