The integrity of UK elections is under threat from ‘analogue-age’ campaign regulations, the Electoral Reform Society are warning today.
The comments come as Hillary Clinton claims Russia interfered in the Brexit vote, warning that “democracy is under siege” across the West .
The extent of Russia’s involvement in international cyber-attacks and an attempt to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was revealed by UK and Dutch security services last week .
The Electoral Reform Society are campaigning for rules around elections to be modernised and strengthened to protect democracy from foreign disruption. The UK is particularly vulnerable as a small number of votes can decide elections: in 2017, the Conservatives were just 533 votes from a majority in the House of Commons, while eleven seats were won by fewer than 100 votes.
Jess Garland, ERS Director of Policy and Research, said:
“Given known attempts to disrupt democracy worldwide by Russia and others, there is now a real threat to British democracy.
“Under Britain’s out-of-date campaign regulations it would not be particularly difficult to subvert democracy in the UK – nor would it even necessarily be illegal.
“Foreign actors can easily purchase social media adverts designed to influence voters in our elections without having to disclose their identity or location, while loopholes in the UK’s campaign funding rules mean money can slip into the system unchecked.
“Because of Westminster’s broken voting system, even if only a handful of votes are unfairly targeted then the effect could be substantial.
“There is growing concern both in the UK and elsewhere about potential foreign interference in elections. We need to get a handle on the wild west in party funding and campaign rules before it spirals further out of control.”
The ERS and other democracy organisations are calling for:
- An imprint for online adverts stating who paid for them and published them
- Checks by social media platforms to ensure those wanting to purchase political adverts during elections are based in the UK and registered to vote here
- Greater transparency and monitoring of companies/trusts donating to UK parties and campaigns
- A cap on the amount that can be given to a party or campaign to end the ‘big-donor culture’ and the ‘arms race’ in campaign spending
- A comprehensive review of campaign rules to bring them into the 21st century
Notes to Editors
Last week, the Atlantic Council published: “Democracy in the Crosshairs: How Political Money Laundering Threatens the Democratic Process” http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/democracy-in-the-crosshairs-how-political-money-laundering-threatens-the-democratic-process
Picture credit: Gage Skidmore