Confused American conservatives have jumped on inaccurate reports that Queen Elizabeth II personally supports the introduction of mandatory photo identification of voters at UK elections.
MAGA supporters including Charlie Kirk and Kyle Becker were among those misinterpreting the UK political system to conclude that the actual Queen was trying to own the libs, and that therefore voter suppression in the US wasn’t real.
What is true is that the Queen gave a speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday in which she announced, among other things, that the UK government would pursue a controversial policy of mandatory photo ID for voters at elections. However it wasn’t a speech written by the Queen or one of her officials and didn’t express her opinions.
What took place today is known as “The Queen’s Speech”, an annual ceremonial event that forms part of the State Opening of Parliament, a set of anachronistic rituals – for example the Queen’s crown has its own car – which mark the start of the Parliamentary year.
Crucially, the Queen just reads out a statement written for her by the elected government – currently the Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson – that spells out its priorities for the year, by indicating which laws it will try to get approved by Parliament. It takes about ten minutes, and MPs debate it for several days afterwards before voting on the speech.
This year’s Queen’s speech was controversial because of a number of authoritarian measures. These include a bill to ensure that voters have photo ID at elections. Civil rights groups say this amounts to Republican-style voter suppression of people from poor and marginalised communities who are less likely to have the correct documentation. There have been close to zero instances of voter fraud at recent UK elections. Also included in the speech was an anti-protest crackdown in the form of the new police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, which has sparked widespread protests.
This does not indicate that the Queen is personally writing legislation about voter ID, or signaling her approval. In the UK’s constitution, the Queen has various formal powers in theory, but in practice these are all delegated to politicians, and her role is largely symbolic. The royal family have at times exercised influence over legislation through secretive and controversial means, but they are not the ones who make the laws. The monarch’s political opinions on day-to-day matters are a closely-guarded secret, and the Queen’s speech is a formality in the literal sense. The Queen isn’t calling for voter ID. Johnson’s government is.
There is a parallel debate about voter suppression in the US. Republican state legislators in 24 states are unleashing a wave of new voting restrictions in an effort to suppress voter turnout, after Donald Trump lied that the 2020 election was stolen from him. In Georgia and Florida there are now restrictions against handing out water to people who have spent a long time queuing to vote. House Democrats have passed legislation to stop gerrymandering and reduce barriers to voting, which tend to affect ethnic minorities and wage workers, against Republican opposition which believes that it is the Federal government meddling in state affairs. There is a long history of suppression of Black voters in the US.
Conservatives in America confusedly jumped on reports about the Queen’s speech, believing that the Queen was going to make a big statement in support of voter ID. It appears that they wanted to use the Queen to back up their argument, seemingly in the belief that if the head of a hereditary monarchy is in favour of something, then it must be good for democracy, and also not racist.
At least some of the confusion appears to have come from Break 911, a viral news Twitter account (“Everything The Mainstream Media Won’t Report”), which reported, via the Guardian, that “The Queen of England [sic] will announce tomorrow that citizens will be required to show photo ID to vote in general elections in order to prevent fraud”.
This wording does not appear to have ever been published by the Guardian, which accurately reported that “The proposal is to be included in Tuesday’s Queen’s speech, which will set out the government’s post-pandemic priorities and the laws it intends to pass in the forthcoming parliamentary session.” It seems that Break 911 misinterpreted the story and inaccurately paraphrased it, giving the Queen the political agency, rather than the government.
Becker News, a news website which “aims to give verifiable news that news consumers can check for themselves” and tells readers to “be eternally vigilant, for that is the true price of Liberty”, also jumped on the story. In an article which uses a photograph of a waxwork doll of Queen Elizabeth at Madame Tussauds in Bangkok, Thailand, Becker News reports that, “The Queen of England is set to deliver a big announcement on voter IDs that already has the left triggered and resorting to the same weak arguments in Britain that one sees in the United States”, before quoting the Guardian’s reporting at length, having hopelessly confused the story. Becker News concludes, “It is as if the international socialist left has a shared playbook to oppose any election measures to prevent voter fraud. But the more the left-wing parties in countries around the world vehemently oppose such measures, the more it should draw voters’ suspicions.”
Conservative commentators took the story in all kinds of weird and wonderful directions.
Republican congressional candidate Lavern Spicer speculated that the Queen may support voter ID because she is upset that Sadiq Khan was re-elected Mayor of London, before seeming to imply that nothing the UK does could possibly be racist.
When challenged, she said, “So you are trying to tell me the Queen is just a mouthpiece? No. It doesn’t work that way.” But it does work that way.
Kirk, President of Turning Point USA, a reactionary student group which has been accused of “boosting its numbers with racists and Nazi sympathisers”, wondered if the left would “cancel” the the unelected head of the state that colonised a third of the globe.
Meanwhile social media personality Cari Kelemen tried to zero in on the Queen’s real motivation: pissing off Meghan Markle.