The government has won a vote to take control of the Electoral Commission in what is being described as a dark day for our democracy.
The elections bill passed last night, giving ministers new powers over the Electoral Commission, undermining its independence by allowing government ministers to determine its remit as well as packing the Commission’s Parliamentary overseer with government appointments.
Pro democracy campaign group Best for Britain, which had been lobbying against the measures, said that the Elections Bill is now set to give ministers ‘new and unchecked powers over the elections regulator, leaving it open to undue influence and undermining free and fair elections in the UK.’
Naomi Smith, CEO of better democracy campaign group Best for Britain, said: “Tonight was the last chance to protect the independence of the elections watchdog and with it free and fair elections in the U.K.
“Despite the enormous efforts of a cross party, cross organisational resistance to the government’s authoritarian power grab, tonight Johnson’s regime succeeded in its latest pursuit to dodge accountability.
“There is now an urgent need to remove this government and undo the damage they have wrought on our institutions and public trust in politics. Opposition parties must work together to make this a reality.”
The Electoral Commission had previously 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 stated: “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.”
Following the latest vote, Labour peer Prem Sikka tweeted: “RIP The Electoral Commission (EC), destroyed by right-wing coup.
“Following 202:181 vote Lords could not save it. EC will not be an independent organisation.
It will be a poodle of govt. Ministers will make electoral rules.
“The next election will be rigged.”
Lord Sikka also told LFF: “The Electoral Commission will now be under government control, with ministers not only making Conservative Party rules but will also make rules for other political parties and now anything about disclosure of donations, who can make a donation and whether a donation is unlawful that will be a ministerial decision.”
The passage of the bill also means that next week’s local elections will be the last time that voters won’t need to show photo ID at the polling station, with around 2 million people, mostly those from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds lacking the ‘right ID’.
Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward
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