ERS in the Press – February 2019

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 28th February 2019

Another wild month in politics – from crucial Brexit votes to the apparent disintegration of Britain’s party structures. Throughout, we’ve been pointing at the elephant in the room: the crumbling state of Britain’s democracy and how it can be repaired.

We were proud to launch our new report, Reining in the Wild West: Campaign Rules for the 21st Century, on the 15th anniversary of Facebook’s launch (I’m not sure they liked the gift). We drew in academics, regulators, politicians and campaigners alike to say it is time we brought Britain’s broken political campaign rules up to date. It was featured in the Sunday Times.

We led a wide coalition of campaigners to directly call on the PM to rein in the online ‘wild west’. The Guardian and the tech press also joined the debate, while we had op eds published on ConservativeHome, LabourList, OpenDemocracy and Democratic Audit. Read the full series.

Our research on cross-community voting in Northern Ireland was cited in the Times.

Before the party split, the Sunday Times carried an article arguing it was “High time we voted out first-past-the-post electoral system”. He argued: “Brexit is testing the two big UK parties to destruction, but first past the post requires factions banding together into monoliths to keep hurdling the high barriers to entry that it imposes.” When eight Labour MPs left the party just a day later, it was a reflection that parties have not been their true “shape” for a long time — they have been bolted together by a broken electoral system. We wrote a letter in response.

Darren Hughes spoke to Wired magazine about the Independent Group split, arguing: “The last few years have demonstrated that these issues run much deeper than a blue team and a red team. Society has fundamentally changed and Brexit has drawn back the curtains…

“Both major parties are essentially coalitions, but the voters have no control over which faction is going to be in charge of the party,” he told Wired.

Also responding to the party breakup, Times columnist Hugo Rifkind wrote with passion about the need for proportional representation. He cited our research that 68% of votes do not go towards electing an MP, noting Theresa May could have won an absolute majority in the 2017 election with just 533 extra votes in the nine most marginal constituencies.

“Statistics like this should open your eyes to the power that targeted and often covert political advertising could have in a system where seats can be comfortably won on less than half the vote. First-past-the-post is ripe for being manipulated,” he wrote.

We responded, with our letter in the Times securing the top spot. The debate on fair votes is opening up again.

But while Brexit and the Independent Group have dominated the headlines, the government have been trying to evade transparency. We raised the alarm after ministers failed to meet their obligations as part of the Open Government Network. They are meant to say how they will make government more transparent – but they’ve missed the deadline by months.

Finally, the government’s voter ID scheme continues to fall apart, with councils dropping out following our campaigning. As we said in the Independent, “local councils are under huge budget and staffing pressures – the last thing they need is their election clerks to become glorified bouncers.”

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