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We can't let the Tories take lessons from the US on using voter ID to distort democracy

3.5 million electors – that’s 7.5 per cent of the electorate – do not have photo ID. 

At a time when Brexit dominates political discussion and our attention is focused on the future of the UK’s economic relationship with the EU, it is important to remember that there is still plenty going on elsewhere in British politics.

Behind the scenes and attempting to avoid attention from media pundits, the Conservatives are quietly planning one of the most dramatic changes to our voting system ever. This May, the Government are piloting mandatory voter ID in some areas across the UK for the local government elections.

For the first time, voters in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking will be required to show identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, to cast their vote at the polling station. Those without the necessary ID will be turned away. Moreover, before a single pilot has taken place, the Tories have already pledged to roll-out voter ID nationwide at the next general election.

Let’s be clear, electoral fraud is a serious crime and it is vital that the police have the resources they need to bring about prosecution. However, the proposals outlined by the government are clearly disproportionate.

Last year there were 28 allegations of impersonation - the type of fraud that voter ID is designed to tackle – out of 45 million votes cast. That is one allegation for every 1.6 million votes cast. Of these 28 allegations, one case resulted in a conviction. Trust in our democratic system is vital, which is why strategies to tackle fraud should be based on facts.

Manipulating people’s concerns about voter fraud in order to build support for repressive voter ID laws is a tactic too often used by right-wing politicians in the US. In 2008, Georgia and Indiana became the first US states to introduce voter ID, on the grounds of exaggerated claims of voter fraud. There are now 13 US states that have adopted restrictive voter ID laws (and six states have strict photo ID requirements).

Research by the Brennan Centre indicates that strict voter ID requirements in the United States are a deliberate and well established method of conservative US states to depress voter turnout amongst minority groups. According to a recent report by Professor Hajnal from the University of California San Diego, strict identification laws caused voter turnout in US general election to drop by 5 per cent among individuals from minority groups.

During the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump revived the false claim of widespread voter fraud when he claimed that that millions of people had voted illegally which swayed the result of the popular vote in Hillary Clinton’s favour. Although claims of election “rigging” and fraudulent voting have been debunked in-depth afterwards, this kind of dangerous rhetoric undermines the legitimacy of elections and our democracy.

We cannot allow this Conservative Government to take lessons from the US Republican Party and follow a similar path of voter suppression. The Electoral Commission has warned that 3.5 million electors – that’s 7.5 per cent of the electorate – do not have photo ID.

There is also a significant financial barrier to obtaining ID. Many people cannot afford a passport, let alone a holiday abroad. A recent study found that 7 million people in the UK who have not been on a family holiday in the past ten years. Alongside this fact, the Government have pushed through unpopular proposals to increase the cost of adult passports from £72.50 to a whopping £85.

Many across the third sector share our concern about voter ID. This week an unprecedented coalition of leading charities, civil society groups and academics wrote to Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution, calling on the government to urgently reconsider the decision to enforce voter ID at the local elections in May. The coalition – including charities such as Age UK, the National Union of Students, Operation Black Vote, the Salvation Army and Stonewall – argue that voter ID reforms present a significant barrier to democratic engagement; and it could disadvantage young people, older people, disabled, transgender, BAME communities and the homeless.

In this letter, the coalition said that they were concerned that local authorities involved have failed to carry out adequate equality impact assessments of the pilots on protected individuals in their areas. They also drew attention to the low levels of public awareness of the pilots and proposed reforms.

The Labour Party believes democracy is for everyone. We want everyone's voice to be heard, no matter someone's background. And, as we mark 100 years of women over 30 achieving the right to vote, we should challenge ourselves to build on their democratic achievements and resist the efforts of those who would turn back the clock.

Cat Smith is Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood

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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.