Thursday, May 03, 2018

ID for voters: In praise of the person from Penge

Photo from Geograph © Stephen Craven

I have a new hero: the person from Penge.

In a tweet today the Guardian's Peter Walker reported from a polling station there:
One person apparently had ID but disliked the idea so much they opted to not vote.
Because there is something profoundly unBritish about such demands to show officialdom your papers.

Indeed I rather grew up with the idea that not having to carry an identity card was a sort of reward for Britain having won the war.

We British preferred things to be a little informal. We trusted one another and preferred the spirit of the law to its letter.

You may argue that this view we held of ourselves did not have much basis in fact. Even if that is true, it is rather beside the point. As individuals and as societies we need our betters selves to aspire to.

A belief that fair play is a fundamental British characteristic would not survive much study of our imperial history, but I would rather we saw ourselves that way.

This view of Britishness used to be a Conservative one. It was Socialism, they told us, that wanted to regulate people. But that changed long ago.

Here is part of a House Points column I wrote back in 2007:
In the early 1990s I was walking the South-West coast and spent a night in Kingsand -- a village across the Tamar from Plymouth. It was one of those magical evenings when you make friends with the locals and people keep buying you drinks. 
Towards closing time, the local Conservatives came in from a meeting and I got talking to them too. They had been discussing identity cards and asked what I thought. I said (a little pretentiously) that I didn't see why, as a freeborn Englishman, I should have to carry a card to show my right to be in my own country. 
Yes, they said, there was someone at the meeting who thought that, but the rest of us were firmly in favour of cards. It turned out this was chiefly because of their fears about illegal immigration.
There is no evidence that personation is a problem in British elections. Postal voting is a different matter following Labour's decision to encourage it at all costs and should be investigated.

I remember, too, the day I knocked on the door of a long-vanished Market Harborough care home to see if I could canvass the residents. I was told that one of the local Conservative grandees had kindly arranged proxy votes for them all so there was no need.

The Conservatives know there is not a problem with voting at polling stations, but they probably hope that demanding proof of identity will depress the turn out to their advantage.

Most of all, though, this measure is an attempt to placate the sort of Conservative members I met in Kingsand.

They are convinced that Britain is overrun with illegal immigrants. They probably also believe that those immigrants all vote, most of them more than once.

It is to placate them that this demand for identification is being introduced

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