Online imprints must be just the start of getting to grips with UK’s ‘dangerously outdated’ political campaign rules – ERS

Posted on the 12th August 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society, embargoed 00:01 Wednesday, 12th August 2020. 

The Electoral Reform Society has responded to proposals from the Government to introduce some transparency for online political advertising.

The ERS – which has campaigned for the change for years – says it is ‘long overdue’. Millions are spent each election on online political ads – but currently there is no legal requirement to say who is paying for them.

The ERS has previously outlined dozens of loopholes in Britain’s ‘analogue age election rules’ – of which the need for online imprints was one. Britain’s ‘broken’ party funding system, and a lack of transparency over Lords’ financial and lobbying interests are also a major problem, transparency groups say.

The UK’s leading democracy campaigners are calling for clear timelines for introducing the policy – and say it must not be just another consultation to kick into the long grass.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“After a long wait, this looks like much-needed progress when it comes to closing the dozens of loopholes in our campaign rules. Campaigners and regulators have been calling for this change since 2003, so we hope ministers are getting to grips with this issue.

“For too long, our democracy has been wide open to anonymous ‘dark ads’, dodgy donors, and foreign interference online. This won’t solve all that, but it will help to plug one of the many leaks in HMS Democracy.

“This move will need to be well-enforced, and with strong sanctions for unscrupulous campaigners. Currently the fines the Electoral Commission can levy are seen as the ‘cost of doing business’. Ministers must not be able to pass the buck to Silicon Valley giants either: we need clear reporting standards so voters, the media and researchers can see who is trying to steer our debate in real time.

“There should be genuine transparency over who is really paying for political ads. Currently it is far too easy to set up well-financed political pages while hiding the funders from view.

“The government must be clear that this is just the start of cleaning up politics online. Let’s finally close the loopholes, protect our democratic debate, and rein in the wild west of online campaigning.”


Notes to Editors

In December 2019 the ERS published the ‘Loophole List’ of just some of the gaps in Britain’s political campaign rules:

There have been several consultations on imprints already – and a long-term consensus for reform. See the ERS’ report ‘Reining in the Wild West’.

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