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Tories threaten Electoral Commission

September 1, 2020 11:29 AM

k85c (Thanks to Elliott Stallion for sharing their work on Unsplash.)The Electoral Commission is a little noticed public body which has the following main goals

With such laudable aims you would think that in light of growing disquiet over political advertising on social media and the growing influence of Russian money in the political system ( see here ) there would be a need for greater scrutiny of thee electoral process to ensure its continued fairness. The role of the commission and whether it should be given more powers is indeed being examined by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Not if you are the Conservative Party who have called for the elections watchdog to be more "targeted and focused" in a submission to a parliamentary review. According to Tory MP and Conservative Party co-chairwoman Amanda Milling "The current set up of the Electoral Commission is simply not fit for purpose. "Rather than lobbying for more powers the commission should be focusing on getting its house in order. In its submission, the party stated: "It has conflicts of interest. It provides (often unclear) advice to political campaigners, yet wants to prosecute breaches of its own unclear rule-book." It also called for investigations of electoral fraud to be a matter for the police and said it should not have the power to prosecute people or political parties.

A Conservative spokesman said that if the commission were abolished, its functions should be transferred to other bodies, such as police and Companies House. As was evidenced by the reluctance of the police to get involved in the Dominic Cummings affair pulling them more into politics with greater powers of prosecution is likely to dilute scrutiny

In its response to the review of electoral regulations, the Electoral Reform Society has called instead for increased powers for the commission, on the lines of the Information Commissioner's Office. The group argued: "It is striking that we now have a regulator with substantial powers to protect data privacy, but no such powers have been granted to the regulator entrusted with protecting our democracy."

The Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain said that with attacks on judges and the illegal prorogation of parliament, Boris Johnson had shown he was "a threat to the rule of law".

She said: "Now, with the Tories' embarrassing funding connections to Russian oligarchs exposed, their plan to turn their guns on the Electoral Commission is a direct attempt to undermine our democracy."

All parties at some time have received fines for failing to follow electoral law. In the past the argument was that these fines were too low and could be seen as merely the cost of doing business. If there is a criticism of the Electoral Commission surely it it is that their powers are not wide or strong enough