As we get closer to the European elections, here’s a worrying fact: our elections are currently wide open to foreign interference and dodgy campaigning.
Election rules in the UK haven’t been updated since the year 2000 – when most of us were still using dial-up internet (if indeed you were around then).
So this Wednesday (15th May), MPs from across the political divide will send a strong message to the government that it’s time to ‘close the loopholes’ at last.
And there are plenty of them. Lax finance laws mean ‘dark money’ could undermine the next General Election, while political disinformation can spread unchecked on social media by bots and foreign states.
We all heard about the Cambridge Analytica scandal – but similar scandals could be occurring right now. Indeed, the New York Times has just revealed that Russia is targeting the European elections.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Electoral Campaign Transparency – being formed in Parliament now – is being set up to change that, and will launch an inquiry into Britain’s out-dated campaign rules. It will take evidence from a experts and civil society to feed into a Green Paper advising the government on how to better safeguard and strengthen our democracy.
It comes after increasing pressure on the government to act to safeguard elections from unscrupulous political donations, campaign advertising and foreign interference.
The government recently published its response to the consultation on ‘Protecting the Debate’, pledging some limited changes. But there is worryingly little detail so far.
The new all-party group will ‘look forwards, not backwards’, arguing the issue of electoral integrity is far bigger than Brexit.
MPs already set to be involved include Brexit select committee member Stephen Kinnock (Lab), Caroline Lucas (Green), Sir Nicholas Soames (Con), SNP frontbencher Deidre Brock, and Lib Dem spokesperson Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dem), with many more set to join.
As Stephen Kinnock MP said, “The fall-out from the 2016 referendum has exposed the fact that our democracy is in danger of being overwhelmed by a toxic combination of dodgy data and dirty money. Drip by drip we have seen how our legislative and regulatory frameworks are simply not fit for purpose.
“Our political system can only function effectively if the public is confident that our elections and referenda are being policed effectively and that the playing field is level. Yet we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age.”
That’s why he’s working with FairVote and the Electoral Reform Society to tackle this issue head-on. If we don’t, future generations will pay a heavy price.
Political parties spent around £3.2 million on Facebook adverts during the 2017 general election – an increase of more than double since the 2015 election. When our primary election rules were created in 2000, the figure was £0: giants like Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist.
The unregulated ‘wild west’ in campaign rules threatens the principles of transparency, fairness and the notion of a level playing field. This new Parliamentary campaign is a vital step forward in bringing these rules into the 21st century at last.
Find out more about the APPG here.
Read the ERS’ recent report on the UK’s outdated campaign laws