The Tory government’s new Election Bill is insulting to our nation’s history and values
Rhys ab Owen MS and Ben Lake MP
The important steps we are taking to expand and deepen our democracy in Wales could suffer a major blow if the Tory Government in Westminster has its way with the new Election Bill.
The Bill will make considerable controversial changes to the conduct and administration of UK General and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales. The most high-profile of which is the introduction of voter ID.
The justification of the measure is to combat voter fraud, which in Wales is virtually non-existent.
In practice, this change will disenfranchise younger, BAME and poorer voters who are less likely to have or acquire voter ID.
For example, a Cabinet Office study released in May suggest that over two million voters, including almost 100,000 in Wales, would lack the necessary identification to take part in elections following the change in the law.
Voting is a right won through struggle of ordinary people in Wales, such as the Chartists, and so to see Westminster imposing such a measure that will undoubtedly restrict this right is insulting to our nation’s history and values.
The Bill will also make changes to who can vote in Westminster controlled elections, by restricting EU citizens in the UK from voting, and extending the franchise to ex-pats for life, whilst denying the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.
This is in contrast to the positive extension of the franchise that we have seen in Welsh devolved elections where in May, all 16- and 17-year-olds and foreign citizens legally resident in Wales were able to vote for the first time in the Senedd election.
While the turnout amongst young people was disappointing, we must remember the outreach work to encourage registration and voting that would have normally taken place in youth clubs, schools and colleges could not take place because of the pandemic.
Put simply; Elections run by our Senedd are becoming more inclusive and democratic while Westminster is closing down our democracy.
On top of these changes, the UK Government have also announced that Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales will revert to the Victorian age first past the post method.
This is completely antithetical to our approach in Wales, where we need more, not less, proportional representation to properly reflect our diverse society.
The Bill will most likely encroach onto our devolved elections themselves. For example, the Senedd General Election in 2021 was a combined poll with the Westminster run Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
If the same were to happen again after the passing of the Bill, then voters in Wales will experience large differences in who can vote and by what means between the two polls, including different rules for proxy, postal as well as in person voting.
It will add layers of bureaucracy to the voting process, creating confusion for voters and damage our democracy.
Mick Antoniw MS, the Counsel General for the Welsh Government has recommended that the Senedd withhold its consent for the Bill, because of the impact it will likely have in Wales including the costs to the Electoral Commission in Wales.
This means we could a situation where the Westminster Government passes the Bill without the consent of the Senedd, ignoring and undermining the voice of the people of Wales.
The Bill represents further proof of the growing chasm between our approaches to politics in Wales and Westminster.
Boris Johnson’s government should do the right thing and withdraw this damaging Bill and reintroduce a law that will truly strengthen our democracy.
Rhys ab Owen is Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson in the Senedd for the constitution and justice and Ben Lake is Shadow Plaid Cymru Spokesperson on the Constitution and Welsh Affairs at Westminster.