IT’S notoriously difficult to pin down definitions of identity in the United Kingdom, perhaps because we have too many of them. If you’re Scottish, Welsh or Irish, you can of course distinguish yourself as “not English”, and most people do, even if they are Unionists who regard themselves as Scottish (or whatever) and British.

The Spectator once ran a competition to define what it meant to be English, won by the suggestion that it was “not worrying too much about what it meant to be English”. You can regard that as evidence of English superciliousness, if you like; though it’s probably because they outnumber the other nations by so much that they don’t need to bother thinking about it.

Common – that is, shared and widespread – traits across all the UK nations, however, are resistance to authority, being thrawn, and expecting other people to mind their own business. The joke used to be that there was no English translation for the phrase: “Vos papiers, s’il vous plait.”

It’s less than a decade since plans to introduce ID cards (under a 2006 Act nominally backed by both Labour and the Tories) were abandoned, in the face of stiff public resistance. That was the third time they had been scrapped, having previously been introduced in wartime, then ditched in 1919 and 1952.

Naturally, there have been all sorts of bureaucratic attempts to introduce them by stealth – the abandonment of the paper driving licence essentially made photographic ones compulsory, in direct defiance of promises that they would not be – while passports now store all kinds of data besides a photograph of the bearer.

All sorts of things, such as picking up a parcel from the post office, are pretty difficult, or impossible, without producing ID. Even so, it is technically the case that no British citizen needs any form of ID (though there are plenty of exceptions, including those in security sensitive jobs and EU citizens).

That’s one reason why the government’s plan to introduce compulsory photo IDs for voting is a silly idea, even if they plan – at goodness knows what unnecessary cost – to issue free voter cards to those without passports or driving licences. But it’s not the main objection.

Jeremy Corbyn’s complaint is that the measure will disproportionately affect minority ethnic groups and working class voters, implying a racist motive and an attempt to hit Labour strongholds. There are a couple of problems with this objection, which might seem initially plausible because constituencies where fraud has been investigated have tended to be Labour seats, often with large ethnic populations.

The first is that, while there is undoubtedly a tendency for some groups, particularly British Asians in inner-city seats, to vote to a slate en masse, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Plenty of groups tend to: Scottish Nationalists; Ulster Unionists; trades unionists. Come to that, it’s the basis of political parties. And where there has been voter fraud that led to prosecutions for corruption – as in Tower Hamlets, Oldham, Blackburn and Birmingham – it has centred on postal ballots, which photo ID would do nothing to prevent.

In any case, if the Tories imagine that the introduction of this policy would mean that these are seats they are likely to take after invalidating a few dozen, or even hundred, votes, they are stark staring bonkers. In most of them they weigh the Labour vote instead of counting it.

There are very few straight Labour/Tory marginals where disfranchising anyone would swing the result. In one of them, Peterborough, where there have previously been convictions for forgery in local elections, recent claims of voting fraud were investigated (and dismissed), but there was no suggestion that it involved impersonation at the polling station. And in that vote the Conservatives were thumped by the Brexit Party, anyway.

The only place where impersonation has historically been a factor is in Northern Ireland, which does, in fact, require photo ID to vote. That’s one of those differences between it and the mainland that seems, oddly, not to have endangered the Good Friday Agreement or required the EU customs union.

The fact that pretending to be someone else on the electoral roll is almost certainly a very small problem in other seats does not, of course, mean that such fraud should not be tackled.

But announcing a change in the Queen’s speech is odd, when the data from the small-scale trials is inconclusive, and two separate parliamentary committees on the subject have yet to report.

We already prosecute on the rare instances this kind of fraud is detected and should certainly police and prosecute postal vote fraud more thoroughly, but photo ID doesn’t help.

And if the idea is to maximise the value of people’s votes, there is the objection that there will be many more people disfranchised by turning up at the polls without ID, and not bothering to return, than there will be fraudsters identified and deterred.

It is in that sense that it’s anti-democratic, counter-productive and downright silly – not that it’s some sort of sinister exercise in voter suppression along the lines of US gerrymandering in the Deep South.