We face a quiet threat to the independence of our elections. We must be vigilant

A poster that reads "polling station" with a smaller sign below pointing to the right
Maryam Jameela

The Electoral Commission (EC) is soon to be reviewed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Its independence could be under threat. And this means our democracy is also threatened.

The last decade has seen Britain’s electoral landscape move from the cash for honours scandal, various expenses scandals, to the recent flurry of elections and referendums that have come under scrutiny with accusations of electoral fraud and dodgy campaign finances.

It’s little wonder that public confidence in politicians and the election process is so low. But removing the independence of the EC will not instill greater confidence. The electoral commission needs reform, not abolition.

The Canary will be keeping a keen eye on the progress of this review in our mission to hold truth to power. This article is, therefore, the first in a series that will investigate this issue from all angles. We’ll keep pressure on political parties who could threaten the democratic process at a time when public confidence in politics is at an all-time low.

The review is not expected until June 2021. The public consultation, however, has already been carried out and there are a number of issues to explore that hold politicians across the spectrum to account

The threat

The EC has been an independent body since 2001. It monitors elections and helps the election process happen. The EC was formed from the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA).

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has announced a review of electoral regulation in the UK. And there are significant concerns that the Conservative government is looking to severely restrict or abolish the EC altogether.

Co-chair of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling warned that if the EC did not accept further scrutiny and reforms:

and do the job it was set up to do then the only option would be to abolish it.

Fair Vote UK countered Milling’s comments by stating:

Fair Vote UK agrees that the Commission needs to change – and we stressed this in our own submission to the review – but Milling’s main protests are disingenuous and circular in logic.

Firstly, The Electoral Commission is accountable. To Parliament, not Government. This is designed to ensure its non-partisan political independence. It reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons, is governed by the rule of law and is answerable to the courts. Independent regulatory bodies of this type are a common part of the UK constitution.

Ask yourself, would an electoral regulator directly answerable to No. 10 be trusted as independent?

Options for reform

The EC could well do with reform that hands them greater investigative powers. It is, for example, currently restricted by outdated election laws that don’t account for digital advertising from election and referendum campaigns. This is further compounded by low fines (something the Scottish government tried to remedy by increasing the maximum fine from £10,000 to £500,000 for campaigns that break rules during referendums). An inefficient relationship to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also means that EC investigations run under massive delays.

Clearly, there is room for careful reform of the EC in order to provide accountability for campaigning tactics during elections and referendums.

In the West, there is a mixture of electoral models. Countries such as Germany, and Spain use a mixed model where independent regulators monitor elections. These recommendations are put into action by governments and monitored. Others, such as the US and Sweden use an executive model whereby branches of local government act on behalf of a central body.

While the mixed model could be an option in the UK, are we really going to trust this government to carry that out?

Discrepancies from Vote Leave and the Tory government itself during election seasons have shown that we cannot.

A call to vigilance

Independent regulation is a deeply important part of a functioning democracy.

The Conservative government’s slow privatisation of the NHS, its abject failure to implement an effective Test and Trace system, and the continuation of a hostile environment has shown that it cannot be trusted to hold the values of integrity and decency in its actions.

Democracy is not a singular and stable entity unchanged by political upheaval. Democracy is a process that is vulnerable to manipulation and erosion. Democracy is something that we do. The suggestion of potentially abolishing the EC is a dangerous threat to democracy in the UK. It must be closely watched and resisted.

Featured image via secretlondon123/Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. What is even worse is when the biased activity of the government seems completely invisible, even to those parts of the press not prone to hiding such crimes.

      You need only look at the Conservative government’s breaches during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum – these were, and still remain, unreported by any media. First of all the government were told that in addition to the leaflets they were sending to every household in Scotland they had to set out what they would do in the event of a ‘Yes’ win and publicise that in the same way. This was never implemented, government ignored this requirement. Secondly they breached purdah in the last few days of the campaign to come up with something called ‘The Vow’ which was widely publicised in Scottish newspapers. Polling had JUST tipped onto 50/50 support and the illegal breach of purdah tipped it back again just in time for the vote. Again, no action was ever taken.

      This government (ie the Tories) has no interest in legitimacy or democracy. Certainly it has no interest in freedom of the press to report on this – or anything else..

    2. ‘Democracy’ is a plaster placed over the running OLIGARCHIC sore that is UKania in order to diguise the real state of the malady that infects this country. Only a real doctor can treat & cure this doomed state of affairs & the outlook is dire as the one was sent packing in the last rigged election……..there is no-one else…….the leader of the opposition is a snake oil peddler……..UKania is doomed.

    3. I question “our democracy”. It is bourgeois democracy, and this has fooled the majority of the population to think that they have any real chance of changing anything. If the elections do not go the way that they want them, they will either postpone, call it “illegitimate”, or call for a coup. Heads the bourgeois win, tails the working class lose. It is time for socialists to get real about the real nature of bourgeois democracy.

    4. It’s never been any different! Our votes are as much worth as what we flush away in the morning!
      Apart from the corrupt and Tory filled EC we have ONLY ONE Ltd Co that supplies EVERYTHING from Pencil to Poster to Ballot Box to Ballot Paper to Voting Booth, do some digging to make your own conclusions!
      Try Digging up the Significant Person on Company House, if you can battle through the hundreds of micro companies within the companies within the companies within EC and Shaws!
      https://www.electionsupplies.co.uk/
      Note the Partners!
      https://www.shaws.co.uk/about-us.cfm
      Think about GE 17/19 who was out to ensure Jeremy Corbyn never becomes PM!? But really think Internationally and Internally!
      NOW! Do you know how your 650 Poll Station Ballot Boxes get from the Poll Station to the Tellers’ Table!?
      10PM the Returning Officer one of your 3 Volunteers “Seals” the Ballot Box, takes it out to their PERSONAL PRIVATE Car, Pops it in the Boot and Drives the 15/30 Minute Drive to the Nearest Counting Centre!
      ALONE in their car!
      NO Security, Police or even observing Passengers ie the Candidates for that Area!
      Read EC: Transporting election materials to the count centre: Page 21 (25/56)
      https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-11/UKPGE%20Polling%20Station%20Handbook%20final%20English%20web.pdf#page=25&zoom=auto,-49,842
      Now consider the Footage we saw of Jeremy vs Boris, Consider Boris was booed, chased out of town and even gave up doing interviews/debates midway, he already knew he was the winner, especially against an opponent so much more popular than he is APART FROM THE Elite Owned Polls and MSM where of course he was the star, but name one PM/President candidate even if they appeared more popular who has ever just given up half way!
      Not even Mugabe!
      No! Our votes already mean NOTHING! I have a sneaky suspicion that we will soon have a GE, the ELITES MSM/Polls are giving off a vibe, I predict, even if he eats his first born an go on holiday for the entire campaign our FAR MORE DANGEROUS Keith LOOPHOLES Starmer will become PM, THAT is more frightening than the inbred with an actual functioning Brain!

    5. Another ‘Inheritance of Rome’. Following the civil war that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavian was accorded the title of Augustus by the the oligarch’s of the republican empire. That was 27BC. The illusion of the ‘democratic’ process was then maintained for his entire lifetime even though the results were fixed in advance. I imagine the logic or rationale of his exalted position was that he represented ‘a figurehead’ (with no real political power- sound familiar{?}). It was another ninty or so years before the dynastic imperium began to become more obvious following the death/suicide of Nero. We are close to that time once more.

    6. As a Labour Party member who is consistently denied my right to vote for my party because of my address (Belfast) I find it all a bit rich that my (and thousands like me) voting rights have never been investigated or even questioned.

    7. Great article. No doubt this is skulduggery. The assault on democracy continues apace. In three weeks we will see an US President challenge the outcome of an election. He has packed the Supreme Court. The question is whether the US constitution is robust enough to face down the attempt. Weak as our democracy is, it provides us with vital means of protest and dissent. The attack is hardly new. For at least a hundred years there has been a concerted campaign to feed the masses “emotionally potent over-simplifications”. Yet we are now seeing a further step which indicates the panic of the Right: simply shutting down even the petty measures we have. In the light of the intervention of the Zionist lobby to undermine Corbyn and help swing the vote behind yet another Eton boy, no one should take this lightly. Some us recall Spain under Franco. Once a fascist in power, people get resigned. This is what the Right knows. No resignation. No pasaran.

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