Electoral Reform: time for big changes

Some interesting articles:

Punch and Judy politics:

Ending the Punch and Judy show: How to get a more cooperative politics

Make Parliament grow up:

Ending the Politics of Division – How We Can Build a New Democracy after Brexit

Ensure fairness for female politicians:

Euro elections show how Westminster’s first past the post holds back women

Tories for Trumpery? Drafting new law to protect MPs on party overspending

Tories draft law to protect MPs if parties overspend

Conservative ministers are drawing up a new law to protect MPs and party officials from prosecution if their national parties overspend during elections, leaked documents disclose.

It follows the conviction in January of Marion Little, a Tory party organiser from head office, and the acquittal of the MP Craig Mackinlay after they were accused of breaking electoral law as the party fought off a challenge from Nigel Farage in Thanet South. …

Transparency campaigners believe the government’s latest move is an attempt to avoid future prosecutions and would overturn a ruling by the supreme court.

Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, said a “test of authorisation” would give candidates and party officials another level of defence from prosecution. “Such a move would not appear to be about reinforcing and strengthening electoral law. This would instead protect party candidates and open up the possibility of outspending rivals.”

Plans for a new law have emerged in correspondence seen by the Guardian and sent to cabinet ministers by Kevin Foster, the minister for the constitution.

“Legislation currently requires candidates to account for free or discounted goods or services that are made use of by or on behalf of the candidate. There have been calls to amend this legislation to include a test of authorisation by or on behalf of the candidate,” he wrote.

Foster told members of a cabinet subcommittee that the law on notional expenditure was tested in July when the supreme court ruled that the statutory requirement for an election candidate is to declare notional expenditure incurred on their behalf during a campaign. This might arise where a national party provided additional campaigning support in the constituency and was not limited to authorised campaigning.

Foster wrote: “There is a concern that candidates, their electoral agents and others acting on their behalf could be operating under legal risk. I am seeking the committee’s agreement to announce at an appropriate time that the government is exploring options to clarify the law on notional expenditure to alleviate the concerns highlighted. Any amendments in this area of law would require primary legislation,” he wrote.

Little, who had been employed by Tory campaign headquarters since 1974, was charged with three counts of encouraging or assisting an offence related to the filing of election expenses. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/21/tories-draft-law-protect-mps-party-overspend

Corruption ad poor police investigatillon of it in local elections

The 2014 election victory by Lutfur Rahman in the contest for Mayor of Tower of Hamlets was eventually over-turned for electoral corruption, but police investigations did not result in criminal convictions. The resulting controversy over the police’s actions resulted in Operation Lynemouth: an investigation into what the police did and why.

The final report from Operation Lynemouth is now out, and it is pretty damning:

The policing of the election and the subsequent investigation were deficient in too many areas. There was a lack of corporate responsibility, a lack of training and insufficient resources for the MPS’s special enquiry team’s investigation. We were also concerned that, when another MPS department investigated allegations other than electoral fraud, potential lines of enquiry were disregarded. Furthermore, there was an otherwise uncoordinated approach to all the investigations, with little oversight at a senior officer level for the first year, which meant that opportunities might have been missed.

Scope has also been identified for a new police investigation:

Operation Lynemouth’s investigators have identified avenues of enquiry that can still be explored, and City of London Police has agreed to undertake an independent criminal investigation.”

Operation Lynemouth: final report

Here is the full report”
https://3859gp38qzh51h504x6gvv0o-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/files/2019/03/Operation-Lynemouth-review-of-police-handling-of-electoral-corruption-allegations-in-Tower-Hamlets.pdf

https://www.markpack.org.uk/157907/operation-lynemouth-tower-hamlets/

Electoral Commission – unfit due to modern loopholes

“Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP who was cleared while a senior Conservative official was convicted over election expenses, has some very critical things to say about the Electoral Commission.

Writing for PoliticsHome after his acquittal, the Conservative MP said:

“It is their responsibility to interpret the law into understandable guidance for candidates and agents and have extra-statutory authority to produce guidance and rules to assist the electoral process. During the trial, the prosecution spent days considering the status of personalised and party generic Correx boards. Conservative Party guidance recommends a 4x potential use. If such plastic posters survive defacement or vandalism that characterises many election campaigns, they could last for many years. The Prosecution and Electoral Commission disputed that view, long held by the party. The Electoral Commission publishes not one word of guidance as to how to account for such boards, how to deal with criminal damage and replacements, relying on the vacuous phrase ‘honest assessment’. To face potential criminal conviction with life-changing consequences on the back of scant guidance cannot be right.”

That is but one of a range of details over which the Electoral Commission’s guidance is indeed unhelpful. Sometimes the Electoral Commission has played with being weirdly prescriptive. (I still remember the discussion I had with them about depreciation rules for party rosettes.) Often however it has also – as the above example illustrates – super-cautiously vague.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that lack of detailed knowledge in the Electoral Commission, an absence of knowledge bizarrely illustrated by its mistakes over pencils:

https://www.markpack.org.uk/143476/indelible-pencils/

A much bigger problem, however, is one that MPs such as Craig Mackinlay share with the Electoral Commission. Even if no-one breaks the law, the rules limiting constituency expenditure have collapsed because so much can now be done that is charged against the much more generous national limit.

What used to be a tight limit on constituency expenditure set by the law is now in effect a massively generous limit set by the size of your bank account. See the full details here:

https://www.markpack.org.uk/130283/internet-speeds-up-the-killing-off-of-expense-controls-in-marginal-seats/

Neither MPs nor regulators have done anything so far other than sit on the sidelines, often apparently oblivious and always unresponsive to this collapse.”

https://www.markpack.org.uk/157315/craig-mackinlay-electoral-commission/

“The government’s voter ID plans are ‘rearranging the deckchairs’ in the face of new threats to our democracy”

“On May 3rd 2018, 350 people were denied a vote in their local council elections. Their crime? Not possessing the right ID. The minister hailed these trials of mandatory voter ID as a ‘success’. The government must have a strange definition of success.

The scheme disenfranchised far more ordinary voters than potential wrongdoers: in a single day across the five councils, twice as many people didn’t vote due to having incorrect ID as have been accused of personation in eight years across the whole of the UK.

Out of 45 million votes last year, there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ (only one was solid enough to result in conviction). And yet the government seems determined to pursue voter ID, a policy we now know could cost up to £20 million per general election. This change to how we vote is a marked departure from the trust-based British way of running elections, and with little evidence to justify it.

It’s claimed that mandatory voter ID could boost faith in the democratic process. Yet according to academic research, 99 percent of election staff do not think fraud has occurred in their polling stations. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of the public say they think our polling stations are safe. And studies show that more accessible elections have greater electoral integrity – not the other way round.

The policy of mandatory strict ID presents a significant risk to democratic access and equality. Millions of people lack the strictest forms of required documentation. Documentation that is costly to acquire. It’s one of the reasons why organisations from the Runnymede Trust to the Salvation Army and Stonewall are concerned about these plans. The Windrush scandal earlier this year highlighted exactly the difficulties some legitimate voters could have in accessing identity documents – through no fault of their own.

If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally, it could potentially result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say. And it would hit the already marginalised hardest: poorer C2DE social grade voters were half as likely to say they were aware of the ID requirements before the trials this May. And despite the costly publicity campaign this time, after election day, an average of around a quarter of residents were not aware of the pilots in four of the council areas – around four in 10 were not aware in Watford.

Imposing ID could have a significant impact on election outcomes, too. Thirteen seats were won at the 2017 Parliamentary election with a majority less than the number of people denied a vote in Bromley alone this May.

Yet still the government insists on running more trials of mandatory ID despite a broader commitment to improve democratic engagement and access. It is clear that much work needs to be done to remove barriers to voting, not to construct new ones. The most widespread problem poll staff have highlighted is voters turning up and not being on the register. Access for voters with disabilities is also a frequently cited problem.

We’ve learnt a lot this year, with our election and information regulators and parliamentarians highlighting the shocking state of the unregulated ‘wild west’ that is online campaigning. From the spread of disinformation, to secret political donations and ‘dark ads’, the real threats to our democracy are becoming clear.

In the face of these challenges, imposing voter ID is like rearranging the deckchairs of our democracy while we head towards an iceberg. The crucial task for government now is to focus on the real problems – we need to get to work solving them.”

Full report here:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/a-sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut-the-2018-voter-id-trials/

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-governments-voter-id-plans-are-rearranging-the-deckchairs-in-the-face-of-new-threats-to-our-democracy/

“DUP fined £1,000 over ‘inaccurate’ loan reporting”

Owl says: remarkable how this article gives no details of EXACTLY what the DUP did wrong, how much money was involved and borrowed from whom, for how long and at what rate of interest! Transparency my …..!

“THE DUP has been fined £1,000 by the Electoral Commission for “inaccurate” loan reporting.

The watchdog imposed two fines worth £500 each, which were paid earlier this month, its latest report disclosed.

In a statement it said: “The Commission considered, in accordance with the enforcement policy, that sanctions were appropriate in this case.”

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, added: “The reporting requirements are clear, so it is always disappointing when parties fail to comply.

“It’s vital that voters are given an opportunity to see accurate and full reportable data on what parties spend money on in order to influence them at elections and referendums.

“This provides transparency in the political finance system and is open for anyone to scrutinise.

“The Commission will continue to enforce these requirements on all parties and campaigners to ensure voters have the information they need.”

The Traditional Unionist Voice was also fined £1,000 for late delivery of a spending return for last year’s general election. The fine was due to be paid earlier this month.”

http://www.irishnews.com/news/politicalnews/2018/08/21/news/dup-fined-1-000-over-inaccurate-loan-reporting-1412808/