Tempers flared during a debate over controversial new voter ID rules, with claims the measures could disenfranchise many Bradford voters.
But Labour politicians criticising the proposals were reminded that party members had abstained on a vote to block the measures in the House of Lords last year.
The new measures, which require voters to show photo ID when they attend the polling station, will be in place by this May’s local elections.
At Tuesday’s full Council meeting the leading Labour group put forward a motion calling for the Government to scrap plans for the policy to be implemented before May.
If the Government did push ahead with the proposals, the motion called for extra Government funding to reduce the burden on Bradford taxpayers of implementing the policy.
Councillor Kamran Hussain (Lab Toller) said the measure was “an attack on voter rights.”
He claimed it was an effort by a Conservative Government to disenfranchise voters they know would be unlikely to support the party.
Cllr Hussain said: “It will disenfranchise young people, the working class and ethnic minorities, groups who are less likely to vote for the Tories and are far less likely to possess photo IDs.
“They know the only way they can win a General Election is to stack the system and stop those likely to vote against them from voting at all.
“This has all the hallmarks of a backwater, tin pot dictatorship. We will stand against plans to degrade and defile our democracy.”
He pointed out that the rules mean older peoples bus passes would be an acceptable form of ID, but young peoples’ bus passes wouldn’t.
Councillor Matt Edwards (Green, Tong) said the new rule was “at best an attempt to fix an
issue that isn’t an issue, at worst it is voter suppression that belongs in a different world.”
He pointed out that by the Government’s own figures, there were only six cases of ballot fraud across the whole country in the last election.
He added: “This could put young people off voting for the rest of their lives.”
Councillor Rebecca Poulsen, Conservative Leader on the Council, said the Labour Councillors had a “huge chip on their shoulder” adding: “We should be welcoming work to reduce voter fraud. It is a little bit late to be bringing this motion – legislation is already in place and publicity is in place.
“Our job in this chamber is to get the word out so people know about this.”
She pointed out that people need ID to buy alcohol, so needing it to vote wasn’t such a radical idea, and said Bradford had been “badly effected” by voter fraud in the past.
Cllr Poulsen criticised the Labour group for failing to mention that people without existing ID could apply for voter ID cards, adding: “98 per cent of voters do have photo ID.”
Councillor Brendan Stubbs, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This legislation is a solution to a problem that isn’t there. Residents are finding out about the new rules for the first time this week.”
But he pointed out that Baroness Pinnock, a Liberal Democrat Peer from Cleckheaton, had put forward a motion in the House of Lords last year calling for the new laws to be blocked. Labour Peers abstained from that vote.
Cllr Stubbs said: “I have to remind Labour that when Baroness Pinnock tried to raise this
legislation she was thwarted not by Conservatives, but by labour peers. That was your opportunity to stop this, not writing a letter.”
He claimed changes such as moving a polling station can put people off voting, so this major change would likely lead to fewer people voting.
Councillor Falak Ahmed (Cons, Bingley Rural) said: “The reason Labour is against this is because a large number of people who vote for them don’t have photo ID.”
Her comment was met with jeers and heckles from across the chamber.
She added: “The challenge is to get these voters registered for ID.”
When Cllr Hussain spoke again he was urged to apologise for the way Cllr Ahmed was treated, which he did.
He added: “If an elderly lady goes to a polling station and doesn’t have photo ID she will be turned away. To me, that is fraudulent.”
The Labour motion was approved by a majority.