Dirty money in UK elections – Electoral Commission has no teeth to prevent it

An urgent review of “weak and helpless” electoral laws is being demanded by a group of leading academics who say that uncontrolled “dark money” poses a threat to the fundamental principles of British democracy.

A working group set up by the London School of Economics warns that new technology has disrupted British politics to such an extent that current laws are unable to ensure a free and fair election or control the influence of money in politics.

Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, who heads the group made up of leading experts in the field, said that new forms of online campaigning had not only changed the ways that political parties target voters, but crucially had also altered the ability of big money interests to manipulate political debate. “There is a real danger we are heading down the US route where whoever spends the most money is most likely to win. That’s why we’ve always controlled spending in this country. But these controls are no longer working.”

Its policy brief published on Saturday concludes that current laws can no longer ensure the fundamental principle of a “level playing field”, or guard against foreign influence, and that parliament urgently needs to review UK electoral law.

It comes as questions continue to be asked about spending during the referendum campaign. In an interview published in Sunday’s Observer New Review, Arron Banks, the founder of the Leave.eu campaign, says: “We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.”

The Electoral Commission is investigating whether work that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica may have done for Leave.eu constitutes an undeclared donation from an impermissible foreign donor. Cambridge Analytica is majority owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who bankrolled Donald Trump. Filings from the White House disclosed on Friday that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s strategy chief, was paid $125,333 by the firm last year.

Asked whether he was worried about the Electoral Commission’s investigation into Leave.eu, Banks said: “I don’t give a monkey’s about the Electoral Commission.”

Banks also claimed that Vote Leave “cheated” to get around campaign financing rules by donating money to third party campaigns. “They cheated! They gave 650 grand to a student. Come on! They absolutely, 100% cheated.”

A spokesman for Vote Leave responded: “The Electoral Commission gave us a clean bill of health.”

Privately, the commission admitted that the only penalties it was allowed to impose by law offered no deterrent to political parties, particularly in a one-off referendum. In addition, the LSE found that loopholes in electoral law mean that spending by political parties during the referendum was almost entirely unregulated or even recorded. The real cost of the campaign – building databases to target voters via social media – occurred almost entirely outside the period regulated by law.

Tambini said: “We don’t have a system that is working any more. In this country, we have had laws to control spending by political campaigns but online campaigning has changed everything and none of the existing laws cover it. The ability to throw around large amounts of cash is almost completely uncontrolled. The key costs in campaigning – building the databases – is happening during the period when campaign spending is not regulated at all.

“There is a real danger that public trust in the democratic process will be lost. There is real potential for foreign influence. We have now the ability to manipulate public opinion on a level we have never seen before. And the current framework is weak and helpless.”

The Electoral Commission has not yet made any public statement but privately it said: “We did have this environment that guaranteed a level playing field. But with the shift online that has all changed. We won’t be able to limit the power of money in elections, that’s what we’re very concerned about.”

Tambini said: “It is urgent. There could be a wholesale loss of trust in the process as the result of a scandal or swinging of an election. Though some would argue that has already happened. There has to be a principle of transparency. The public needs to know where the money is coming from. And we don’t.”

Martin Moore, director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power, at King’s College London, said the machinery of campaigning had changed so rapidly, the law has had no chance to catch up. “The first election where digital made a difference was in 2008. And now it’s where pretty much all the spending is. It has been a shift that has happened in less than 10 years. What we’re seeing is exactly the same sort of disruption that we’ve seen in news and music and other industries.

“That is exactly what is happening in politics. The problem is that if you disrupt politics, you are also disrupting the democratic process and you are creating a very dangerous or volatile situation.”

In addition, the Electoral Commission said privately that it did not have the resources to monitor campaigns in real time. “It’s just not practical. There is some proactive stuff that we can do but we simply don’t have the resources.” The only action it can take is once the campaign is over and then the only penalties are fines which “campaigns can simply cost into their spends”.


Ottery Hospital’s “red line” led by DCC Councillor Claire Wright

Holding the Red Line at Ottery Hospital

“Ottery St Mary people (and from wider afield turned out in force this afternoon to hold the Red Line against any further risk to our hospital and its very building.

We were one of 13 such events across Devon – all residents involved are fighting for their own local hospitals.

Thank you to around 150 determined people who turned up in the pouring rain.

Ottery Hospital lost its general medical beds in 2015 and the stroke unit will transfer to the RD&E imminently.

The message from the CCG was that it would become a health hub. Then it was it “could” become a health hub, nowadays there are little or no assurances from the CCG as to the hospital’s future.

And the wolf is peering in the window…. NHS Property Services has acquired the building for free (and 11 others across Eastern Devon) and is charging commercial rent to a cash-strapped local NHS, who previously owned it!

I am personally disappointed that we were asked to move twice by staff (presumably acting from orders on high) on the basis we were causing an obstruction. Yet I had already cleared our event with Ottery’s senior GP, Dr Simon Kerr who was quite happy about us being there.

Of course we would have moved if a car or ambulance had arrived. One vehicle did during the course of the 45 minutes or so we were present and people moved accordingly.

I felt sorry for police community support officer, Maria Clapp who was having to enforce us moving around as many people, understandably, were not happy about it!

Aside from these frustrating interruptions and my speech getting soggy in the rain and then getting stuck to my foot, it was a great event and thoroughly enjoyable.

I was using my brand new megaphone, which was great fun!

The thing that always happens at these sort of protest events is that a sense of solidarity, energy, shared purpose and iron is created. NO ONE will take any more services away from Ottery Hospital, NOR will it be sold off to the highest bidder by NHS Property Services.

I think we all went away feeling absolutely determined that we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening.

Thank you to EDDC Cllr Peter Faithfull for these excellent photos and thank you to retired Ottery GP, Dr Graham Ward, who urged people to come forward with ideas for the use of the building into the future.

Here’s the call to action at the end of my speech…

1. Write to Hugo Swire MP asking that he takes up Ottery’s case with the CCG and the govt

2. Write to local newspapers – letter for publication to Ottery Herald and Pulmans View From

3. Write to CCG – Chair is Tim Burke

4. Write to chair of DCC health and wellbeing scrutiny cttee after May elections

5. IMPORTANT POINT – Make all your letters public by sending to local press for publication!

Ottery Hospital is OURS. While the beds have gone for now. I live in hope that one day that common sense will prevail and they will be returned one day.”

Until that day we must fight to retain our hospital.”


Seaton’s hospital “red line” – massive turnout, GPs speak out

Over 300 people surrounded Seaton Hospital, where the CCG are proposing to close all 24 in-patient beds.

Residents heckled Neil Parish MP and after Paul Arnott offered £250 for judicial review of the decision, Parish agreed to match this.

Seaton mayor Marcus Hartnell said that the Town Council would formally seek advice on JR after a meeting on Monday at 6.30 to which the public are welcome.

Seaton GP Dr Mark Welland gave a moving speech pointing out that no GP in the area believes there will be any benefit to patients from the decision. The final speaker, Seaton councillor Martin Shaw, was cheered when he said that the local community had to go all out to fight the decision.

Sidmouth “red line” Save our Hospitals pics – Tory councillors conspicuous by their absence

Spot the Independent East Devon Alliance councillors: easy
Spot Tory councillors – impossible!

Exmouth Regeneration “Business Forum” (2) – the rules!

“The voting membership of the Board may invite additional non-voting members as detailed above to join the Board as they deem appropriate. The may also remove non-voting members from the Board as they deem appropriate.

Eligibility for non-voting membership of the Board will be subject to a protocol that ensures that members are fit and proper persons eg covering matters of criminal record, bankruptcy, not being subject to planning enforcement etc.

To assist the Board they may invite any individuals with particular expertise (including other elected Members) and/or representatives of organisations to attend.

Officers of the District Council, County Council and the Exmouth Town Clerk will attend in an advisory capacity only. The District Council will provide the secretariat service for the Board.”

Click to access combinedcabagenda050417publicversion.pdf

“Fit and proper persons” … fit for what and proper for what?

Exmouth Regeneration Board: an East Devon Business Forum clone?

“Board Structure

Voting Members

 EDDC Portfolio Holder for Economy (who shall be the Chair)
 EDDC Portfolio Holder for Sustainable Homes and Communities (Vice Chair)
 EDDC Exmouth Champion
 EDDC Tourism Champion
 2 x Devon County Councillor (one who shall represent Exmouth)
 2 x Exmouth Town Councillor

And then one representative from each of;

 Clinton Devon Estates
 Exmouth Chamber of Commerce
 Exmouth Licensed Victuallers Association
 Exmouth Community Organisations Liaison Panel
 Exe Estuary Partnership representative

Non-Voting Members
 Alderman Tim Wood

And then one representative from each of;
 Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group representative
 Leisure East Devon representative
 Exmouth tourism business (eg holiday accommodation)
 Food and drink business (eg restaurateur)
 Exmouth landowner
 Exmouth commercial developer”

Click to access combinedcabagenda050417publicversion.pdf

page 89

SO reminiscent of the East Devon Business Forum!!!

And why Clinton Devon Estates when EDDC bought out their restrictive covenant on the site? What exactly is their interest?

Why a licensed victualler – don’t we have enough of them at EDDC already!

Alderman Tim Woods – don’t go there, Owl. So reminiscent of … no, no, no do NOT go there!

All the usual suspects, many of whom have, or will have, vested interests in the final outcome. No-one with REAL scrutiny teeth.

Peter Halse as Chairman!!!

Same old … same old … same Old Boys …

Another £225,000 demanded to fund £9 million relocation cost

Owl says: no austerity cuts for our councillors – and, no, this is NOT an April Fool joke – unfortunately.

“The Deputy Chief Executive – Development, Regeneration and Partnerships is delegated authority, in consultation with the Office Accommodation Executive Group, to commence works and deliver the new HQ building.

A budget is agreed of £8,692,000 to provide a new HQ building at Honiton Heathpark, which when added to the approved Exmouth Town Hall refurbishment budget of £1,669,000 gives a total gross budget of £10,361,000.

If Cabinet agrees that it wishes to relocate to a new HQ in Honiton then Cabinet is asked whether it wishes to recommend approval of a further sum of £225,000 to fund the addition of a direct access road to the new HQ building past the East Devon Business Centre This is a more direct approach to the building rather than bringing traffic through the Heathpark business park south of the building and does not affect the conclusions in this report in relation to viability and ranking of options for the sale of the Knowle site.”

Click to access combinedcabagenda050417publicversion.pdf