Andrew Stunell writes … Removing discrimination from electoral campaigns

Ballot paperLast week the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct published its recommendations. The Liberal Democrats played a leading part in this inquiry and we are pleased to report that our approach to tackling discrimination is rightly credited in the findings of the all-party panel.

Electoral campaigning in Britain is, the Inquiry found, generally a positive and democratically enriching process. There are however a number of areas in which better frameworks for action could be introduced which would make Britain not just a responsible democracy but one that is world-leading in facing down discriminatory electoral conduct.

A key recommendation for our parliamentary panel then, was that cross-party agreement be sought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on a framework for reporting discrimination during election campaigns. Specifically, we have suggested that this should incorporate a public reporting portal, a named official responsible for assessing cases, a clear time-frame for investigation and publication of adjudication or sanctions. A Lib Dem staff member who gave evidence to the panel highlighted that we are particularly careful to reply to complainants where we can and an example of good practice that can inform others in the best spirit of cross-party co-operation!

However, our party is not free from criticism. Accusations of, for example, homophobic tactics have previously been leveled against our candidates. We want the Liberal Democrats to be at the forefront of challenging behaviour unbecoming of those candidates and we are pleased our President and Chief Executive have engaged so constructively in this process. This should be a message for all in our party that when campaigning at elections, we expect a certain level of civility and propriety in debate.

For candidates too, we want to see more and better training, support and safeguards for their welfare. Many of the people we interviewed told us that campaigning can be a harsh and frightening experience – not just for them but for their families too. It doesn’t have to be this way. We want all political parties to better understand the available support networks and to avail their candidates of them.

Where non-party groups are not playing a positive role, that too must be addressed. Lib Dem candidates have suffered from misconduct by non-party campaigners but so too our candidates have faced allegations of collusion with groups employing discriminatory tactics. There is a clear need for better regulation and the panel recognised this. Our party is at the heart of the Government’s push for better regulation of non-party campaigners through the Lobbying Bill. It is clear that some of these groups should be subject to some more rigorous regulation when campaigning in individual constituencies.

In publishing our report, we achieved cross-party consensus on issues of vital importance to British democratic life and the recommendations if implemented will benefit not just minority communities but British democracy in general.  We will maintain pressure on electoral and equalities institutions to play their part, the mantle rests equally with our party members and candidates to live up to the gold standard expected of us.


* Andrew Stunell is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hazel Grove, was a member of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct and is a former communities minister.

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  • Putting my pedants hat on:
    (a) Stunell only has one L in it
    (b) Andrew hasn’t been the chair of the Local Election Campaign Team for two elections now.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Nov '13 - 9:40pm

    I have read this piece and don’t understand what it is all about.

    Nothing in the report about postal vote rigging?


  • David Allen 5th Nov '13 - 10:43pm

    I agree with Tony. The article talks about “reporting discrimination” for official sanction. It also talks about “homophobic tactics”. Well, of course I’m against homophobic tactics. But surely we’re not saying that when confronted by a homophobe opponent, we should run to the police and try to get our opponent penalised by officialdom? That would be horribly anti-democratic. It would also play into the hands of the homophobes, who would no doubt race to condemn the goody-goodies for trying to suppress their free speech!

  • SIR Andrew Stunell is not Lib Dem Communities Minister…

  • Simon Banks 6th Nov '13 - 11:08am

    Well, some years ago in the London Borough of Waltham Forest a Labour candidate, a well-connected Black female lawyer, put around false rumours that a gay Liberal Democrat councillor was a paedophile. He was harassed and his property was attacked. After the election, which he lost and she won (but with two other Liberal Democrats elected) some of the truth came out and she was prosecuted, convicted and forced to stand down, the seat returning to us but our shattered ex-councillor having moved. If her conduct had come to the notice of the Liberal Democrats during the election, should they not have tried to get their opponent “penalised by officialdom”?

  • lloyd harris 6th Nov '13 - 12:22pm

    There is no way I know of to stop a candidate or campaign doing illegal things during a campaign and get them excluded before the vote. You can challenge after the vote but that costs thousands if not tens of thousands of pounds.

    If that will change with an official who we can appeal to rather than the High Court & sanctions during a campaign or even suspending the election, then that would be a step forward

  • Tony Greaves 6th Nov '13 - 8:52pm

    Well if this kind of thing is what it means, it is a recipe for a nightmare in which no-one dare say anything for fear of being reported to some ?local jobsworthy. Actually, falsely attacking someone for being a paedophile is not “discrimination”, it is defamation, a serious civil offence. If it is deliberately intended to incite criminal activity, that’s what it is and it is a serious criminal offence.

    I don’t know what this report says in detail but on the basis of this article I doubt if it means anything that could be seriously legislated for. It sounds like the old Standards regime in local authorities when being reported to the Standards Committee for something and nothing could result in banner headlines in the local press.

    And what are all these instances of Liberal Democrats engaging in homophobic or otherwise reprehensible behaviour with “some process” in which our President and Chief Executive have “engaged so constructively”. I have no idea what this is all about and neither I suspect have any other readers.

    If we are to have some official enforcing “civility and propriety” in election campaigns, God help us all. Who? How?

    As for the Lobbying Bill, any idea that it will stop third party organisations engaging in “misconduct” comes from some dream-world. All it does is regulate their spending.



  • David Allen 6th Nov '13 - 11:17pm

    WhatTony said (twice!). Further – If someone calls you a paedophile, or a burglar, or a fraudster, that’s defamation, because it is an accusation of criminality, and provided it’s not true, it’s an offence and you can sue. No new laws needed.

    On the other hand, if someone calls you a homosexual, or a geek, or an evil Tory, or a weak person, it is not an offence. It may or may not be fair comment. It is up to you to answer back and convince the voters that they want you as their representative. You might well convince people that a homosexual MP is fine and a homophobe MP is not. You won’t convince many people that PC attitudes should be enforced by law.

  • I would suggest unequal sized constituencies, fraudulent postal voting and id fraud would be the largest concerns. We seem to be returning to the Pre Reform Act days of rotten boroughs and bribing voters.

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