“How to register to vote (spoiler: it’s very easy)”

“DON’T MISS OUT ON YOUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

Deadline to register

for the May 2019 local elections across large parts of England:

Friday 12 April

To be able to vote, you have to be on the electoral register and to do that, you have to fill in a simple online form. Completing other official paperwork, such as getting a passport, paying Council Tax or getting a driving license doesn’t result in you being automatically added to the register. It is a separate process.

You only need to register once; you don’t need to register separately for every election. However, you do need to register again if you change your address, name or nationality.

You have to be 18 on polling day to vote (or 16 for Scottish Parliament and local elections, along with some but not all referendums). For that reason, you can register in advance of your 18th birthday so that if an election is called whilst you are under-age but you will be 18 on polling day, you can therefore still get your vote.

EU citizens are able to vote in the UK by the way – for council elections although not for the Westminster Parliamentary elections. Commonwealth and Irish citizens can also register to vote and they’re allowed to vote in all types of elections.

To register online right now, head over to the official registration site:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

If voting in person isn’t the right option for you, either for a temporary or permanent reason, then once who are on the register you can also apply for a postal vote:

https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/how-do-i-vote/voting-by-post

or appoint someone to vote on your behalf (a proxy vote):

https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/how-do-i-vote/voting-by-proxy

Got 5? Register to vote in the 2019 local elections!”

https://www.markpack.org.uk/8456/how-to-register-to-vote/?goal=0_8f22492d8e-73a05f74d3-312639877

“Revealed: Wife of former Vladimir Putin minister is major Tory party donor”

“The Conservative Party received hundreds of thousands from a woman with ties to the Russian president.

The Conservatives received almost £250,000 in donations last year from the wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin’s government, new figures revealed. Lubov Chernukhin, whose ex-deputy finance minister husband Vladimir fell out with the Kremlin, is among the most generous donors to Tory coffers. She handed over £146,750 in November and December in addition to £100,000 earlier in the year.

The party also accepted £150,000 from Ann Said, whose Syrina-born husband, Wafic, is a former broker of arms deals with links to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Tory donors

The biggest gift to the Tories in the fourth quarter was £1.5 million from musical theatre producer John Gore, a regular donor to the party.

The Construction vehicle manufacturer JCB handed over £666,667, while the former Tory treasurer Michael Spencer’s IPGL donated £506,188.
The figures emerged in figures from the Electoral Commission covering the final three months of 2018.

Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “These figures reveal a party paid for by the rich and powerful, with apparent links to repressive regimes, tax avoiders and arms dealers.

“The influence of big money diminishes our democracy and reminds people that even if you have a vote, your voice will still be drowned out.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party does not accept foreign donations – as they are illegal. If a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they also have the democratic right to donate to a political party.

“All donations to the Conservative Party are received in good faith, after appropriate due diligence. Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Party funding

In the final quarter of 2018, the Conservatives received far more in donations than other parties, taking in almost £7.4m, more than four times the amount collected by Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party took in £1.6m in donations during the three months, including a £490,300 gift from the Unite union.

Labour’s income from donations was outstripped by the £2,131,978 it received from public funds, much of it taxpayer-funded “Short money” to help opposition parties fund their work in the Commons.

The Liberal Democrats received £950,272 in donations and £249,937 from the public purse.

The Scottish National Party received £15,240 in gifts from three donors and £197,772 from public funds.

Greens took in £73,870 in donations and £27,611 from public funds, while Plaid Cymru had one donation of £10,722 and £24,928 in public funds. The UK Independence Party received just £13,000 in donations.

Over the course of 2018 Conservatives took donations totalling more than £21m, compared with less than £7m for Labour and £2.8m for the Lib Dems.

https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/who-funds-conservative-party-donor-russia-vladimir-putin-link/

“MP accuses former Tory official of being a ‘fraudster’ and ‘cowboy’ who exploited legal loophole to hide source of ‘dark money’ “

“The Scottish Tory vice chair Richard Cook, who helped channel £435,000 to the Democratic Unionist Party was branded a “fraudster” and “cowboy” who deliberately masked “cancerous dark money” pumped into British politics ahead of the Brexit referendum.

In a Westminster Hall debate, the SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes called for an urgent review of current laws which allowed Cook, the chair of the Glasgow-based Constitutional Research Council (CRC) to exploit a legal loophole and avoid publicly stating the source of the record donation to the DUP.

The CRC is legally defined as an unincorporated association, permitted to donate money to political parties, campaigns and individuals in elective office.

Opposite of open democracy

Although the Constitution minister, Chloe Smith, told the debate that responsibility for unincorporated associations lay with the Electoral Commission, and that data held by them was a “treasure trove of information”, Docherty-Hughes said the way the DUP donation was organised was “the exact opposite of open, properly-functioning parliamentary democracy.” He questioned whether anyone in the DUP knew the source of the cash that was largely used to fund pro-leave campaigning on the UK mainland, and whether any “requisite due diligence” was done ahead of the money being accepted.

Under previous Northern Ireland electoral laws, donations to any of the major political parties were protected. The exact origins of £435,000 could have been revealed if the government had honoured its promise last year to back-date legal changes to the time of the 2016 referendum. This did not happen.

Poster boy to cowboy

Doherty-Hughes said Cook, a Tory candidate in the 2010 general election in East Renfrewshire, who had been photographed alongside the former prime minister, David Cameron, and with the current leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson was “a poster boy for the way in which unincorporated associations have been used to funnel vast swathes of dark money into our political process.” …”

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/mp-accuses-former-tory-official-of-being-fraudster-and-cowboy-who-exploite

Improving standards in public life (hint: a good few of our councillors fail the suggested tests!)

“On 30 January 2019, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its long-awaited report on local government ethical standards, reflecting evidence obtained via a consultation exercise carried out from January-May 2018.

The report makes 26 recommendations.

Below we highlight the top five that will be of interest to local authorities, in particular to monitoring officers.

Some of the recommendations could be implemented quickly without the need for primary legislation – most important of these is the recommendation concerning amendments to registrable interests.The wide-ranging report, which runs to over 100 pages, finds that while the majority of councillors and officers maintain high standards of conduct, there is clear evidence of misconduct by some – mostly bullying, harassment or other disruptive behaviour. The report also raises concerns about risks to standards under the current rules governing declaring interests, gifts and hospitality.

The report provides an excellent review of the current framework governing the behaviour of local government councillors and executives in England and then makes a number of recommendations to promote and maintain the standards expected by the public. While it identifies numerous points of best practice, it makes 26 separate recommendations for improvement.

Top five recommendations

The top five recommendations, likely to be of most interest to those in local government, are:

Updating the model code and extending it to parish councils: the report finds considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of local authority codes of conduct. It therefore recommends enhancing quality and consistency by requiring the Local Government Association to create an updated model code. In a bid to help ease the burden on principal authorities (who must investigate code breaches by parish councillors), the report also recommends requiring parish councils to adopt the code of conduct of their principal authorities or the new model code.

Presumption of official capacity: perhaps the most arresting suggestion, the report recommends combatting poor behaviour by presuming councillors to act in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements made on publicly-accessible social media. This arises from the perennial concern that the current understanding of public and private capacity is too narrow, undermining public confidence.

Extending the list of registrable interests: the report considers that current arrangements for declaring councillors’ interests are too narrow and do not meet public expectations, so it suggests refining the arrangements for declaring and managing interests, including extending the list of registrable interests to include two categories of non-pecuniary interest:

(1) relevant unpaid commercial interests such as unpaid directorships; and

(2) trusteeship or membership of organisations that seek to influence opinion or public policy. As this does not require primary legislation to be implemented, this is one recommendation which may soon be acted upon. We are particularly pleased to see written evidence submitted by members of Cornerstone Barristers was cited in relation to recommendation (iii): see more below.

A new “objective” test for when councillors must withdraw or not vote:

monitoring officers will be particularly interested in the discussion in the report about the need to update the test for when councillors are forbidden from voting or participating in discussion on matters in which they have an interest.

The report recommends the test be overhauled and that councillors be required to refrain from voting or withdraw whenever they have any interest at all – whether registered or not – that a member of the public would reasonably regard as so significant as to likely prejudice the councillor’s decision-making.

Strengthening the sanctions system:

the report considers the current sanctions insufficient and so recommends allowing local authorities to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months, with suspended councillors enjoying a right of appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for investigation and a binding decision on the matter.

Other conclusions and recommendations

The report further concludes that there is no need for a centralised body to govern and adjudicate on standards and that various benefits exist to local authorities maintaining their responsibility for implanting and applying the Seven Principles of Public Life.

A number of other recommendations are likely to be of interest, including:

Assisting local authority monitoring officers, the “lynchpin of the arrangements for upholding ethical standards” (p 81), by extending disciplinary protections and offering additional training for the statutory officers who support them.

Giving local authorities a discretionary power to establish a standards committee to advise on standards issues and decide on alleged breaches and/or sanctions for breaching the code of conduct.

Abolishing the current criminal offences in the Localism Act 2011 relating to disclosable pecuniary interests, which are said to be disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice.

Requiring local authorities to take a range of steps to prevent and manage conflicts of interest that can arise when decisions are made in more complex and potentially less transparent contexts such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and joint ventures.

Fostering an ethical culture and practice by requiring councillors to attend formal induction training by their political groups, with national parties adding the same requirement to their model group rules.

The report recognises that many of its recommendations would require primary legislation and therefore be subject to parliamentary timetabling. The remaining recommendations – in particular those relating to registrable interests (as mentioned above), statutory officers and formal training for councillors – could however be implemented relatively quickly.

The Committee intends to monitor the uptake of its suggestions in 2020.”

Robin Green, Estelle Dehon and Dr Alex Williams, all members of the Cornerstone Planning and Government teams, submitted written evidence item 281 to the committee. Their evidence was cited at p 45 of the report in relation to recommendation (iii) above, on registrable interests.

Robin and Estelle are also contributors to Cornerstone on Councillors’ Conduct (Bloombsury Professional, 2015), which identifies and explains the law following the changes implemented by the Localism Act 2011 in relation to the standards system governing the conduct of elected members in local government.”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/314-governance-a-risk-articles/39908-improving-ethical-standards

“COUNCIL TO BORROW £200 MILLION FOR PROPERTY SPECULATION – CHIEF EXECUTIVE BARS COUNCILLORS FROM TALKING ABOUT IT

East Devon District Council is controversially set to borrow £200 million to purchase property. The Council Cabinet agreed its Commercial Investment Framework, which would allow it to do so, on 6 February.

However many EDDC councillors have great concerns about this strategy. As a result, a Notice of Motion (NoM) was tabled by Councillor Roger Giles (Independent – Ottery Town) to be debated at the EDDC full council meeting on 27 February. The NoM was submitted in time, and was supported by more than the required number of other councillors.

However the EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams struck the NoM off the agenda, on the grounds that the matter had already been discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 6 February.

“The EDDC Cabinet consists of just 10 councillors, and is Conservative controlled” said Roger Giles.

“The investment strategy would massively increase the council`s indebtedness, and is inherently risky. I therefore considered it essential that the whole council should be able to have a full-scale debate, and vote on the strategy.”

“However the Chief Executive has intervened to ban my NoM from being included on the agenda paper. By doing so I believe he has damaged our democratic processes – an action which is deeply regrettable.”

Lib Dems will not contest seats of Independents who have left other parties – so what about Claire Wright?

Sir Vince Cable has said that Lib Dems will NOT contest seats of the (so far 11) MPs who have broken from their parties to become independent in the last few days

Owl assumes that Sir Vince includes Claire Wright – the most popular independent in the country – in this sensible decision, especially as polling shows she could unseat Hugo Swire this time round.

Looking forward to Sir Vince’s confirmation.

Labour to offer councils direct access to Westminster

“Labour has announced proposals for a new representative body for councils to give them a regular voice at Westminster and a direct say on policy.

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, will set out the plans for a local government commission, made up of leaders from all types of local authority.

Under Labour, the representatives would meet every month with the communities secretary and other cabinet ministers and “inform decision-making”, Gwynne will say in a speech to the Local Government Association (LGA) conference in Warwick.

Labour said the current communities secretary, James Brokenshire, had met directly with just one council in April to June last year, the last three months for which records were available.

There have been significant cuts to central grants for councils since 2010, and the LGA says its members are facing a funding gap of £3.2bn in the next financial year.

In his speech, Gwynne will argue that councils are hugely neglected by the centre of government, all the more so given that a Labour calculation found that 44% of the commitments in it 2017 manifesto would have fallen directly or indirectly to local authorities in England to implement.

He will say: “For nine years, ministers have sat in meetings in Whitehall and cut funding to councils hundreds of miles away, never having to see the library that is closed, the potholes that go unfixed and the elderly people that go without care as a result.

“To fix our broken political system which has left people disconnected and disillusioned with Westminster politics, we need to put local people and communities at the heart of decision-making.”

The new commission would “ensure that councillors can influence every decision that affects local councils”, he will say. “We need their guidance, your support and your advice, in ensuring that from Whitehall to our town halls we are being as effective as possible in helping our hardworking communities. Gone will be the days when we have a secretary of state for local government that doesn’t want to know local government.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/09/labour-unveils-plan-to-give-voice-to-neglected-councils