Voter and Community Suppression Coming to United Kingdom

biteLondon    Talking to someone in the United Kingdom the other day, they made a comment that any new “bad” idea in the USA germinates for a couple of years and then pops up in a modified form in Britain.  Yikes!

One good, bad example can be found in the new voter suppression policies that are debuting next year in time for the national elections.  Previously, the head of a household could automatically register everyone under the roof.  In the name of “reform,” the Conservative government turned the tables with a lot of fancy rationalizations all of which mean that now everyone has to individually register to vote.  Who gets hurt?  Who do you think?  Young voters, old voters, tenants, lower income families and others that don’t have the time, money, information, and so forth to crawl over the obstacles deliberately put in their path to be able to vote.  And, what does it matter, as conservatives in all countries say, they probably didn’t want to vote that much anyway?!?

The unions have collectively funded some social media and networking efforts to try to get younger voters to register.  One is called “Bite the Ballot “for example.  The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also has a collective effort for the labor in this area.  Individual unions say they are working to register their own members.  Having lived through the USA experience, I worry that the impact of not launching a massive effort to simply assure that everyone maintains their right to vote will mean an increasing gap that will be harder to bridge later once the impact is realized.  One official told me that if Labour returns to power, then they will get rid of this, but that’s a big bunch of “if’s,” and the point of voter suppression is likely to also be a factor in any future success of progressive governing coalitions.

The other new “twist” coming to the United Kingdom are called the “gagging” rules by progressives.  Individual committees for nonprofits are limited in expenditures in a race to about 5000 pounds and nationally to about 20000 pounds.  The rules are complicated.  I know, since I’ve read them!  There are also various provisions to “chill” the rights of nonprofits to participate even in campaigning for change.  If the commission determines that an organization is campaigning for a position that is aligned to or espoused by a political party, then the organization would be forced to limit its voice on the issue to the ceilings prescribed which is why they are speaking of such groups being gagged.  Charities and other so-called “third sector” groups are wringing their hands, especially because unlike a union or an ACORN, they don’t have members per se.  From what I could tell – and gather in conversations thus far – there still are no particular limits on communications to your direct membership about issues, so unions are not as affected directly though they are in terms of general issues and community issues where they and others would want to communicate with the public.

This is all new stuff in the UK.  Unions don’t have political action committees for example.  Community-based organizations are not as familiar with “independent expenditure committees” and the other hurdles US organizations have had to learn to jump.  Lawyers are no doubt working overtime on all sides of the political spectrum.

The learning process is going to be painful!

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