Consensus emerging on need to update election campaign rules, says ERS

By agency reporter
July 3, 2019

A cross-party consensus is emerging on the need to update Britain’s ‘wild west’ in election campaign rules, according to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

The ERS have cautiously welcomed a ‘long overdue shift’, after the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into electoral law heard overwhelming calls for an update and consolidation of the UK’s ‘analogue age’ election laws.

The core of Britain’s election rules date back to Victorian times – leading to a plethora of loopholes in a social media age, campaigners say.

The Conservative party’s submission, though opposing stronger enforcement powers for regulators, accepted that digital political advertising needs to be more transparent, and for rules on foreign donations to be tightened up. Labour’s submission backed calls for a comprehensive update of campaign regulations.

Many submissions including that from the ERS argued that imposing voter ID was the wrong priority. 

The ERS are working with FairVote UK and MPs such as Ken Clarke and Stephen Kinnock on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Campaign Transparency, which is also currently holding an inquiry.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “The issue of updating our messy, outdated election rules is rightly on the agenda. The disparate legislation on elections creates confusion for those campaigning and running elections and stifles innovations that would improve voters’ experience. But there are also bigger issues to be dealt with – from mystery political groups paying millions for Facebook ads, to questions over foreign funding.

“A long-overdue shift now appears to be taking place, and it’s encouraging to see the Conservative party’s submission to the PACAC inquiry mirror our concerns that Britain has ‘analogue campaign rules in a digital age’. Those concerns must now lead to concrete action, which can’t be limited to merging existing legislation and introducing online ‘imprints’ for political ads.

“As things stand, our elections are vulnerable to foreign interference, dis-information and illicit donations and this calls for a comprehensive overhaul of electoral law. We cannot leave the task of protecting our democracy to the whim of today’s tech giants. It’s time for Britain to respond to the rise of new forms of campaigning with transparency and openness.

“There is a huge degree of agreement among the submissions to the PACAC inquiry that it is time for an update of our electoral law to deal with the ‘wild west’ in online campaigning. It has to be comprehensive, including dealing with the broken party funding system.

“We’re working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaign Transparency to help set a ‘gold standard’ in protecting our democracy in the 21st century.”

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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