The government recently brought a strategy and policy statement to the House of Commons in a blatant attempt to try and direct the work of the Electoral Commission ahead of a General Election.
I am concerned that the Conservative Party are engaged in a brute force attempt to overhaul our electoral rules to give themselves an advantage in any coming election.
They know they are behind in the polls so will stop at nothing.
This draft strategy and policy statement undermines the independence of the Electoral Commission and is an attempt to avoid accountability and transparency.
I called on the government to withdraw the motion. Watch my full speech here:
The Minister is better than this motion—let us all agree on that. Like the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), I think it is a hangover from the Boris Johnson days, when the Electoral Commission upset him and he wanted to influence it. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong.
The Government claim that this strategy will enhance the parliamentary accountability of the Electoral Commission and increase public confidence in its work, but as everybody has stated today, it will do the complete opposite. This strategy and policy statement is little more than an attempt by the Government to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission and to stamp their own agenda on the regulation of our democracy. This is a fight for our democracy.
We in this House need to take back control—that is important. Avoiding transparency and accountability seems to be the hallmark of the Government. Do not just take my word for it; the Electoral Commission itself wrote to MPs this week stressing that the principle of independence is crucial to maintaining confidence in our electoral system. It warned Members:
“The introduction of a mechanism such as a strategy and policy statement—by which a government can guide an electoral commission’s work—is inconsistent with this independent role.”
If the commission is saying that, and the Speaker’s Committee is saying it, why is the Minister trying to convince us otherwise? It really does not make any sense.
As we have heard many times, this is not the first time that the Government have attempted to rig our democracy. They forced through their voter ID system, which threatened to disenfranchise the most vulnerable in society. Remember that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) mentioned, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) let it slip that that was a deliberate attempt to manipulate electoral outcomes in favour of the Conservative party, and then went, “Whoops!” because he had made a mistake and said the quiet bit out loud. It is not a shock that the Government are once again attempting to influence an independent body that oversees our elections, but it should shock us all.
This draft strategy and policy statement sets out the Government’s strategic and policy priorities for the Electoral Commission. It also contains
“guidance to which the Commission must have regard in the discharge of its functions.”
That places on the commission a concerning legal duty to consider first and foremost the Government’s priorities when fulfilling its duties. If it does that, it cannot be independent, and the whole point is that it is supposed to be independent. It is simply unacceptable for the Government to direct the commission on how it should carry out its functions. If a foreign Government were wielding that much power over their elections, there would be calls to send in independent advisers to ensure that their elections were being held democratically—that is how bad this is. When people ask, “Do we have corruption in our Government?”, I say, “Yes, we do, and this is an example of that.”
The Government keep focusing on the prevention and detection of voter fraud, yet there is little evidence that voter fraud is widespread. In fact, it is so rare that there were only nine convictions—
Order. The hon. Lady talked about corruption in Government. I want her to withdraw that; she needs to rephrase what she said. She does know that—she is very experienced—so I ask her to say at this point that she withdraws any allegations of corruption within Government.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I withdraw the statement that the Government are corrupt, or that there is corruption in the Government—I do not know for sure, but I withdraw that statement.
There are, however, issues that need tackling, and the motion does not achieve that. There are rising considerations, such as the threat of generative AI, the use of deepfakes, the spread of disinformation and the scraping of people’s data. None of that has been tackled today—I wonder why, although according to the fact checking organisation First Draft, 88% of the Conservative party’s most shared online adverts in the final days of the 2019 general election campaign were found to have contained misleading information.
When the Minister gets to his feet, I hope that he will change his mind, because he is respected across the House and this motion is going to damage his reputation. As I have said, I urge the House to take back control and reject the motion.