Yet another question that comes from a Britcom, I’m watching called “Birds of a Feather.”
It seems the two sisters, Sharon is living with her sister Tracey. Now Tracey said she can vote because she paid the ‘rates’ on her home, and it amounted to £300 each for herself and her husband Darryl, who is in prison.
Sharon tells her she was stupid to pay for Darryl, since he’s inside and can’t vote anyway. But Sharon says she’ll be glad to use Darryl’s.
Then Tracey says “sure, but she’ll have to pay the £300”
Then the hilarious results happen. Sharon says Darryl is a female name too so she can get away with it.
So my question is do you have to pay some kind of tax in the UK to vote?
This show took place from 1989 to 1998 in it’s first run, if that matters and the question comes from an episode in that era. It was later revived in 2014
It’s possibly just a bad/ stupidly illogical script (it would not be the only one in BoaF), but the year the programme was made could be crucial if it’s a very early one. Around 1988/9 ‘Rates’ were replaced as the local government tax for individuals by the ‘Community Charge’, which was usually known unofficially as the ‘Poll Tax’. Here, ‘poll’ means ‘head’, not ‘vote’, and refers to the fact that everyone had to pay the same amount of tax (with a few exceptions).
Where voting comes into it is the fact that many people refused to pay the new Community Charge/Poll Tax as civil disobedience as a protest against the injustice of the poor having to pay the same as the rich. People who did not pay started taking their names off the electoral register, as debt-chasing councils admitted using the register in order to identify where non-payers lived. Not being on the register meant you couldn’t vote in any election.
However, I suspect it’s just a stupid script - in the 19th century being a rate-payer was certainly tied to entitlement to vote, and the script writers have probably pretended that people think that is still the case in order to allow for some stupid plot scenario.
The joke (using that term very loosely) makes slightly more sense than that. In the early 1990s prisoners were not allowed to vote, although their names might still appear on the electoral register. (That their names still appeared on the register wasn’t necessarily a huge problem as they could hardly turn up in person to vote and they couldn’t apply for a postal vote.) But, for separate reasons, prisoners didn’t have to pay the Community Charge/Poll Tax anyway. So removing their name from the register wouldn’t have gained them any financial advantage to which they were not already entitled.
I dare say that there were cases of people voting by impersonating individuals who were in prison and whose names were still on the electoral register. Just as it was possible to impersonate the recently dead.
But only an idiot would have paid the Community Charge twice in order to gain an extra vote. In so far as the joke works, it depends on reversing the expectation of the real practice of people removing their name from the register in order to avoid paying at all. But I assume it was mostly a set-up to the idea of ‘Darryl’ as a girl’s name. Yes, the most famous ‘Daryl’ at that time was a woman, but we’re presumably meant to spot that no adult woman in Britain could plausibly have been called that.