The Conservative minister Lee Rowley unsuccessfully alleviated fears about mass electoral disenfranchisement yesterday (21 February). He kindly reassured MPs that it didn’t matter that up to two million people couldn’t vote in the May local elections because they lack photo identification, which is now necessary to vote. Why? Because lots of them weren’t going to vote anyway.
The local government minister told the House of Commons to stop repeating the figure, because “of those two million people, which is an estimate, a large number of those will not have elections in their area this year”. Besides, “of that group a number will choose not to vote – much as we would like them to do so”. Unfortunately for Rowley, that number comes straight from the Cabinet Office’s own research from 2021. It shows that 96 per cent of the population have the ID required to vote – leaving 4 per cent, or almost two million who do not.
After groans echoed around the floor of the House, the minister justified the position by telling MPs that many people “have chosen never to have voted, and we would encourage them to do so, but ultimately that is what the purpose of a democracy is – people have a right to vote and not to vote”.
Rowley seems to have missed the irony that, in defending a policy designed to prevent voter fraud, he was inadvertently preventing people from voting. Nonetheless, the Chatterer would like to thank the Tory minister for protecting at least one vital pillar of democracy – our right not to vote.