Fears over UK Government ‘power grab’ of independent Electoral Commission
Campaigners have voiced fears that the UK Government is planning a “power grab” of the independent Electoral Commission.
Elections are devolved to Wales but the Electoral Commission, the independent agency that regulates party and election finance, is a pan-UK body.
There are now fears it could be brought under Westminster control with the Minister of State for the Constitution declaring that “some across the House have lost confidence in the work of the Commission” and announcing plans to reduce its independence.
The proposals suggested so far include:
- For UK Government politicians to set the priorities of the Electoral Commission
- Increasing the powers of the Speaker’s Committee, which has a government majority for the first time ever (despite the governing party getting a minority of the vote in 2019)
- Banning the Electoral Commission from proposing criminal prosecutions – for example when parties have deliberately concealed the identity of a donor
Transparency International UK has warned the measures would make the Electoral Commission’s board, which includes representatives from political parties, “redundant, and de facto gives their role to the UK government, which has a commanding majority [of parliamentary seats]. It seems highly inappropriate given the need to ensure the EC is completely independent of government.”
Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said that the bid “looks like a thinly-veiled government power grab”.
“The government is, on the one hand, creating new rules for the Electoral Commission to enforce – while at the same time reducing its independence, extending political influence over what should be a neutral body.
“The Electoral Commission is the UK’s number one experts on Britain’s complex electoral law, so it is vital it retains the ability to raise alleged wrongdoing in the courts.
“When seats in parliament don’t match how the public votes, handing more power to the Speaker’s Committee, which has a one-party majority for the first time, is a deeply concerning move.
“We call for a full public consultation and debate on these changes, to ensure these proposals do not slip in under the radar.”