Non-party campaigning organisations have always been a vital element of democratic participation in the UK. Civil society, charities and community groups, large and small, are often the point through which voters engage in the political issues that matter to them. It’s worth bearing that context in mind when looking at the implementation of the revised framework of regulation which was introduced for non-party campaigners (also legally defined as ‘third party campaigners’) in 2014. This legal framework, established in 2000, was revised by Part 2 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act (2014).
As you will see from our submission to the review we have been able to implement the new rules without any major difficulties. As a regulator we are here to help make sure that non-party campaigners know what the rules are, and what they have to do to comply with the rules, and the majority of non-party campaigners appear to have got to grips with what the rules mean for them. When we have been approached with questions or clarifications, organisations have worked together with us to unpack the issues and reach a conclusion on what they need to do.
The Electoral Commission has looked to apply the regulatory framework in a proportionate way. For example, non-party organisations can undertake ‘reasonable honest assessments’ of their own activities and spending, rather than being confined to a formulaic one-size fits all approach. The guidance, advice and webinars we have developed are designed to help organisations navigate the law and we would continue to encourage non-party campaigners to get in touch if they need advice.
While we believe the legislative framework is broadly workable that doesn’t mean to say there isn’t room for improvement. With that in mind we have highlighted some areas which we feel merit consideration by the review. These include:
- Learning from any challenges experienced by organisations when applying the new constituency level rules. For example, we believe greater legal clarification may be helpful in supporting non-party campaigners understand the implications.
- Understanding how the rules on Joint Campaigning work in practice.
- Recommending to Government that a clarification to the law is needed around how political blogs are treated in relation to the exemption in legislation for newspapers and periodicals.
- Considering if the rules on imprints for traditional printed campaign material should also apply to online campaign material.
Campaigning by non-party campaigners is often responsive and fast moving. In addition, campaigns increasingly blend a mix of paper based communication and social media tools to disseminate their messages, both locally and nationally. The review rightly makes reference to this campaigning environment in some of the questions posed but it’s important that any recommendations remain alive to this context and what it means for organisations trying to comply with the law as part of their day-to-day work.
Ultimately we all want to see a workable system of non-party campaigning and political finance that supports transparency and gives voters trust and confidence. We are keen to work together with Lord Hodgson, the review team, non-party organisations, Government and others to consider the implications of any recommendations when the conclusions of the review are expected to be published in the Winter.
Head of Electoral Policy