The Electoral Commission – independent no more

Search, and you’ll hardly find any mention of this in the national press. But last night, the government won a vote to end the independence of the UK’s Electoral Commission.

Yes, you read that right. The Tory government has just seized control of the Electoral Commission. It can no longer describe itself as independent.

Best For Britain tweeted today:

‘Conservative MPs have pretty much admitted this is revenge for the Electoral Commission investigating the Conservative Party and Vote Leave.’

Journalist and commentator Jonathan Lis tweeted:

‘It will get almost no publicity, but the government just won a vote to take control of the Electoral Commission.

That’s right: Johnson will now wield ultimate power over another of the bodies designed to hold executive power in check.

This is not a functioning democracy.’

Before last night’s vote in the House of Lords, LibDem Lord Chris Renard tweeted:

‘We are voting tonight in @UKHouseofLords to try and block Boris Johnson’s Government taking control of the independent Electoral Commission. We will also be voting to say that taking your official poll card should be sufficient ID – there is no need for Photo ID.’

But it was to no avail. He later tweeted:

‘We lost the vote in @UKHouseofLords on maintaining the independence of the Electoral Commission by 181 to 202.’

Next up was a vote on whether to have compulsory voter ID.

That passed. In the future, to vote, everyone will have to show photo ID to be able to vote in the UK.

Lord Renard blamed Labour peers for not voting in sufficient numbers. He tweeted:

‘Do look at the votes and see what happened. Proud of my @LibDemLords colleagues but democratic principles let down by Labour low turnout contrasting with intensive Tory whipping.’

Lord Renard had presented a powerful case that compulsory voter ID was totally unnecessary and a waste of the £180m required over the next ten years to make photo ID a requirement when voting. He pointed out,

“At no stage in any of our debates have the Government presented any evidence that compulsory photo ID is necessary, or proportionate, to what they try to claim is a risk of impersonation. In fact, there is proof that impersonation at the polling station is not a significant problem.”

So, in summary, the government will now run the Electoral Commission and in future, compulsory photo ID will be required before you can vote – moves that that will only benefit the Tories.

@ParodyBorisJohnson tweeted:

‘Last night we pushed through a bill to bring the Electoral Commission under our control. It’s only another nail in the coffin of democracy, so don’t expect to see it mentioned in the news.’

Goodbye democracy. We’re on the next step to fascism.

Lord Renard’s eloquent reasons why we don’t need compulsory photo ID in the UK to vote:

Lord Rennard (LD)

I speak to Motion B1. We have already agreed in this House that compulsory photo ID at polling stations is not necessary. At no stage in any of our debates have the Government presented any evidence that compulsory photo ID is necessary, or proportionate, to what they try to claim is a risk of impersonation. In fact, there is proof that impersonation at the polling station is not a significant problem. The number of replacement ballot papers issued in the last general election, mostly because of a clerical error in crossing off the wrong name, was just 1,341 out of over 32 million ballot papers issued. That is an average of two replacement ballot papers in each constituency, or just one for every 30 polling stations. Mostly, they were issued due to clerical error, not fraud. Therefore, spending £180 million over the next 10 years to make photo ID a requirement to be allowed to vote is wholly disproportionate and unnecessary.

In an earlier debate, it was stated by a Minister that if someone claimed your vote, they had stolen it and you could not get it back. However, the replacement ballot paper system means that this is not the case. Unlike someone stealing a parcel of yours at the Post Office, you can get a replacement ballot paper if one has already been issued in your name and an investigation is made, if necessary.

The Minister referred to Northern Ireland and the recent increase in turnout, which I am sure is not due to the popularity of photo ID. If we look back to when photo ID first came in for the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, we see that estimates were that around 25,000 voters did not vote because they did not have the required ID, and almost 3,500 people—2.3% of the electorate—were initially turned away for not possessing the required ID. There are 20 times as many people in Great Britain, so you can do the maths.

However, there is a sensible alternative to the Government’s proposals. It should be seen as a sensible compromise. It would safely address any legitimate concern that the Government claim to have about impersonation at the polling station. Perhaps significantly, it would also fulfil what was in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2019.

In addition to the documents considered acceptable to the Government as proof of identity, there is a document already issued to every voter by the official electoral registration officer. That document is the official polling card. In the local election pilots conducted under the Government’s own rules, the poll card was deemed an acceptable form of voterID in some council areas and was chosen by 93% of voters where it was an option. This compares with 5% choosing to use their driving licence and 1% choosing their passport. Most significantly, the number of voters turned away from polling stations was half the level of that in areas requiring photo ID. That is the real point of the Electoral Commission’s analysis of those pilots.

Every voter on the electoral register is issued with a polling card. There is therefore no additional cost in making it an acceptable form of ID. A fraudster would have not just to impersonate someone at a polling station but to have stolen their poll card in advance. In the unlikely event of it being stolen, it could be replaced, and someone using the original could be arrested at the polling station for using it. So let us offer this compromise from this House. It offers greater security but no discrimination and no great expensive additional bureaucracy.

I believe that we do not require substantial further debate on this issue tonight, but we do need to act to prevent abuse of a majority in the other place.

Jon Danzig is a campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe. He is also founder of the pro-EU information campaign, Reasons2Rejoin. You can follow Jon Danzig on his Facebook journalism page at