Celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage

Ahead of celebrations to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, passed on 6 February 1918, giving some women the right to vote in the UK for the first time, we’ve asked women at the Commission to share their thoughts on the anniversary.

Bridget Prentice, Commissioner


It was 1969 and I was studying Higher History at my all-girls school in the East End of Glasgow. We talked of nothing else (causes of the First World War, social reform of the 19th century etc all went out the window) as we debated the news that 18 year olds were to get the vote the following year.

What would it be like?  How did you do it? What actually happens inside a polling station? How will they know I’m entitled to a vote? All these questions and more passed back and fro in lessons and the playground. We were very excited. There was some debate about whether we were ‘mature’ enough to vote but that was quickly dismissed. Of course we were – we were the children of the sixties, Peace and Love, the generation that would change the world.

So when the general election was called in June 1970, there was no question but that every single one of us who was 18 voted. But not me.

No, I didn’t turn 18 until the very end of December that year so I was left behind. At least that’s how I felt. I was so disappointed. I had even worked in the election campaign, delivering leaflets but couldn’t vote. The frustration was palpable. In fact, I wasn’t able to vote until I was 21 as the next election was in 1974! I’d finished university before I was able to walk into a Polling Station and put a cross against the candidate of my choice. But how much did I enjoy doing that? The feeling that I was part of a greater community of people deciding who should run our country was fizzing inside me – I could barely contain my excitement. And aura of the Polling Station with being handed a ballot paper that was carefully stamped, walking to a rickety booth and picking up that stubby pencil, tied to the side of the rickety booth and checking twice, maybe three times, that I’d put the cross where I wanted it to be, lives with me still.

So the celebration of women’s suffrage is so important – to remind us of the power of democracy, that it was fought for, that there are nations still where people don’t have that power. There are two images that conjure up the importance of our vote – South Africa, when Black people queued for hours in searing heat to vote for the first time and in Iraq when women came out of the Polling Station with their fingers stained purple and held high to show that they too had a share in the decision making of their country. Democracy is a fragile thing. We need to nurture it. Our vote is a symbol of that nurturing.

Elan Closs Stephens, Commissioner for Wales


In 1918, over 8m women gained the right to vote – those over 30 or who met property qualifications. In another ten years, all women had the franchise. As I celebrate this notable year in the women’s movement, I pause to think of the courage it took to win those rights.  For the suffragettes, the suffering was real and sometimes horrific.  Emily Davison, later to die under the King’s horse at The Derby, barricaded herself in her cell and was hosed. Warders had to revive her with hot water bottles before she could be force-fed. Force-feeding was a regular answer to hunger strikes; given the medical supplies and tubing of the time, it must have been brutally painful.  Other suffragists believed in discussion, argument, petitions. For them too, it took huge courage to raise a voice, to step out of the demure respectability required of a wife and mother, to demand rights. I want to honour Millicent Fawcett who led the  NUWSS; her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson- the first qualified woman physician who nevertheless had to gain her degree from the Sorbonne;  Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia; Emily Davison; Emily Davies who became the founder  of Girton and fought for Higher Education, and in Wales business woman Lady Rhondda who was refused a seat in the House of Lords when her father died.  And of course the countless other names, men and women, who fought for change.  It is almost impossible for me to recreate the social milieu, the restrictions of a bygone age and the courage it took to fight convention and gain a vital tool of equality. I owe them all more than I can fully understand.

Ailsa Irvine, Director of Electoral Administration


I voted for the first time at the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections which were held on the same day as the local council elections in May 1999. While I wasn’t really into politics back then, there was never any question in my mind as to whether or not to vote – for me, voting is a fundamental right that many women before me didn’t have and I have always believed it is important to exercise that right. I recall voting by post from university in my home constituency. The postal voting rules were different then and you needed to get someone to witness your signature on your security statement – I remember feeling important when I asked a friend to do this and it somehow seemed to me to underline the significance of it all. I passionately believe that every woman who is eligible to vote should be able to exercise that right freely and easily. I hope that the centenary will lead to women across the UK making sure they are registered to vote so they can make their voice heard.

Ann Watt, Head of Northern Ireland

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My young son has a surprising knowledge about elections for a seven year old, but that’s because he spends a lot of time with me! But one thing I recently realised is that I have never told him that 100 years ago his mum, grannies and aunties wouldn’t have been allowed to vote. I think the reason I have never mentioned this is that it is so completely unbelievable now that it doesn’t seem relevant. He sees women standing for election on posters, leaflets and on the TV. There are women in senior roles in politics and government right across the UK. The thought of women not even being able to vote sounds like another world.

I first voted in 1992 during my last year at school in Belfast. This was the UK general election where the opinion polls suggested a huge Parliament with Labour as the largest party, but the Conservatives ended up winning with a small majority. I remember voting early in the morning, and walking into the polling station just as a very prominent local politician walked out, which made it all feel very real. We had endless heated debates at school about local and national politics. My sister and I stayed up all night watching the results, and from the exit polls onwards it was clear that the outcome wasn’t going to turn out as expected. That was the first of many long elections nights I have spent watching results on TV, and the first of a few surprising outcomes. Little did I know then that 25 years later I’d be spending election nights pacing around count halls…

So I’ll be talking to my son soon about this important anniversary. I look forward to hearing his reaction when he hears that women were not allowed to vote. I hope he is shocked, since it’s so hard to believe now. It’s right that he is shocked. But it’s also right that we remember and value the privilege we all have, both female and male, in being entitled to vote freely in fair elections.

Get involved!

We’re encouraging women across the UK to celebrate using their right on 6th February by posting pictures on social media of them saying ‘I vote’ with our printable poster. Download the poster from our website here: www.yourvotematters.co.uk/get-involved/centenary-of-womens-suffrage 

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Helping to stop intimidation of Parliamentary candidates

By Tom Hawthorn, Head of Policy

On Wednesday the Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL) published its final report following a review of intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates at the general election in June 2017.

Following this year’s general election, many candidates and MPs also raised concerns with the Electoral Commission about intimidation they had experienced during the campaign. Our survey of general election candidates found this issue was raised unprompted by 4% of respondents.

We made several suggestions to the CSPL during their review about changes to electoral law which could play a part in helping to address these concerns. We welcome their report and we want the UK Government to give their proposals serious consideration at the earliest opportunity.

More broadly, the CSPL report recognised concerns expressed across the electoral community that electoral law is out of date in some key areas and needs to be updated and improved. This includes updating election offences and recognising the increasing role of digital and online campaign activities during elections. Our recent report on the administration of 2017 general election highlighted risks to well-run elections in future and urged the UK’s government to make further progress with implementing the Law Commissions’ important electoral law reform proposals.

Transparency of online campaigning

The Electoral Commission has long argued that electoral law needs to be updated so that the transparency and accountability requirements for printed election material are extended to online material.

These rules ensure that campaigners are accountable for spending on regulated campaign material, but they also allow voters to identify who is responsible for the material and who is trying to influence them. Currently the requirement only extends to printed election material and, while this remains important, the increasing use of online and digital activities by campaigners means that it is more important than ever that the rules should be extended to cover online material.


We first highlighted this recommendation in 2003, and we welcome the CSPL reiterating this proposal, which has become even more relevant in recent years.

Although this would be an significant improvement, we know that it’s unlikely to be sufficient on its own to address the recent concerns about online campaigns. As a proactive regulator, we are already talking to the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to see what more can be done to improve the transparency of political advertising on their platforms. We also want to see if there are specific steps that they could take to support transparency and compliance with the UK’s political finance rules, including what they can do to help us ensure our regulatory and enforcement work relating to digital and online campaign activity is as effective as possible.

This is a fast-moving area and we know that the UK’s parliaments will also continue to look at it closely, to see how existing legislation could be amended and extended to keep our elections, candidates, and electorate safe.

Candidates’ home addresses

Through our own surveys with local council election candidates we have found that people were concerned that their home address would be printed on ballot papers. One person told us that they had previously needed to involve the police having been targeted as a result of their address being made public; another feared for their safety when a member of the public arrived at their home during the night.

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There was support from local election candidates that we heard from this year for being able to choose to leave their full address off the ballot paper in future. This is already an option for candidates at elections to the UK Parliament and also for Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

It is important to find the right balance between transparency for voters about who candidates are when they are choosing how to vote and ensuring the safety of those putting themselves forward for election.

We have previously recommended that the Scottish Government should review the rules on the publication of candidates’ home addresses at local elections to find a balance between safety and transparency. Similarly, our Welsh local government report notes that the Welsh Government has suggested that it should no longer be necessary to publish local election candidates’ home addresses on ballot papers. We welcome the CSPL recommendation that the UK Government should also look at this issue for local government elections in England.

The UK’s strong tradition of free elections is an essential part of a healthy democracy, and people should be able to put themselves forward for election and campaign without fear of abuse or intimidation.


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Are the UK’s elections fit for purpose? We must avoid complacency to stop a perfect storm from forming

On Wednesday night, our Chair, Sir John Holmes, gave a speech to the Institute for Government on the state of the British electoral system. Here we sit down with him to ask about the key issues he thinks face our country’s democratic system.


“we should be open in general to change and modernisation of our systems, and keep up with what is happening elsewhere in the world”

What do you think are some of the key strengths of the British electoral system?

Our electoral system has served us well over the years. It has major strengths and our surveys, such as those undertaken for ‘Voting in 2017’, show high levels of public satisfaction about registering to vote and elections themselves.

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We can see the advantages of a strong democratic tradition and civil society when we look at other countries around the world where results can be highly contested and the idea of democratic alternance is far from embedded in the culture.

What vulnerabilities do you see present in the British electoral system?

Our own observation is that our electoral system, which is highly dependent on trust at all levels, is beginning to strain at the seams. This is particularly the case in the areas of electoral law and resourcing. There are also obvious concerns about the evolution of digital campaigning, and the need to make sure that our system is as free from fraud as we can make it. The message is that we cannot be complacent about our system and our processes, and need to go on adapting and modernising them to keep them safe and credible.

What issues are there with resources?

Like all of the public sector, local authorities face increasing resource pressures. Running elections is an intensive business, and elections at short notice, like the last general election, make that strain worse.; It isn’t just about money – experienced electoral administrators are retiring and not being replaced and staff needed for basic functions like counting are increasingly hard to find and recruit.

Meanwhile the demands on all those associated with elections are growing. New elections have been put in place – most recently the Combined Authority Mayorals – and different elections have different rules, adding layers of complexity.

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Meanwhile processes accompanying valuable reforms to the registration process such as Individual Electoral Registration and the ability to register online in Great Britain have led to increased workloads for Registration Officers. As an example, of the almost 2.5 million online applications made in the run-up to the 2017 election, some 40% were by people already on the register.

The Association of Electoral Administrators issued a report following June’s general election, making clear that, without some serious changes, they feared that the system might start to fail. This must not be ignored.


You mentioned that the evolution of digital campaigning poses some issues – what are these?

The way people campaign is changing. Parties and campaigners are increasingly using digital campaigning methods, and targeting particular groups of voters with specific messages – a much cheaper alternative to the traditional leafletting or door-knocking. There is nothing wrong with this, and parties and campaigners still have to report to us on what they spend and where.  But it does create new challenges about following and understanding what is happening.

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From “fake news” to allegations of outside interference – there are worries about what social media might do to our democracy over time. Our financial regulatory role is limited to UK-based activity, but we are alert to the wider risks, and follow the evidence, and money, where we have reasons for suspicion.

Our key focus is to make sure that there is maximum transparency and accountability around everything that is being done. Voters have a right to know who is trying to influence them, and who is spending money to do so.

What is the Electoral Commission recommending for change?

One vital area of concern is electoral legislation, which has become over complex and inconsistent over the years. A new electoral law following the recommendations of the Law Commissions would help everyone. Beyond that, we already have a menu of proposals for change which we hope government and Parliament will adopt soon.

More consolidated or centralised electoral databases and an online look-up facility for those wanting to apply online and unsure whether they are already registered would help decrease the burden on Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). EROs should also be able to match data to national databases, such as those held by the DVLA or DWP, to check and update details as necessary.

We’ve also suggested moving to a system of automatic registration, so people are registered to vote when, for example, they are first issued with their National Insurance number. Sixty per cent of voters have said they support such a change.

John IfG 4.pngAnd what about for campaigning?

We’ve recommended for some time that existing laws about the need for an imprint on written electoral material, to show where it comes from, should be fully applicable to online material too. The same should be true of the nature, origins and financing of bots and political advertising. We are talking to the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to see what more can be done. We are also conducting a number of investigations into groups or individuals that run campaigns, as part of our normal regulatory activity and enforcement policy.

How worried are you about electoral fraud?

The evidence we have suggests that the level of fraud is very low, but voters are still concerned about it. Here too there are things which can be done to reduce the risks. For example we support the introduction of a requirement for photo ID for voters at polling stations, with a free voter card for those who not have such ID, changes to some practices around postal voting, and the proposal that those who are registered in two places should have to nominate in advance where they will vote in general elections.

Does the Commission support ideas such as moving to internet voting?

I think this is not on the agenda for now, because of fears of hacking and the risks of outside interference. But we should be open in general to change and modernisation of our systems, and keep up with what is happening elsewhere in the world. The Commission can play a role in this.

You can see pictures of Wednesday’s event on the Institute for Government’s website here.

Useful links:

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No barriers to voting – enabling the voices of those with learning disabilities


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Last Thursday we published our report on accessibility, ‘Elections for everyone’.  The feedback we received from disabled voters about their experiences at the UK Parliament elections made it clear that something needs to be done, and governments, electoral staff, candidates and parties, and the Commission all have a role to play in this.

You can read our report here.

We have been working with ENABLE Scotland for a number of years, to ensure that both the voting process and information about how to register and vote are accessible for people with learning disabilities.

ENABLE Scotland provides a wide range of support services for people who have learning disabilities and their families in Scotland. Together with their 5,000 members, they campaign for an equal society for every person who has a learning disability.

We will continue to work with partner organisations, like ENABLE Scotland, to help us fully understand the needs of voters with disabilities and make sure that elections are truly accessible for all.

Read ENABLE Scotland’s Executive Director of External Affairs & Strategic Development, Jan Savage’s blog on the importance of accessible elections:

At ENABLE Scotland we believe in, and work for, and equal society for every person who has a learning disability. But being part of an equal society means having a say in how the country in which you live is run.
Last year, statistics revealed that, on average, only 30 percent of people who have a learning disability vote in elections. In contrast, 70 percent of people who have a learning disability said they wanted to vote, but 60 percent said they found the process too difficult.

enable blog quote 2It wasn’t just the numbers telling a powerful story. You only needed to attend one of our local ACE Group meetings, where our members meet to talk about important topics such as welfare reforms and employability, to know that people who have learning disabilities have a lot to say about the issues and decisions that affect them.

We just had to help make their voices heard. We had to #ENABLEtheVote.

The #ENABLEtheVote campaign

First launched in the build-up to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, our #ENABLEtheVote campaign set out to make the voting process and politicians much more accessible to people who have a learning disability.

The first step in the process was connecting people with their local politicians, so that they could quiz their potential representatives on the issues that mattered most to them. More than 200 people attended our accessible hustings events across Scotland, bringing their own questions on issues such as social care, employment, transport, accessibility, social security and much more.

But we had to amplify the message to more than just the attendees of our hustings. Together with our members, we campaigned for all political parties to make their manifestos available in Easy Read format, so that as many people as possible could access and understand what each party was promising. The result was a landmark success, with 4 out of the 5 main political parties producing easy read manifestos for the first time!

The final critical piece on the campaign trail was to make the voting process itself much more accessible. For this, we partnered with the Electoral Commission to produce a range of accessible voting guides to support people who have a learning disability, and their families and carers, through the voting process. These resources had a tremendous impact and the final result was much more than a marginal gain – with 80% of people who have a learning disability that participated in #ENABLEtheVote using their ballot on election day.

Our shared success

The campaign’s success continued into 2017 in the build up to the Local Council Elections. In addition to delivering an increased number of accessible hustings events – 18 in total – and a suite of new Easy Read materials, we collaborated with our members to develop a manifesto which outlined how prospective councillors could #BeTheChange for people who have learning disabilities. Politicians across the political spectrum pledged their support for our members’ manifesto and 91% of the people who have a learning disability that took part in the campaign used their vote in the Local Council Elections.

The voices of our members and supporters who participated in #ENABLEtheVote have gone on to contribute to national debate at the highest level, with their MSPs directly raising issues identified by them in the Scottish Parliament. Only last week during a crucial debate on inclusive education, MSPs paid tribute to our members for bring this issue to their attention during local meetings.

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The #ENABLEtheVote campaign won’t stop there. You only have to look at the news to see how increasingly complex the UK political landscape has become. In the days of ‘fake news’ and challenging economic outlooks, we must continue to focus our efforts on removing any barriers that prevent people who have a learning disability or any other support need from engaging in the voting process. After all, our political leaders are here to represent everyone. Every individual with a ballot paper should have the opportunity to make an informed choice about the future of their society on polling day.

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Elections for everyone

Katy Knock, Electoral Commission Policy Manager

I am very excited that last week we published our report – ‘Elections for everyone’.

It has been a while since we have heard about the experiences of people with disabilities when they register to vote and cast their vote, so I am glad that we are able to reflect their views today based on their experience of the general election held on 8 June.

I would like to thank everyone who responded to our questionnaire and told us about their experience. This report could not have been written without you.

I am also pleased that we are able to feed into the Minister’s, Chris Skidmore MP, Access to Elections call for evidence, using first-hand experience of people with disabilities.

Registering to vote and voting should be a good experience for everyone. But it isn’t. 

Some people with a disability told us that they do not have the confidence to register to vote and cast their vote. Others said they have many obstacles to overcome so that they can cast their vote.

We were told that election forms are not always easy to read or understand so that people know what they have to do: that they use complicated and unfamiliar words, jargon and small print.

We also heard that some people had not been able to vote at their polling station as they could not get in or they were turned away. This should not happen.

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We must not forget that accessibility is not just about getting into the polling station and not only about people with a ‘visible’ disability. People with different disabilities faced a number of barriers once they were inside. They said it:

  • was small and hard to move around
  • was too noisy and there were too many people which made them feel anxious
  • that staff did not know about the tactile voting device or if they did they did not know how to use it
  • that people could see how they voted so they were unable to vote in secret

Some people also told us that they did not know that they that they could take someone with them to the polling station to help them or that polling station staff could help them.

We asked people to tell us what they thought about how parties and candidates tell people about what they stand for.

We were told that the information they get from candidates and political parties is not always easy to read or to understand. They also said they would like to get information earlier because it gives them longer to look at it and decide who to vote for.

Although parties published their manifestos in good time before the general election, their easy read versions were not always available until later and often very close to Election Day.

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What next?

We have listened to the views of people with disabilities. There are changes that we can all make to tackle the barriers that exist.

The Government should:

  • make changes to election forms so they can be easily understood
  • look at different ways that people with disabilities can vote so they have greater flexibility and choice
  • change the law so that people with disabilities have more choice about who they can take to the polling station with them

Political parties and candidates should:

  • make sure the information they send is easy to read
  • make sure they publish easy read manifestos at the same time so people with a disability have the same time as everyone else to understand what the parties stand for and make an informed decision
  • make sure they send information in good time so that people have time to read it.

People running elections should:

  • look at ways they can make registering to vote and voting more accessible
  • look to make their helpline more helpful
  • make sure they are ready to support anyone if they ask for help to vote

Carers and support workers need to know:

  • people with disabilities can vote
  • they can support the people they care for to register to vote and vote

The Commission will:

  • continue to work with the Government and disability organisations to see what can be done to make registering to vote and voting accessible for everyone
  • update the information we give to people running elections and will talk to accessibility groups about what should be in it.

Everyone should be able to register to vote and cast their vote.  I look forward to continuing to work with the Government, disability organisations and electoral administrators to put some of these measures in place to ensure that elections are for everyone.

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Responding to the rise of digital campaigning

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel

Effective campaigning is, and always has been, an important part of elections and over the last few years we have seen this move more and more into the digital realm. With this we have seen an increase in more sophisticated uses of data, more personalised and targeted messaging, and the capacity for campaigners to do much more, at a lower cost than ever before.

The Electoral Commission is responsible for regulating and enforcing the rules made by Parliament that govern political campaign finance in the UK. While it is for political parties and campaigners to determine how best to use the campaign techniques now available, our priority is to make sure that appropriate transparency is maintained and to ensure voters’ confidence in the system.

The current political finance rules apply equally to modern forms of campaigning and to traditional ones, with voters entitled to expect the same transparency. Digital campaigning brings a scale, speed and specificity that cannot be matched by leaflets, billboards or other more familiar types of political advertising, but it is regulated in exactly the same way. Campaigning can only be financed from permissible donations, payments made for digital campaigning must be reported to us, and we will publish them as we do with all campaign spending.

We have a responsibility to enforce the political finance rules and have specific powers to do so. Alongside this, we also have a wider responsibility to look forward and report to the UK Government and to Parliament about how electoral law might be improved or modernised to reflect changes in campaigning techniques. We have made some important proposals in this area before, such as that online campaign material – like its printed equivalent – should be required in law to include an imprint stating who has published it. We have also recommended how the law might be amended to make campaigners report more detailed breakdowns of spending, including on different types of advertising. The time has come for these important matters to become legal requirements.

Utilising our experience of regulating the Scottish Independence Referendum, the EU Referendum and the recent general elections, we are considering the use of digital campaigning alongside our electoral system. We are taking a wide definition of digital campaigning for these enquiries, including the use of data held by parties, campaigners and social media companies to target campaign messages, how political ads are used on social media, and the use of automated bots.

Should our enquiries provide us with evidence that the existing campaigning rules about political finance may have been broken then we will undertake our own investigations as set out in our Enforcement Policy. As is our normal practice if we believe other, criminal, offences may have been committed, then these will be referred to the police for investigation. Where we feel that a wider change to the law is required, or action needed by others, then we will report to the UK Government and to Parliament as we are required to do. We will also make direct recommendations to Scottish and Welsh government and respective legislatures, where they have remit to consider changes to the law.

We will not be looking at the content of political campaign messages or advertisements, including mis-information; despite some misconception, this is not within the remit of the Electoral Commission. That does not mean that government and parliament may not wish to consider such matters.

Our enquiries build on learning from our investigations and post electoral event reports. They include discussions with parties and campaigners that use digital campaigning and discussions with social media companies about how their platforms are used and how their proposed self-regulation would operate. This includes speaking to Facebook and Twitter about political advertisements during the referendum and general election. We are already working with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the inquiry it is conducting into the use of personal data in politics, and with other bodies, and we will also seek to work with others with expertise in this fast changing world. This work will help us as we consider the implications for the way campaign finance rules apply to digital campaigning.

It is for the Government, and ultimately Parliament, to determine whether changes should be made to the law and, if so, what they should be; but behind our work remains a determination that campaign finance laws are fit for purpose and that parties and campaigners will comply with them.

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To what extent are charities affected by the “Lobbying Act”?

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission Director of Political Finance and Regulation & Legal Counsel

I recently read with interest a blog by the Minister for Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP suggesting the perceptions about the impact of the “Lobbying Act” are more damaging to charities’ campaigning than the reality.

At the Electoral Commission, we agree with the UK Government that it is primarily misplaced perceptions of the rules rather than the rules themselves that might cause a ‘chilling effect’ amongst campaigners. Media headlines and commentary that exaggerate what campaigners can and cannot do during an election adds to this confusion. However, we also recognise that the suggestion that the Government does not have any parliamentary time to implement Lord Hodgson’s 2016 proposals for changing how third party campaigners are regulated during election periods will not be welcomed by many third sector campaigners. While we believe the system works, that’s not the same as saying there isn’t room for improvement.

Charities and other non-party campaigners are vital to a healthy democracy and, as a society, we must encourage their active participation during, as well as outside of, election campaign periods. The non-party campaigner rules have been in place since 2000 and they do not prevent third parties from campaigning or engaging in public debate. The rules only regulate how much is spent on campaigning that can be reasonably regarded as intended to influence voters’ decisions and the outcome of an election: where a significant amount of money is being spent on this type of campaigning, the rules require individuals and organisations to register with us and declare their spending.

It is right that voters can see who is spending that money. It’s difficult to see the arguments against this. And this is what the rules are aiming to do: They are primarily intended to provide voters and the public with transparency, rather than to limit the ability of campaigners to engage.

At the general election in June, 53 individuals and organisations registered with us as non-party campaigners, and we will shortly be publishing the spending returns of those which spent over the £20,000 reporting threshold. So it is clear that non-party campaigners are continuing to campaign during elections. However, we must be alive to the risk of some disengaging from campaigning during elections out of misplaced fear about the rules – particularly in light of the recent news about progress towards implementing Lord Hodgson’s proposals.

The reality is that, in many cases, non-party campaigners will not even spend enough to be subject to the rules. Where they do, only campaigning which targets voters and the public is covered. So costs of activities such as lobbying Ministers to make changes to government policy, or activities aimed at your members, will not even be covered by these rules.

We also know that applying the 365 day retrospective regulated period caused concern for some non-party campaigners during the June election, but in many cases little or none of an organisation’s activities carried out before the election was called will have met the tests to count as regulated spending.

Clearly, a non-party campaigner is very unlikely to be reasonably regarded as intending to influence people to vote in an election when they do not know that the election is happening.  Therefore, an activity is very unlikely to have met the tests and be counted as regulated spending with regard to the 2017 UK Parliamentary general election if it occurred before Theresa May announced the election.

While we agree that some of Hodgson’s recommendations would have improved the regulatory framework for non-party campaigners, we also understand that some of his proposals would have been impractical to implement. Now that there will be no legislative reform to the rules, the government and others, ourselves included, must look for ways to work with campaigners to change this perception of the legislation so that charities and other organisations can confidently continue their campaigning work. Tracey Crouch has said she wants to work with the sector to tackle any confusion and misplaced perceptions about the rules and we are happy to continue to play our part in this.

We are confident that the guidance we publish in advance of electoral events accurately reflects the legal framework and explains the rules clearly. We aim to ensure that the rules on party and election finance are complied with, and that people throughout the UK are confident in the integrity and transparency of party and election finance. We seek to work effectively with stakeholders and those we regulate to encourage trust in the regulatory system and aim to regulate in a way that is effective, proportionate and fair, always taking the facts of each situation into account.

As ever, we are always here to offer non-party campaigners advice and guidance about the rules and we will continue to work with them to ensure that they fully understand what it is that they can do. You can find more information on the non-party campaigner rules in our guidance.

In November we will publish a report on the 2017 general election, some of which will look at the role of non-party campaigners. We encourage you to keep an eye out for this and would encourage campaigners to approach us whenever you have questions about the rules. We hope this reassures non-party campaigners that, despite the changes introduced by the 2014 Act to the rules that have been in place since 2000 remaining in place, they will continue to be able to campaign during election periods.

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