Tory contempt for Democracy

It has recently been revealed that in the region of 800,000 names have now been wiped from the electoral register. The Electoral Commission (EC) has confirmed that 770,000 names were removed from the register in light of the governments requirements that people sign up as individuals rather than as households. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) also has confirmed similar worrying figures – approximating that the number of registered voters in the UK had fallen by more than 600,000 between December 2014 and December 2015, despite a growing population. This follows the Government’s rushed introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), which critics say has made more difficult for people to register to vote.

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Diagram 1 – Office of National Statistics (ONS) – Electoral Statistics

Diagram 1 shows that the total number of UK parliamentary electors in 2015 (now at 44,722,000) fell by 1.3% from 2014. Similarly, in terms of  UK local government electors this also has decreased in 2015 to 46,204,700, a fall of 1.3% from 2014. Overall it can be ascertained that between 2014 and 2015, the total number of both parliamentary and local government electors fell in England, Wales and Scotland, but increased in Northern Ireland.

The constituencies which saw the biggest drop are largely student seats and deprived areas – groups which are already under-represented. The areas with the biggest rise are largely wealthier areas. This patchy picture means electoral registration – and the number of parliamentary seats representing each area – is getting more unequal by the year

Such a large number of ‘delections’ cannot be healthy for democracy.  It is reducing the potential electorate through bureaucratic  hoops & barriers. Britain is not a nation plagued with electoral fraud on an industrial scale. These reforms appear to have been implemented on the pre-text of fixing a problem that does not exist. Although in principle individual voter registration is fine idea, the way this has been implemented has been nothing short of a protracted disaster. The burden was put on cash-strapped local councils to contact 46 million voters instead of 20 million households. 

This initiative has made a simple process of registration much more complex. For instance, a newly-married woman who chooses to change her name is now required to provide two forms of identification before being accepted back on to the register. 

The group most affected is students.

Previously, universities, like other institutional landlords, could provide a single list of eligible voters to the local authority. Now every student has to register individually. 

This system & change to voter registration has politically disenfranchised the mobile, the young and those in private rented accommodation – mainly those living in urban areas. Labour look set to be hardest hit by the changes. For example in Wales (where Labour won a majority of seats in last year’s election) there has been a greater drop in registered voters than the national average, while the number of 16 and 17 year olds registered has fallen by 40 per cent. London has lost almost 100,000 voters, while some shire town Tory seats have seen their voter numbers rise. 

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This electoral data/figures will be used in the upcoming boundary reforms (to redraw seats in order to reduce the number of MPs by 50, and ensure that all constituencies are of a broadly equal size). Labour is estimated to lose 24 seats, in-comparison to 14 for the Conservatives. A total coincidence I assume.  A large proportion of these seats will be in Wales (11). It seems that these changes to the electoral register, and alongside the boundary reviews likely impact will hurt Labour the most, and the Conservative party the least.

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Gloria De Piero (shadow minister for voter registration) said that the new figures were shocking and has accused  David Cameron of ‘trying to rig the system for their own political ends‘. She said that the drop in registered voters was:

…. due to the Tory Government’s rushed changes to electoral registration , and said they had ignored warnings from the independent Electoral Commission that it would result in thousands of people falling off the electoral register.

This can be seen  as a accurate reflection of the governments attitude in engaging in this sort of reform. It has not been nuanced, but rushed & ignorant of British society. The way voter registration has changed  & the inevitable boundary reforms based on this will not reflect modern Britain. Further, it is yet another example of the Conservative parties very blase’ attitude (if not deliberate contempt) towards accountability & democracy.

This is another example of David Cameron and the Conservative Party trying to rig the system for their own political ends. They want to reduce by 50 the number of directly elected Members of Parliament under the guise of reducing the cost of politics, whilst cramming the Lords at taxpayers’ expense.This is all further evidence of their partisan plan to give the Tories an unfair advantage at the expense of democracy. – Gloria De Piero, MP 

Parliament has not ensured that the process of individual voting is made fit for purpose, and the result is likely to be a political landscape that favours the Conservative party. Worryingly the Conservative party has recently engaged in a range of policy positions and practices which seem to be (bit by bit) eroding democratic accountability & hurting opposition parties/civic society. David Cameron’s party has a worrying authoritarian streak, and seems intent on crushing opposition entirely. For example, the measures in the partisan & draconian  Trade Union Bill (TUBill)  affecting the way trade unions fund not only the Labour party, but civic organisations associated with the anti-austerity movement. The Tories seem intent on cutting off trade union contributions & funding (arguably the cleanest money in politics) but doing nothing about their own questionable donors….

Or the plans to scrap both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) & the the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). Scrapping the FOI (a vital mechanism of ­accountability) would restrict the release of information and make it harder for the Opposition to scrutinise the work of the Government. Getting rid of the HRA would remove an important shield which protects citizens asserting human rights in the face of unconscionable state activity or over-zealous legislative reactions which curtail liberty. Next there are the proposed cuts to short money ( an annual payment that has been paid to opposition parties since the 1970s).  George Osborne has proposed 19% cuts to the state funding of ALL opposition parties (around £2.1million). Katie Ghose (chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society) said the cut would be likely to damage government accountability.

The decision to cut public funding for opposition parties by 19% is bad news for democracy. The UK already spends just a tenth of the European average on funding parties. Short Money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account. This cut could therefore be deeply damaging for accountability.

Finally, there are the plans to increase the number of unelected Tory peers in the House of Lords (whilst, as noted above reducing the number of elected MPs). All this, in line with all the above so other called reforms, but it is simply an exercise in gerrymandering, to rig the system as much as possible. Returning to short money, the chancellor claims that that cost of short money has risen from £6.9 million in 2010-11 to £9.3 million in 2015-16. The spending review which has proposed reducing ‘short money’ presents the reasoning that:

The government has taken a series of steps to reduce the cost of politics, including cutting and freezing ministerial pay, abolishing pensions for councillors in England and legislating to reduce the size of the House of Commons …. However, since 2010, there has been no contribution by political parties to tackling the deficit. Subject to confirmation by Parliament, the government proposes to reduce Short Money allocations by 19 per cent, in line with the average savings made from unprotected Whitehall departments over this Spending Review.

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However, this is highly hypocritical given the immense amount of tax-payer money spent by the Tories on an army of special advisers (SPADs). In December last year the Government admitted they have 95 Tory SPADs on the books, costing approximately £8.4m (despite when as opposition leader, Mr Cameron criticised the number of Labour special advisers).

‘…the number of SPADs in the highest pay grade has jumped by 150 per cent, and in the next highest pay-grade it has grown from 15 to 26. The number of SPADs paid above £63,000 a year in the Prime Minister’s Office has increased by 51 per cent and in the Chancellor’s office by a staggering 277.1 per cent. The Chancellor bangs on about financial rectitude.  He says were all in it together.  Yet he alone has ten SPADs. One of them, Thea Rogers – best known for giving Osborne his weird haircut – received a whopping 42 per cent pay-rise’. – Chris Bryant MP 

It is clear that this is not about balancing the books. The activity of the Conservatives so far can be summed up as nothing more than a disgusting power grab, to strangle democracy and create the conditions for a one party state. Cameron & the Tories are engaged in a litany of anti-democratic practices. Looking at the bigger picture much of these ‘reforms’ are having the effect of stifling opposition & cementing Conservative hegemony. This will erode what little is left of British democracy. The Conservative party (despite is ‘majority’) won the 2015 General election by a whisker (24% of the potential electorate & 37% of those who did vote is no mandate). They are chipping away at the pillars of British democracy to create a system to favour themselves. We can’t let them. Please REGISTER TO VOTE.

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Martin Rawson

By Frederick Antonio Gallucci | International Law LLM | @gibblegbble

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