Carmichael: PM can’t be allowed to rewrite election law in his favour

In the Times Red Box yesterday, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alastair Carmichael said a functioning liberal democracy relies just as much on self-restraint as on the wielding of power while in government.

Recently found to have hypocritically broken his own laws, a populist authoritarian leader now seeks to curb the right to protest and rewrite election law to favour his party.

No, it’s not the latest press filing out of Hungary or Venezuela – it is the rushed final week of parliament before prorogation, as the lawbreaking prime minister Boris Johnson looks to rewrite the law to his own benefit.

Amongst a rogues’ gallery of questionable measures in contention, one of the most egregious is the government plan to bend the Electoral Commission to its will, by imposing Conservative-mandated priorities. This would utterly undermine the independence of our elections regulator.

Pointing out that the prime minister was backed by only 43 per cent of voters in 2019 and has a disapproval rating of 65 per cent in the latest YouGov poll, Carmichael argues that Boris Johnson is trying to unilaterally rewrite electoral rules in his favour.

He is a man who has shown himself willing to bend any regulation and shatter the fundamental rule of law if it will grant him five more minutes in the sun. Now more than ever we must resist a prime minister straining every sinew to protect his power…

We have already gone through a number of rounds with the government over the Elections Bill, and they have largely had their way in muscling through changes to election law which are unnecessary and frankly dangerous, such as their voter ID mandates and the uncorking of unfettered donations from offshore voters.

If other government measures in the bill are a smouldering wreck, however, then the proposals for the Electoral Commission are a five-alarm fire at the roots of our democracy.

If there are reforms to be made to the Electoral Commission then we ought to discuss them openly and honestly, on a cross-party basis and with proper consultation that has been lacking throughout this process. It cannot be right for one party to rewrite the rules alone.

Many Tory MPs despise the Electoral Commission, whether for perceived bias or simply because they once fell foul of some rule or another in the past. Personal animus, however, is no way to remake the law.

At worst it reinforces the impression of a prime minister who sees this country as his plaything, and who when challenged for his rule breaking simply rewrites the rules.

But a functioning liberal democracy relies just as much on self-restraint as on the wielding of power while in government. It relies on the recognition that you cannot rule forever and that limitations on your own use of power also protect you from abuse when the shoe is on the other foot.

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8 Comments

  • George Thomas 28th Apr '22 - 10:31am

    It just feels like this is a statement of events which happened yesterday (avoiding speaking about the day before that when the LD’s helped this political party into power and set these events in motion) and not focusing on what happens next.

    I think Starmer’s ploy of reminding Tory MP’s and supporters that associating with Boris Johnson leaves everyone except him bloodied and broken and that by accepting this government’s position they’re sullying their reputation is more effective than this. The biggest hope is that the Tories tear themselves apart from within with all their egos and incompetence.

    “It cannot be right for one party to rewrite the rules alone.” But it’s happening, and will continue to happen until the next general election where these re-written rules will be in play and Tories will have such an advantage that a hung parliament would be a success.

  • I think we should avoid cheap shots about our role in the coalition. The current government is dominated by UKIP ideology, and is very different from Cameron era Tories. We used our power in 2010 – 2015 wisely for the most part, and for those who have forgotten, it was the voters who chose the outcome of the 2010 election.
    Alistair is right, of course, and there is ample evidence that our democracy, such as it is under FPTP, is being attacked. Sadly, there is too little recognition of this by the electorate, and given the weakened power and loss of authority of the more principled wing of the press, and by the BBC, ITV and Channel Four, the voters are going to have to rely on us and the Labour Party to tell them what is wrong with the proposed power bid by the currently ruling party.

  • Given the on going atrocities committed by this government the Liberal Democrats need to take every opportunity at their disposal to attack the Conservative party at any level be it local or national, every morning we read of more self serving policies inflicted on the people of the UK.

  • David Evans 29th Apr '22 - 5:11pm

    A curious comment from Andy – unless of course a comment was made relating to our role in coalition, which was subsequently rescinded. Of course, our leaders managed coalition so badly that even a Tory like Cameron was able to totally undermine and nearly annihilate us in the subsequent election. He was then of course undermined by his own success in destroying us – Not enough nice Lib Dems around to control his right wing anymore, leading to the Referendum, Brexit and now Johnson’s UKIP party let loose.

    Of course, anyone who considered how do you sustain a fair, free and open society when your party is collapsing around you year after year would have known what was coming by May 2012 at the latest. Why so many chose to hang on in desperation for another three long years is a different question.

  • Peter Watson 29th Apr '22 - 6:37pm

    @Andy Daer “it was the voters who chose the outcome of the 2010 election”
    No voter “chose” a Lib Dem and Tory coalition on 6 May 2010. Lib Dem and Tory MPs “chose” it in the following weeks – other options were available – and Lib Dem members endorsed it.

    “We used our power in 2010 – 2015 wisely for the most part …”
    Darn those pesky voters for not being wise enough to appreciate that! 😉

  • Peter Hirst 1st May '22 - 1:47pm

    Restraint is not a commodity that I associate with this government. That is why we need a more codified constitution to set out clearly what it can and cannot do. The days of trusting any Party to do what’s best are gone. Only transparency, accountability and a clear rule book will suffice.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st May '22 - 2:50pm

    “we need a more codified constitution to set out clearly what it can and cannot do.”

    Indeed, but without independent oversight with teeth how effective could it be?

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