Sunday, 22 April 2018

ID checks are officious, mostly unnecessary, mistrustful and damage community.

When I was a young teenager, my Mum would give me the money to go and buy her some cigarettes - twenty Sovereign. It made sense because the newsagent and tobacconist was a mile away in Elmers End and I was going there on my bike to do a paper round. I'm sure I'm not the only person from my generation who bought cigarettes for their Mum or Dad.

These days, of course, this wouldn't happen. We live in an age of mistrust brought about by the decline of community, by the shopkeeper not knowing who is who in the little local community and, worse, frightened that if he doesn't ID every second customer some official is going to step in, throwing the book. Until a year ago I'd never been asked for any ID except for such things as getting a driving licence or passport (or overseas where they're a lot keener on ID stuff) - certainly not for any purchase, never in a shop or a pub or a bank.

The first demand for ID was in a London hotel. We'd booked, pre-paid and were staying one night - the receptionist requested a photo ID. I didn't have any on me and, after a brief (and smiling) exchange no ID was proffered and none required. It was, however, an indication of our society's mistrust - I could be someone other than the person who'd rung up, booked a hotel, paid for a room on a specified night. Unlikely but you never know...

We've become ID mad - supermarket checkout operators wear little badges telling me that if I look under 25 they'll ask for some proof of age if I try to buy a bewildering range of goods - fags, booze, fireworks, glue, knives, scissors, marches, cigarette lighters, drain cleaner and (so I've been told) large bottles of sugar rich fizzy pop. Operators demand ID to go in a bar, to attend a concert, to conduct a bank transaction - a million-and-one ordinary everyday actions that back when we trusted people were done without this officious rigmarole.

This ever expanding requirement to prove who you are so as to go about an ordinary life isn't a good thing. We're not safer, healthier or happier as a result of having to show some form of ID to a checkout operator or a doorman. Indeed, I've a feeling that this is a transfer of trust from the wisdom and judgement of people to a dumb pice of paper or plastic with a bad photo on it. And that in doing this we undermine community, the idea that nearly everyone, nearly all of the time behaves sensibly and doesn't require some self-appointed agent of the state (usually operating out of fear that not checking people's identity will bring down the wrath of that state) to second guess this truth.

As a conservative, the idea of community and the trust that comes from within that community is central to what we feel about the world. The moment we step away from this and say "don't trust anyone buying a bottle of wine or a packet of twenty fags, they might be lying" we lose a little more of that community. Places should be able to police themselves - they did so from time immemorial until we decided that managing drinking, smoking and such wasn't something we could entrust to a small community but needed national - even international - agencies to insist that the rules are enforced (for the children, naturally).

Today that ultimate measure of a community - going down to the local church hall to cast a vote in an election - is the latest ordinary action that is to be subject to ID checks. We're told this is to combat rising electoral fraud (despite the Electoral Commission repeatedly saying voter fraud is rare) - as they concluded "...there is no evidence to suggest that there have been widespread, systematic attempts to undermine or interfere with recent elections through electoral fraud." And remember that the only fraud ID checks might prevent is personation at the polling station, it doesn't prevent false registration, doesn't stop postal voting abuse, and doesn't halt voter intimidation (all of which are more serious problems).

To get this in context, there were over 50 million ballots issued in 2015 and just 34 cases of personation. There were only 481 allegtions of electoral fraud, two-thirds of which were deemed not to be offences. And we want to get Mrs Jones to produce a photo ID when she goes to the village hall in Lower Puddlebury because 0.0009% of ballots led to an allegation (0.0003% an investigation and less than 0.0001% a conviction) of electoral fraud. Worse, because Mrs Jones doesn't drive and hasn't got a passport, she'll have to go and get a special ID card to vote - all to prevent an almost imaginary problem.

We do too many ID checks. They are officious and mostly unnecessary. As conservatives we should remind those who govern us that trust is central to a good society. And that this constant checking up on people is mistrustful, undermines community and is bad for society.



Anonymous said...

If you believe the Electoral Commission's stance that voting fraud is rare, you've obviously not checked in your own back-yard of Keighley - the anomalies in recent voting data are simply staggering, but if you don't look, you won't find, so maybe you don't really want to find it.

I have, with some reluctance, now come to the view that a national ID process (with associated ID card) is now necessary - avoiding doing it simply creates inefficiency and inconsistency everywhere. I would prefer it not to be necessary but I'm not the one imitating an ostrich, I'm the one who's being a realist.
That chocolate-box image of mutual trust no longer applies, the electoral system in Keighley proves it, if you could ever be bothered (or brave enough) to look.

Anonymous said...

He is, at least, brave enough to put his name to his written opinion...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Well that's the thing.

A 'sense of community' is important. But the few fraudsters, postal voting fraud, NHS tourists etc, destroy the 'sense of community' for others.

I am aware these things are statistically irrelevant and do not really bother me, but they bother other people a lot.

So in some ways, ID requirements enhance the sense of community (you know that all votes cast are legit; that there is less NHS freeloading) as much as they reduce it (when a bureaucrat who knows you personally demands photo ID).

Clearly, shops asking for proof of age if you want to buy booze or fags is ridiculous, but those are private operators, and the 16-year old chancer's cash is as good as mine at the fags counter, fair play to the lad or lass for trying. I'd object if the same 16-year old rocked up at the polling station and cast a vote.

Curmudgeon said...

Shouldn't the need for voter ID be judged on an assessment of the level of electoral fraud rather than being seen as an absolute. I presume you're not advocating scrapping it in Northern Ireland?

Although I'd say the abuse of postal voting is a much bigger problem in Great Britain.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Northern Ireland - the place which originated the truthful old slogan "Vote Early and Vote Often".

Now replaced in some parts of the UK mainland by "Vote Postal, Vote Proxy and Vote Often".

(The names of those parts are not provided here in order to avoid addressing sensitive issues - sleeping dogs do enjoy a good lie-down, apparently).