Defending our democracy in the digital age
This week saw publication of a new and valuable contribution to the debate about electoral reform, with the release of the report ‘Defending our democracy in the digital age’ by the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Electoral Campaigning Transparency. A cross party group of MPs formed in the last parliamentary session, the member MPs took evidence from over 70 organisations – including the Commission – before publishing this welcome addition to the debate.
Digital campaigning is a net-positive innovation for engagement in the democratic process; it can make it easier for voters to engage in the political debate, and for campaigners to reach voters and tell them about their policies and political views.
However, we need to ensure that we know that the regulatory system keeps up with the changes to ensure public confidence can be sustained; we know from our research that people tend to find digital campaign material less trust worthy than non-digital, that they are concerned about the use of data, the spread of false or misleading information and about the funding behind these campaigns.
These are issues that the Commission looks at in detail – most comprehensively in our report on the subject – but it’s very positive to see Westminster parliamentarians focusing attention on the subject. We are particularly pleased that this report supports a number of the recommendations the Commission has made previously, to improve the system.
A key example of this is our call for online campaign material to be required to clearly identify who is paying for it. We first recommended this in 2003 and the need for it has continued to grow; we welcome the UK Government’s commitment to take forward this policy and look forward to seeing progress on the implementation.
The APPG has also supported our call for an increase in the fines we can impose on those who commit election offences. While we have not sought unlimited fining power as recommended by the APPG, we are concerned that the current maximum fine of £20,000 for breaking electoral laws may be seen by some as a worthwhile cost of doing business, and urge the Government to raise this limit.
We welcome the APPG’s support for the Commission developing a prosecutions capacity; we have the powers to do so in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and will be following the practice of other regulatory colleagues who work in this way.
And we also welcome the report highlighting the opportunity to increase transparency and regulation of candidate financial reporting by shifting oversight to the Electoral Commission, joining the parallel process for party and campaigner political finance. This will allow for greater alignment between the party and candidate regulatory frameworks, a simpler system for all and the ability to apply more proportionate civil sanctions to lower order offences.
In other areas the report has fresh contributions to add to the debate and we look forward to discussing those with parliamentarians and others. This new parliamentary session creates an opportunity for the Government to bring attention back to a range of public policy areas that are important to people and where change is needed; we think it is important for electoral law reform to be a part of this programme. We can look to Scotland for inspiration, as their referendum framework legislation takes forward many of the changes we are recommending.
Ultimately the regulatory framework exists to enable the public to feel confident in our democratic process; this cannot be taken for granted, we see signs that it is being tested, and now is the time to act before it is further undermined.
Latest News from
Party and non-party campaigner spending of £250k or less at 2019 general election18/06/2020 15:52:00
The Electoral Commission has today published the campaign spending returns of political parties and registered non-party campaigners that spent £250,000 or less during the 2019 UK Parliamentary general election.
Statement on launch of CSPL review of electoral regulation08/06/2020 09:10:00
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission yesterday commented on the launch of the Committee on Standards in Public Life's review of electoral regulation.
Statement on the Metropolitan Police's investigation into Vote Leave and Darren Grimes11/05/2020 16:33:00
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission recently (08 May 2020) commented on the decision from the Met Police to close the investigation into Vote Leave and Darren Grimes.
Joint announcement by The Electoral Commission, Mr Robert Posner, Mr Arron Banks and Ms Elizabeth Bilney30/04/2020 12:38:00
The Electoral Commission, its Chief Executive Mr Robert Posner, Mr Arron Banks and Ms Elizabeth Bilney wish to announce that they have agreed amicable terms of settlement of a complaint raised by Mr Banks and Ms Bilney over the Electoral Commission's announcement on 1 November 2018 of its referral of Mr Banks and Ms Bilney to the National Crime Agency for further investigation over possible electoral offences in connection with the UK's 2016 EU membership referendum.
Party spending over £250,000 at the European Parliamentary elections published06/04/2020 09:15:00
The Electoral Commission has published the campaign spending returns of political parties that spent over £250,000 during the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.
Monthly update – concluded investigations18/03/2020 13:48:00
Details of the investigations concluded in the last month have been published today by the Electoral Commission. This is an important part of delivering transparency in political finance in the UK.
Latest quarterly political party donations in Northern Ireland published28/02/2020 13:25:00
Eight political parties registered in Northern Ireland reported accepting a total of £331,211 in donations and public funds in the fourth quarter of 2019, (October to December, covering the UK Parliamentary General Election), according to figures published by the Electoral Commission.
Record year and quarter for political party donations and loans in Great Britain27/02/2020 11:10:00
In 2019, political parties in Great Britain reported accepting over £113,119,000 in donations, the largest value ever reported in one year, according to new figures published today by the Electoral Commission. This is almost £40 million more than in 2017, the year with the previous largest value of donations.