Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Identity Politics

It's being reported today that polling stations will start 'demanding' ID before allowing people to vote. The use of the word demand is deliberately and ridiculously hyperbolic. We go through life producing ID 'on demand'. Many have to wear ID around their necks all day long. Few of us think anything of it.

Many of us carry at least one form of ID around with us all the time in wallets or purses. It has become the norm, a simple practicality. I carry that handy plastic driving licence around with me constantly. It is a useful item to have.

It is an absurdity that we do not have to produce ID in order to do something as important as voting. Our system is one that is tried and trusted and yet it is under pressure as never before. There is clear evidence that it is being corrupted by people from foreign and patriarchal cultures. That is unconscionable and wrong. We have a system of secret ballots enabling us all to go into the polling booth and cast our vote as we see fit. This enduring system is probably the reason that so many of the polls have been wrong this last few months.

It has always seemed absurd to me that I can go to a polling station and simply tell the clerk my name before casting my vote. Why is this still the case?  There are arguments that requiring ID will somehow deprive many of the vote. Yet how can this be the case when producing ID for a range of services has become second nature for us all?

It is also absurd, quite frankly, that so many postal votes are allowed these days. Voting is, or ought to be, a civic duty. It takes five minutes. Go to the polling station.

And it's not just voting that is subject to abuse. Anyone can turn up a doctors surgery or hospital and receive expensive treatment without the requirement of producing ID to show that one is entitled to it. This has to stop.

I am starting to think that the ID card scheme that Tony Blair tried and failed to introduce was a good idea. It was something I opposed at the time but the rationale for it is real and increasing. The only real argument against it is not a civil liberties one, but more to do with Whitehall's inability to manage large IT schemes. Given the hacking dangers we all face in world today, imagine if a national ID card scheme was hacked.

The great advantage of our traditional voting system using good old fashioned pencil and paper is that it is simple, easy and pretty much incorruptible. Attempts to modernise it by introducing more postal voting have backfired. The basic system however is one we should cherish. It may be old fashioned but it works. All it needs is some tweaking to ensure fair play. Producing ID is not unreasonable in the second decade of the 21st century. It's a reform that is way overdue.

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