The Telegraph solution to improve democracy: deny votes to the unemployed.

This post was written by Jon on May 5, 2011
Posted Under: Class,Culture,Employment

In maybe the most offensive manifestation of the Daily Telegraph‘s slide from serious paper of record to hate-filled propaganda rag for the literate over-80s, their personal finance editor, Ian Cowie, brings us the following suggestion to improve Britain’s democracy:

 …here’s an idea that might really stir up some interest – and improve our nation’s governance.Why don’t we restrict votes to people who actually pay something into the system? No, I am not suggesting a return to property-based eligibility [oh no, that would be indecent]; although that system worked quite well when Parliament administered not just Britain but most of the world [oh, the good old days...]. Today, income would be a much better test, setting the bar as low as possible; perhaps including everyone who pays at least £100 of income tax each year.


This modest proposal [unfortunate choice of words, there] would, however, exclude large numbers of people who have no ‘skin in the game’ and who may even comprise the majority of voters in some metropolitan areas today [*cough* Labour voters *cough*]. Their contribution is not just negative in financial terms – they take out more than they put in – but likely to be damaging to the decisions taken by democracies.

[If you have the stomach for it, you can read the whole thing here:]

I was planning to fisk this pathetic little screed (including his embarrassing pub analogy), but there’s really no need with an argument so riddled with flaws and lacking in human empathy. I’d rather focus on what it says about the standard of public discourse in this country that such a suggestion – literally disenfranchising the poorest in society – is endorsed by a quality newspaper.

We’ve already seen the proposal by DWP minister Iain Duncan-Smith (who manages to be both profoundly boring and evil) that the long term unemployed be forced to clean the streets in high-vis jackets for £2 an hour (, which resulted in relatively little outcry. Once it becomes acceptable to force the unemployed into the kind of menial labour more commonly used as punishment for criminals, why not take away their political rights as well? Is that really such a leap?

This also illustrates something about the right wing press in this country: namely their monopoly on lunacy, paranoia and sheer fucking hatefulness. This was the subject of a very good piece by Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy (here: a while back concerning the columnists Simon Heffer and Melanie Philips and their opinion of the Soviet/Marxist credentials of the current government (really). He concluded, quite righly:

No serious left of centre publication – not even any low circulation Trot rag, come to that – would make space available to the broadly equivalent contention that Ed Miliband is some form of fascist.

‘Looney Left’, indeed.

We seem to be setting a standard nowadays for justifying injustice and dehumanising the poor. In the aftermath of the expenses scandal, there’s been much talk by various groups of ‘cleaning up British politics’. I suggest that addressing this would be a good place to start.

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Reader Comments

Would also screw disabled people, of course:

Written By Lisa on May 5th, 2011 @ 7:09 pm

Lisa took the words right out of my mouth. Plus prisoners even more. This is low/stupid even for the torygraph.

Written By Anne Archist on May 5th, 2011 @ 7:34 pm
Captn Tripps

Prisoners are alredy denied a vote.

Written By Captn Tripps on May 5th, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

I believe, from the phrase modest proposal, that its a satirical reference to Swift. False alarm people; he’s not THAT insane. I hope.

Written By Gabriel on May 6th, 2011 @ 8:57 pm

Some of the commenters however…

Written By Gabriel on May 6th, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

“They say you do not have suffrage because you have no property; well, we tell you that you have no property because you cannot vote!”

I thought we settled this in 1867. There is nothing Tory about the Torygraph anymore.

Written By Hugh on May 7th, 2011 @ 2:06 am

Have I gone completely insane, or did I read that right? Deny the unemployed the vote? Wow, not only do some right-wing commentators want to force workless people into community service they want to deny them the vote. So unemployment is basically criminal activity, since they appear to class the unemployed along with convicted criminals.

But what I don’t understand is this person’s very narrow view of what parliament and government are for. Yes they levy taxes (and a good job, otherwise government would cease to function) but they also pass laws and statutes and formulate policy. These things affect us all and with that in mind it is perfectly reasonable for all mentally competent adults to be able to vote (qualification to vote in this regard is already adequately covered).

And note how these rightwingers become all so very collectivist when it suits them? They talk endlessly about people making a ‘contribution’ yet some would see the abolition of the minimum wage – so people should contribute ‘for the greater good’ but don’t expect a certain minimum level of security.

People like Mr Cowie have a very narrow view of what society is – purely as an economic phenomenon – and view everything in purely monetary terms.

Written By Billy on May 21st, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

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