The government should stop and re-think Elections Bill as it returns to the Commons

Jon Narcross, former Communications Officer

Posted on the 14th January 2022

The government’s Elections Bill returns to the House of Commons on Monday 17th January despite the opposition against their plans growing from all sides of the chamber.

The bill has faced fierce opposition from campaigners, academics and civil society groups and the Electoral Reform Society have been amongst those leading the campaign against this dangerous legislation.

Far from improving our politics, the Elections Bill will erode public confidence in our democracy at a time when it is already worryingly low. After what seems like months of scandals and sleaze the government are attempting to pass a bill that will hand huge powers to the government of the day over how our elections are run and how they are regulated.

Opposition has grown in recent months – in December a report by the cross-party House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) joined calls from campaigners to pause the bill, with the Conservative committee Chair William Wragg saying the bill’s proposals “lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress.”

Alongside proposals for mandatory voter ID at polling stations, which could see millions turned away for lacking the required identification, the bill would give ministers new power over the work of the Electoral Commission – risking the independence of the elections watchdog.

Ministers have also used the bill to sneak in changes to the electoral system for Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners – adding new clauses during the committee stage that would see the Supplementary Vote downgraded in favour of imposing Westminster’s broken First Past the Post System.

The move, which ministers disingenuously claim will make it easier for the public to ‘kick out’ underperforming officials, would in fact damage accountability and undermine the legitimacy of those elected.

What is more, there has been little in the way of meaningful consultation on many of the most dangerous provisions in this bill, last-minute amendments also mean key bits of this legislation have yet to receive any proper scrutiny within parliament. This is no way to make effective legislation.

It’s clear now that the government’s Elections Bill proposals are less about improving our democracy than they are an attack on voters’ ability to cast their ballot and have their voice count.

Ministers have attempted to dodge scrutiny over key parts of this bill and the result is a dangerous mix of proposals that risk shutting voters out of our democracy and weakening the integrity of our elections.

From plans to shut voters out from the ballot box for lacking the right ID, to minsters’ power grab over our independent elections watchdog, this bill stands to damage democracy.

Opposition to the bill is widespread and growing, with MPs from all parties now calling on the government to stop and re-think their plans for changing election law. It’s time for the government to listen.”

It’s time ministers went back to the drawing board and brought forward new plans to improve our democracy.

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