It’s time for candidates to ‘play fair’ and back overhaul of UK’s outdated election rules

Author:
Federico Scolari, Student Placement

Posted on the 9th April 2021

The Fair Play Pledge, a major initiative involving several democratic organisations, was formally launched this Wednesday to highlight the need for open and transparent campaigning for the May election period.

Next month thousands of candidates will be standing for election across the UK in a bumper set of local elections. The Fair Play Pledge encourages all of them to campaign cleanly, putting democracy first and ensuring that decency is prioritised.

The Fair Play Pledge asks candidates to commit to:

  1. Campaign openly.
  2. Financial fair play.
  3. Campaign respectfully.
  4. Respect privacy.
  5. Champion defending and enhancing our democracy if elected.

Alongside the ERS, the coalition involves several democratic and civil society organisations and has already had the backing of Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Liberal Democrats.

The Pledge – which calls on candidates to campaign with respect and compassion, uphold privacy and champion democracy – follows on from the creation of the successful #StopTheNastiness pledge run by Compassion in Politics during the 2019 general election.

Speaking at the launch event Jackie Weaver, who previously soared to international fame due to her commendable conduct during a rather heated Parish Council meeting, opened the discussion by pointing that “it is important to create an environment where people feel safe and able to contribute” and that she feels “really privileged to be part of the campaign- the ethos behind it is hugely important. The pledge is an opportunity to change things”.

Weaver’s experience shone a light on much wider issues in responsible politics and sensible political behaviour.

Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy said: “It’s about decency. With the advent of social media, politics has become much coarser and cruder. We want people from all political persuasions to want to participate in politics, and they can only do that if they feel comfortable campaigning in that environment”. He added that he “fully expects all parties to sign up, as it is in everyone’s interest that politics is conducted in a frank, open, reasonable and rational manner”.

All major parties in England, Wales and Scotland were contacted ahead of the campaign launch. The Lib Dems have already signed up, alongside Sadiq Khan, who is running for re-election in London later this May.

To contribute, you can contact or visit the Fair Play Pledge at www.fairplaypledge.co.uk and add your name to the public letter encouraging all parties and candidates to sign up.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK said: “Election laws haven’t been properly updated in over two decades. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then. We know people across the UK want our election rules strengthened to fight the scourge of dark money, foreign interference and rampant disinformation. We must remember that democracy belongs to us, the citizens. Let’s work together to demand better.”

As the ERS’ Jess Garland noted ahead of the launch, this May sees a huge round of elections in Britain – and it’s vital that voters get a clean and honest campaign. As misinformation and unregulated ‘dark ads’ spread across the globe, the public are being left in the dark about who is steering the debate. That means all candidates must step up to the plate, playing fair and being transparent about their funding.

The panel proceeded to point out that the absence of government regulation, as well as of suitable sanctions, is affecting the democratic process in negative ways. Our Democracy in the Dark report, written by two of the UK’s leading election finance academics, already observed major increases in untransparent campaigning conduct, which is neither regulated nor sanctioned accordingly.

That’s why we’re urging all candidates to commit to being open and honest in their campaigning this election – and to back reform that will ensure a level playing field of transparency in the future.

The Fair Play Pledge coalition is comprised of Fair Vote UK, Unlock Democracy, Electoral Reform Society, Open Rights Group, Global Witness, Centenary Action Group, Foxglove, Who Targets Me, The Citizens, Compassion in Politics & Clean up the Internet.

The Fair Play Pledge

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