Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
On the anniversary of the Chartist march on Newport, Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith has spoken about his concerns about the Government’s Elections Bill – which he calls “an attempt at voter suppression.”
On November 4, 1839 around 4,000 Chartists marched on Newport to demand election reforms including for common people to have their voices heard through a more democratic Parliament.
The ‘Newport Rising’ saw columns of Chartists walking down from north Gwent towns like Tredegar and Blaina and were provisioned from a cave near Trefil, in Mr Smith’s constituency of Blaenau Gwent.
Mr Smith who, as a member of the Elections Bill Committee, has been scrutinising planned changes to UK elections said: “I am proud that British democracy was born in our valleys and nurtured and championed from Blaenau Gwent.
“That is why I am also very troubled by the measures this Conservative Government is trying to introduce through its Elections Bill.”
During recent Elections Bill debates, amendments put forward by Labour have been voted down by Conservative MPs who seem determined to move the Bill through the house unamended.
Some of the most high-profile features of the Bill are the introduction of Voter ID and measures to curtail the ability of groups like Trade Unions to campaign during elections.
“It all amounts to undermining democracy and our electoral freedoms,” said Mr Smith. “Something that flies in the face of what the Chartists fought for.
“Voter ID in particular is a terrible proposal. Voter impersonation is hardly an issue in the UK and asking everyone to present a form of ID before they can vote is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s entirely disproportionate.
“This seems less about stopping people voting twice, than discouraging some people from voting once.
“It’s an attempt at voter suppression straight out of the Republican Party playbook.
“The UK has a very robust election process, and we should not be sowing any seeds of doubt about its security.”
The Government’s Voter ID plans have been criticised by numerous charities and campaign groups who have highlighted the negative impact it will have on voters – in particular the elderly, those with a lower income and ethnic minorities.
Mr Smith added that the UK Government should be looking to actively encourage participation in elections, not putting up more barriers to voting.
He said: “The Chartists fought for our right to vote, people must be given every chance to take part. If you are going to change the system, the aim should be to make it easier and to help increase turnout.
“Automatic Voter Registration – where everyone of voting age is automatically added to the electoral roll – is a simple way to ensure every eligible voter is able to have their say. In this digital age there are now trusted data sources, such as the DVLA, which could be used to supplement voter registration.
“I would also like to see the UK Government follow the Senedd’s example and lower the voting age to 16.”