Lib Dems will oppose Elections Bill in Parliament today

How should decisions about how our elections are run be made?

You would hope that all the parties would get together and come up with something that we should all agree with. Or at least a truly independent body would annoy everyone equally by coming up with things that some like and some don’t.

Here’s how not to do it – let a Government which has more MPs than its vote share deserves change the rules to suit itself. That is far from democratic.

The Conservatives are looking to the example of the experts in voter suppression, the US Republicans, with their Elections Bill which comes before Parliament today. It is blatantly partisan in many aspects.

The first is that it compels voters to show ID to vote. They couch it in language around preventing fraud, which is pretty much non existent anyway. But you have to look at the impact that would have. Who would be most likely not to vote? People of colour, poorer people, younger people. In short, people who are less likely to vote Conservative.

The second is that it gives the Government more control over the Electoral Commission, which is supposed to be independent. Again, not a good sign.

The third is that it will constrain third party campaigners such as trade unions.

Don’t just take my word for it, take the word of someone who is both a former electoral commissioner and a Liberal Democrat. David Howarth was MP for Cambridge until 2010. He cautions us to make sure we don’t forget the other nasties the bill contains while we argue over Voter ID.

In an article for Open Democracy he sets out why the “poisonous” bill would cement Tory rule.

He describes how the Bill hands control of the Electoral Commission to Government ministers:

Under Clause 12, Ministers could ‘guide’ the commission to interpret its powers in ways that would favour the ruling party and its friends. The courts might provide a backstop in the most extreme cases, such as where guidance tries to permit illegal activities. But judicial intervention is unlikely in more strategic interventions, such as ministers telling the commission to restrict or halt its work on voter registration, which mainly targets young people, minorities and renters living in house shares.

He goes on to highlight two elements of the third party campaigning rules that could cause problems:

Clause 23 of the bill gives ministers the power to add organisations to the list of those who qualify to register as a ‘third-party’ campaigner, which might seem unobjectionable, but it also gives them the power to remove groups, or change the way they are described. The government says, in its delegated powers memorandum, that it needs the power to add new types of organisations that might come into existence. Fair enough, but that is no justification for removing groups or amending their descriptions, and the memorandum offers no explanation.

Why is that a problem? Because the list includes – for example – trade unions, whose relationship with the Labour Party has been a longstanding target for the Conservatives. Ministers’ ability to amend the list might also allow them to ban organisations that it objects to, like Extinction Rebellion or Black Lives Matter, by creating conditions for inclusion such as not using disruptive protest methods.

And it would stop the Government’s opponents ganging up on it. This may not, to be honest have been going to happen anyway, but prohibiting it is not good for democracy:

The effect of the bill would be to limit the total national spending by one party in support of another party’s national campaign to just £700 – down from hundreds of thousands currently. It is a proposal that favours single, monolithic parties over alliances of parties.

The main beneficiaries are almost too obvious to state. Like much of the rest of the Elections Bill, it is calculated to facilitate the entrenchment in power of the current ruling party.

Lib Dem MPs will be voting against the Bill on principle tonight. We’ll bring you any speeches they make later. In many ways, the Commons stages are the least interesting given the Government’s massive majority. What Paul Tyler and the Lib Dem Lords do to it when it reaches the upper House will be much more exciting.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 7th Sep '21 - 11:43am

    The national spending limits at a General Election are an issue that needs to be dealt with. For a fairly typical constituency with, say, 75,000 electors, the constituency spending limits are £13,200 for a Borough Constituency and £15,450 for a County Constituency. National spending is based on an allowance`of £30,000 per consituency fought. Thus national spending, even on a pro rata basis is 200-250% of the consituency spending limit. We should be arguing for severe cuts on national spending to below £10,000 per constituency and preferably to below £5,000 per consitutency, which would also reduce the incentive for parties to recategorise what is actually local spending as national spending.

  • John Marriott 7th Sep '21 - 12:01pm

    What a blatantly cynical move. Having gerrymandered the constituencies, they are now doing the same to the voters.

  • One key thing to consider – given that the government does have the majority to get it passed, and enough time before the next general election to sort out anything the Lords might try to do to it – is what happens next.

    In the US where this sort of voter suppression is routine, pro-turnout parties make significant efforts to encourage voter registration directly, to ensure that people have what they need to vote, know their rights around voting, etc. The same is likely to become necessary here (though arguably it already is, even without this bill)

  • nigel hunter 7th Sep '21 - 12:29pm

    Testing

  • nigelvhunter 7th Sep '21 - 12:33pm

    Just testing I was backon line! The media more than likely will concentrate on the ID part and pay little attention to the rest.THAT MUST NOT HAPPEN.The other dangers must be pointed out to the people voters that power is takenaway from them

  • nigelvhunter 7th Sep '21 - 12:36pm

    CiMs 2nd paragraph is correct.Equally for those without ID encourage them,and others, to apply for PostalVoting forms

  • Barry Lofty 7th Sep '21 - 1:06pm

    Yet another attempt by this government to fix future elections in their favour, and we think we live in a democracy?

  • neil James sandison 7th Sep '21 - 1:38pm

    Moaning about it may make people feel good but what are we going to do to defend democracy ? . Can we motivate civil society against the elected dictatorship the Tory want to create ?

  • Paul Barker 7th Sep '21 - 3:14pm

    Perhaps this is a case for a targeted campaign of Direct Action ? A small number of volunteers could refuse to provide ID, turn up at Polling Stations & demand the right to Vote while others alert The Media & take videos. If it was done on a Non-Party basis even The BBC might be forced to report it.

    People don’t like things being taken away, even if its something they don’t use. This is a case where a “Progressive Alliance” could actually gain popular support.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Sep '21 - 5:19pm

    If anything shows the recklesness of this government it is the passing of this Bill. It does not care about basic principles such as universal suffrage, fair or inclusive elections. It is focused on retaining power and subjecting this country to its selfish doctrine of power for power’s sake.

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