Electoral Commission issues unprecedented warning about threat to its independence

'The Statement has no precedent in the accountability arrangements of electoral commissions in other comparable democracies, such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand'.

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The Electoral Commission has written a damning letter to ministers, warning that measures contained in the Elections Bill will undermine its independence in a manner which had ‘no precedent’ in comparable democracies.

In an unprecedented move, the commission issued a public and strongly worded letter, in which it urged ‘the Government to reconsider those measures which seek to change the oversight arrangements of the Electoral Commission’.

The commission states: “It is our firm and shared view that the introduction of a Strategy and Policy Statement – enabling the Government to guide the work of the Commission – is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy. This independence is fundamental to maintaining confidence and legitimacy in our electoral system.”

The Strategy and Policy Statement, which the commission would have to take into account, means ministers would have a lot more influence over the body. The commission is responsible for overseeing elections and for regulating the funding of political parties.

The latest attack on the Electoral Commission by the Tory party is yet another attempt to evade accountability and scrutiny by the government. As a result of the changes, the commission would be prevented from looking too closely at party funding.

The letter, was signed by the full board of the commission, except Conservative peer Stephen Gilbert.

It further states: “While the stated position of the current government is that it would not intend to use these powers to impact on the Commission’s independent oversight and regulation of the electoral system, no such assurances can be given about how the broad scope of these powers would be used over time. 

“The Statement has no precedent in the accountability arrangements of electoral commissions in other comparable democracies, such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand.”

Labour’s Jon Trickett MP tweeted in response to the letter: “The Electoral Commission have in effect just accused the government of “motivated manipulation” of independent electoral checks in the UK.

“Today’s Cabinet delayed with 10 mins notice.

“The drift towards a tin pot dictatorship must stop.” Others slammed the proposed measures by the government as ‘authoritarian’ and ‘terrifying.’

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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