Is Britain now Too Gerrymandered To Be A Genuine Democracy?

By George Tait Edwards MBE

1 The Gerrymandering Measures

During the last 27 years, Conservative and Coalition Governments have passed legislation aimed at reducing the voting rights of several groups of people whose votes are not likely to be supportive of the Conservative Party. These three main vexatious pieces of legislation are

  • The Poll Tax or Community Charge
  • The Bedroom Tax
  • The 2013 Individual Electoral Registration (“IER”) and Administration Act

These pieces of legislation are gerrymandering devices masquerading as tax-raising (the Community Charge or Poll Tax) or cost-reducing (the Bedroom Tax) or improved voter registration (the 2013 Electoral Registration and Administration Act) when they are all actually gerrymandering legislation designed to chase some voters off the rolls. All of these measures have caused and are causing the denial of voting rights to presumed or mainly non-Conservative voters. These issues are considered in more detail in the following sections, which renames each Act according to its major effects.

2.1 The Poll Tax — “It’s £400 a year for the right to vote” Poll taxes everywhere and always have been used to deny voting rights to a section of the electors in the population; it is in fact their only real function wherever they have been introduced. In the UK, the Electoral Roll was used to identify poll tax payers and many young and poorer voters decided to leave the Electoral Register rather than pay £400 a year for the right to vote. As Wikipedia comments (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Charge) There is also some evidence that the poll tax had a lasting effect of people not registering themselves on the electoral register to evade collection attempts. This may have had an effect on the results of the 1992 General Election, which ended in a fourth successive Conservative victory, despite most opinion polls pointing to a hung parliament or narrow Labour majority. ”

In the USA , American Poll Taxes were used to disenfranchise poor people of Afro-American origin by setting the Poll Tax high enough to make voting rights unaffordable by black voters but easily affordable by whites. In the United Kingdom the Poll Charge was not specifically racist or misogynist but was aimed at deterring voter registration by poorer voters who were more likely to vote Labour. Poorer immigrants or poorly-paid women were of course disproportionately affected by the Poll Tax and it had the intended effect of removing many of these voters from the electoral roll but that was a side effect rather than its main targeted function. Most of the voters de-registered by the Poll Tax are still not re-registered in England but in Scotland a democratic uprising associated with the Scottish Independence Referendum has restored many previous non-voters to the Electoral Rolls.

Votes for women were won by decades of effective protest against unwilling governments. These hard won benefits of votes for women have been lost for many women because they are poor, due to this disgraceful Poll Tax gerrymandering.

2.2 The “Reduced Benefits” Bedroom Tax or “Move away or lose benefits” ‘Ethnic Cleansing of the Poor’ Act In theory, the main justification for the bedroom tax is to save £500m a year by downsizing and right-sizing public housing to individual family needs. In practice, the loss of benefit for the poorest families and the official request that they should relocate up to hundreds of miles away to occupy cheaper and smaller public housing is equivalent to an ethnic cleansing of the poor by their relocation. In London 50,000 families have already been relocated, often far way from their previously occupied housing, despite Mayor Boris Johnson’s statement that there would be no “ethnic cleansing” of the poor in London. The relocation of more than 100,000 non-Conservative voters mainly out of London, away from the jobs, friends and social and family support structures they previously had, is a quite inhuman measure resulting in a loss of Labour votes in the capital. Relocating voters need to re-register on the Electoral Roll and while the “Bedroom Tax” appears to temporarily disenfranchise voters, it often produces a longer lasting denial of the right to vote. This Act affects/disenfranchises about a million people.

2.3 The 2013 Individual Electoral Registration (IER) and Administration Act, or the ‘Property Owner-Voter register, but Don’t Register Tenants, or Spouses” Act This Act abolishes Household Electoral Registration (HER) and introduces individual voter registration (IER) and its stated aim is to improve the integrity of the voting register. Unfortunately the deliberately chosen method of implementation of this Act disenfranchises non-Conservative voters much more than it improves the integrity of the Electoral Roll. So while the intention is noble, the results are execrable.

The Act does three things: it requires that the landlord or householder should be registered, but it does not require the landlord or tenant to advise the Electoral Registration Authorities of other occupants of the premises, and it lowers to penalties for non-cooperation on registration of voters from £1,000 to nil.

All Acts of Parliament (and all political leaders) should be judged by the results they produce and not by what it (or they) claim they intend to achieve. This Act operates as a kind of property qualification system because it prioritises landlord and householder registration while down-rating individual registration. This Act is disenfranchising students, tenants, spouses and younger voters by requiring them all to make individual applications rather than being included in a list prepared by the University, the landlord, or the householder. While appearing to improve the Electoral Roll integrity, this change requires individuals to know their National Insurance Number in order to register. Many students or younger people who are temporarily away from home do not know their National Insurance number so are disenfranchised. Many housewife-homemakers have not needed to know their NI number for years.

As David Lindsay noted on 7 October 2011 (see http://davidaslindsay.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/great-gerrymander.html)

“Put simply, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, are rigging the rules of the electoral system to make it easier for themselves to win parliamentary majorities after 2015.

“How so? The switch from households to individuals, coupled with the lack of enforcement, will lead to a sharp decline in the number of registered voters (as happened in Northern Ireland when the switch was made there, in 2002). It is estimated that at present 3.5 million people eligible to vote (or one in ten) do not register to do so. According to Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, under voluntary IER, the electoral register could go “from a 90 per cent completeness that we currently have to 60–65 per cent” — an astonishing ten million or more voters could just fall off the register.

“All of the empirical evidence suggests that those who tend not to register to vote are drawn disproportionately from the ranks of the young, the urban poor and ethnic minorities. These eligible voters, by complete coincidence, tend to support Labour.”

David ends his article by saying

“After the August 9 riots, David Cameron spoke of a “sick society”. Yet his own reform of the electoral system will lead to a sick democracy, with fewer registered voters and lower turn-outs. It is the biggest political scandal you’ve never heard of.”

3 Implications

3.1 Future British Governments should act to ensure the Electoral Rolls are up to date using information which they already have and then requesting local or individual verification of these revisions. The IER Act should be repealed. It beggars belief that the British Government pretend not to know who lives in Britain and where most of their population live. Government data has no difficulty in locating nearly everybody for tax purposes and the increasingly unified government data systems have complete registers of workers, drivers, and all benefit claimants, and their addresses. A more complete electoral register could be compiled by government from readily available data and checked by the local Electoral Registration Officers as required. This is, to some extent, how the new IER rolls are being established from the old ones, by listing in the new IER register the 35 million electors whose data can be fully cross-checked against existing DWP data. But that procedure disenfranchises over 11 million voters who are currently on the electoral roll and requires them all to make individual applications asap.

3.2 Britain needs a constitution to prevent the continuation of gerrymandering legislation Property cannot be used as the primary basis for voter registration in the USA, as it is being used in the 2013 IER Act. Government gerrymandering should be at least as illegal in the UK as it is in the USA. The 24th Amendment to the US constitution makes illegal any denial of the right to vote brought about by a Poll or other tax. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution. Thatcher’s Poll Tax would therefore have been illegal in the USA because it led to the disenfranchisement of non-payers.

3.3 There needs to be a better sense of morality in British political life. The actions of the Conservative Party in Government, using the power of the Coalition Government to pass Acts which disenfranchise these sections of the population who may be unlikely to vote Conservative, is a deep stain on the British political system and an affront to the democratic foundations of the British state.

3.4 It would help if most of the British Media were not foreign-owned. The foreign-owned British media appear to have no interest in investigating the damage done to the British democracy by voter-reducing Government gerrymandering.

4 Overarching Conclusions On 27 February 2015 the Electoral Commission reported that 920,000 voters — most of them young people and students — have disappeared during the 10 months to December 2014 from the electoral register. Cardiff and Oxford — cities with large student populations — have experienced a fall of over 10% in their electoral rolls. The third downward spiral in voter registration due to deliberate government action is now well underway. The abolition of the Annual Canvass removes a useful annual check on who lives where and ensures the Electoral Register does not get up to date between elections. See http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/MissingMillionsReport_FINAL(2).pdf

In my opinion the Conservative-led Coalition Government have gone too far — millions of disenfranchised votes too far- in the IER legislation. The Conservatives are obviously no better at gerrymandering than they are at running the economy. A gerrymandered Conservative landslide in total opposition to all the polls is likely to produce an obviously illegally elected government.

In my view the British Electoral Roll is now far too gerrymandered for Britain to be considered a a fully representative democracy. Two of the gerrymandering Acts listed above would have been illegal in the USA, where Poll Taxes and Property-owner preference legislation are outlawed by the American constitution. The previous number of non-registered voters was 7.5 million, and now, thanks to the 2013 Individual Electoral Registration and Administration Act, there are 8.6 million unregistered potential voters. Furthermore, the new young voters — the “attainers” in electoral terms — has fallen by over 33% since February/March 2014, so another quarter of a million young “new voters” are likely to be disenfranchised. On 1 May 2013 there were 46,139,000 on the electoral register, now down by over a million. With 8.6 million missing voters in an Electoral Register of about 45 million that is a disfranchisement for more than one in six, or about 16% of the potentially voting population. The actual post-IER disenfranchisement is much more than that, probably in the range of 20 to 25 percent.

The net effect of the two most recent gerrymanders appears at first glance to be about a 4% decline in non-Conservative votes, but the real effect is certainly much larger than that. If the Conservatives win the 2015 election it will not be on the basis of their record, their policies or the issues, it will be because the Coalition Government have gerrymandered that politically scandalous result. The 7 May 2015 election of a widely hated and economically incompetent Conservative Government — not based upon any popular vote, but upon Coalition gerrymandering - looks likely.

In every sense of the words, that would be a rotten result.

Whether any government so elected — without any popular democratic mandate — can long survive, is an interesting question. The IER system if not repealed is likely to produce one-party Conservative Governments for at least a generation.

I venture to predict that this will be the last straw for the Scots, who will find a way to exit the corrupted Union. The rUK on its part will have to find a way of restoring the representative democracy which the Coalition has destroyed.

© George Tait Edwards 2015

Note 1: George Tait Edwards has published a first sequence of collected articles in a book about “Shimomuran Economics” available athttp://www.lulu.com/shop/george-tait-edwards/shimomuran-economics/paperback/product-21688864.html and much else elsewhere during the last four decades. Also see “The Rough Guide to Shimomuran Economics” at https://medium.com/@georgetaitedwards/the-rough-guide-to-shimomuran-economics-e9dca42c6808 and the showcased cover summary and prologue of a sixth book athttps://medium.com/@georgetaitedwards/lucky-bastards-of-the-20th-century-8bd352881b6b and that sixth book called “Lucky Bastards of the 20th Century- The Story of the Economic Bomb” which can be found at http://www.lulu.com/shop/george-tait-edwards/lucky-bastards-of-the-20th-century/paperback/product-21913362.html.

The author has written a book about these issues, and other matters. See “How David Cameon Fixed the 2015 Election, and Much Else” at:

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