New inquiry launched into Britain’s ‘wild west’ electoral laws

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 8th June 2020

A group that advises the Prime Minister has announced a review of Britain’s out-dated electoral campaign rules.

The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life is an independent advisory body to the Prime Minister on ethics in public life. The group has launched a public consultation following growing concern over the ‘wild west’ in electoral laws in today’s digital age.

The Committee is inviting views on the way donations and campaign expenditure by candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners in election and referendum campaigns are regulated and enforced by the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Police. The consultation is now open, and closes on Friday 31st July.

Last October, the ERS also launched the Loophole List of gaps in our electoral law that are putting democracy at risk. Some of the loopholes mean that donors based in foreign tax havens, or operating through untraceable shell companies can pump in money to influence our political parties. Others allow for unscrupulous individuals to pay for anonymous ‘dark’ ads on line, or pump out disinformation during election periods to sway the result.

Announcing the review, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Jonathan Evans said: “We intend to look at electoral regulation from first principles – what really matters in this area? What values and principles should guide regulation of finance during elections?”

The Committee has a lot of clout, helping to push for the Electoral Commission to be set up 1998. Since then, digital campaigning has ‘revolutionised the way parties and campaigners engage with voters’: “It has made it harder to track how much is being spent, on what, where and by whom,” Mr Evans said.

This review will look at the system for the regulation of election finance and whether it meets the challenges of elections in the 21st century.

This consultation should be read alongside the terms of reference for the review, to get a clear idea of what they’re looking for.

Anyone with an interest in bringing campaign rules into the 21st century can make a submission. The Committee is welcoming submissions from members of the public, so this is your chance to have a say. 

Read the ERS’ Reining in the Wild West report for more information on how to bring our electoral law into the digital age – and put voters first.

The ERS also contributed to the All Party Political Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s January 2020 report Defending our Democracy in the Digital AgeThis ground-breaking report set out 20 recommendations on how to protect UK elections and referendums from ‘dirty money and dodgy data misuse’.


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