A Conservative former minister’s suggestion that introducing voter ID was an attempt at “gerrymandering” should face further investigation, ministers have heard.
Former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to describe the introduction of voter ID as an attempt at influencing the franchise that backfired against the Conservatives at the recent local elections.
Speaking at the National Conservatism conference in Westminster on Monday, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections.”
May’s local elections were the first poll in Britain in which photographic identification was required to take part.
In the Commons, Labour former minister Dawn Butler described Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments as “deeply concerning” and suggested she may report them to the Parliamentary Standards Authority or the police.
“Deliberate bending of electoral rules”
Brent Central MP Ms Butler said: “Yesterday, the former minister admitted that the proposal was a deliberate attempt to manipulate electoral outcomes in favour of the Conservative Party, a strategy he termed as gerrymandering.
“In other words, the deliberate bending of electoral rules or boundaries for partisan gain. He said it backfired however in the recent local elections.
“It is deeply concerning to see the blatant could-be politicisation of policy and organisation intended to ensure the fairness and security of our democratic process.”
She added: “The justification for the policy was to combat voter fraud.
“It seems to me there is a real possibility that the only fraud could be this Government. I just wonder if you can advise me whether I should report this to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and the police?”
Deputy Commons Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton responded: “I should say that if she is intending to pursue this through the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner or to the police she shouldn’t really be raising it in the House. She might like to reflect on that.”
She added: “I am sure that (Mr Rees-Mogg) will have heard her comments. She has put her concerns on the record. I suggest that at this point, given that I am sure the Treasury bench will report back what she has said, that we leave it at that.”
Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire Helen Morgan meanwhile suggested ministers needed to correct previous claims that voter ID was not aimed at suppressing participation in elections.
She told MPs: “I think I speak for a number of Members of this House in saying that I was appalled yesterday when I heard the member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), a former Cabinet minister, suggest in his speech to the National Conservatism conference that the introduction of voter ID was an attempt by the Government to gerrymander.”
She called for communities minister Lee Rowley to come to the Commons and clarify or correct remarks he made in a debate on Voter ID in February, in which he claimed it was a “myth that this is some form of suppression”.