Labour could do more to stop the Tories rigging our democracy | Owen Jones

17 Oct

The Tories are determined to rig our democracy in their favour. Having lost their majority – and panicking at the prospect of a Corbyn-led government – they are even more desperate to embed an inherent advantage for their flailing party.

Since 2015, they have attempted to starve their opponents of money, including abortive moves to strangle Labour’s trade union funding and to slash so-called Short money for opposition parties. They introduced individual voter registration, meaning that those least likely to vote for them – such as students and private tenants – are driven off the electoral registers. And their plans to roll out compulsory voter ID will hit those voters with no passport or driving licence: again, the poorest voters who are least likely to vote Tory.

The Tory plans to slash the number of parliamentary seats to 600 and redraw the electoral boundaries should be seen in this context. Yes, there is a strong case for ensuring that constituencies are of an equal size. That should not be done on the basis of unrepresentative voter registration rolls. In any case, there is no current bias against the Tories in the electoral system: indeed, the opposite is the case. While it took 49,154 votes to get a Labour MP in the June election, it took only 43,122 to get a Tory MP.

Gerrymandering and voter suppression: the Tories have learned well from their ruthless Republican allies across the Atlantic. But Labour should not simply oppose these undemocratic stitch-ups. They should respond with their own proposals to expand the electorate.

Why not, for example, pursue automatic voter registration, with an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, approach? Labour could propose electronic voting, too. That wouldn’t just go for local and national elections, but – combined with workplace balloting – for trade union strike ballots. Labour has already proposed votes for 16- and 17-year-olds. A quid pro quo could be to introduce citizens’ education in schools so that young people are taught about democracy and how voting works. As any political canvasser will tell you, there is a surprisingly large number of people who simply do not understand the process of voting. Other proposals are worth investigating, too: what about, say, weekend voting, with the option of voting on either a Saturday or a Sunday?

The Tories seek to reduce the electorate, hoping that fewer poorer, younger, and minority voters will keep them in power. Opposing this undemocratic onslaught is not enough. How do we expand the electorate? It is a debate that is long overdue.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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