A functioning democracy relies on many different parts. Primarily however, on the people to elect their representatives at a local and national level; for workplace and political activism to freely occur outside of the palace of Westminster, and for a free press to report our politics and allow for a diverse range of opinions that defend or challenge the status quo.
Yet, the government is actively suppressing the political rights of 3.5 million people by placing a financial barrier ahead of voting at elections.
A government commissioned report dating March 2021 concluded that those who are unemployed, from low income households, first time voters or who have severely limiting disabilities, were more likely to not possess photographic identification that would be needed to enter a voting booth. Furthermore, without mandatory national ID cards (another authoritarian concept), there are huge costs involved in buying a passport or a driving licence.
All this to make voting much more difficult despite only three convictions of fraudulent voting in the past seven years. This is blatantly not about enhancing our democracy. Otherwise the government would do more to address relatively low turnout rates at elections, or begin the process of repairing the trust between the voters and the government. The 2019 British Social Attitudes Survey reported that only 15 percent of respondents said they trust the government either "most of the time or "just about always”, which was the lowest level recorded in more than 40 years of available data.
The statistics of turnout at local, national and regional elections and referendums demonstrate mass apathy – this is what needs to be tackled. Taking statistics from pre-Covid elections demonstrate that there was only a 34.8% turnout at the local elections in 2018 and at 67.3% at the 2019 General Election. The data for election turnouts can be found on the parliament website, and overall demonstrates that turnout in general elections has not reached 80% or above of the electorate since 1955.
This is not to say that low turnout necessarily undermines the result of an election, although it can be argued that the First Past the Post system is the least representative of the will of the people, and it may be a factor at play in why the UK has low turnouts.
The PCSC Bill "entrenches the status quo and deters people from mobilising support. In turn, this gives the illusion that less people are opposed, or [...] in favour of policies enacted by this government."
There is also a shared sentiment in the UK that no political party is truly representative of the electorate; that the two main parties are the same or do not challenge the political status quo in favour of the ordinary person. As such, it can seem as though shaping the current system to effectively tackle the pressing issues in the current climate is nearly impossible.
Protests and petitions can garner mass support and raise awareness of issues that are not being addressed by the government or other political parties. The existence of protests allow space for voices that may not otherwise be heard, as well as resulting in community or regional organising that works with local political leaders to implement policy or effectively pressure a political party into addressing such issues.
The government’s website, however, argues that limiting rights to protest is necessary; not only because ‘these rights are not absolute rights’ which accordingly ‘raises important questions for the police and wider society to consider how much disruption is tolerable, and how to deal with protests who break the law’.
Yet it is clear that protesting is a human right. Rioting and violence are not, and there is a long standing precedence of prosecuting those who do commit acts of violence.
The argument made in parliament by the Minister for Safeguarding is that out of all the protests that occurred in 2020, under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC), as few as ten would not have been permitted to take place. This was said in hindsight, of knowing how these protests occurred.
I question the prejudice of those potentially making the decision to, or not to, allow a protest to occur. Are there rigorous checks and balances for every decision that is carried out? Is there a way to appeal or to ask for a substantial reason as to why it cannot occur?
It there anything but ‘noise complaints’ given as the reason that restrictions to protests are part of the PCSC Bill? The bill entrenches the status quo and deters people from mobilising support. In turn, this gives the illusion that less people are opposed, or more importantly, in favour of policies enacted by this government.
The other substantial political and workplace activism is through Trade Unions, many of which have affiliations with the Labour Party. However, also under the Elections Bill, the Conservative Government plan to criminalise individuals or organised groups, most obviously Trade Unions, for campaigning on any policy within a year of an election taking place.
The Trade Union movement is to uphold and campaign for workers rights, whether in the public or private sector and includes anything from pay to working hours, safety and the make up of workers’ contracts. By their very nature they campaign on issues.
Having Unions affiliated with the Labour Party would therefore result in either a stranglehold on their abilities to represent their workers or to campaign for an affiliated political party at elections.
The concern for our democracy is the Conservative Party.
Vicky Gill's interest in politics grew after participating in the UK branch of the European Youth Parliament in 2018, and after doing a module on the 20th century social and political history of the UK at A-Level.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.