Written evidence from A1 (TEC 17)


Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

The Work of the Electoral Commission



I have voted in every general and almost all local elections since I was aged 18. I practiced as a solicitor in the City of London for over 30 years. I am now in my early 60s. I greatly value our democracy and I fear it is being eroded in a variety of ways which must be guarded against. The body entrusted with the powers and duties to protect our democracy and in particular the conduct of political campaigns and elections must be independent, and given the tools essential to that role. That body is the Electoral Commission. The importance of its independence cannot be underestimated.

Its roles and functions must be strengthened, to ensure that it is fully equipped to undertake all aspects of overseeing elections and regulating political finance in the UK. It lacked the powers to do so to the fullest extent needed, most notably in the last general election in December 2019. I refer in particular to the regulation of finances and the regulation of the use of all forms of media including print and social media.

I have considered the questions posed, on which the Parliamentary Committee has invited evidence and specifically the issues/questions:

The effectiveness of the Electoral Commission in discharging its statutory obligation a) What roles and functions within the UK electoral system should the Commission perform? b) Should the remit of the Electoral Commission be changed? c) What powers should the Electoral Commission have? Should the existing powers of the Electoral Commission be changed?

The governance of the Electoral Commission

Public and political confidence in the impartiality and ability of the Electoral Commission

The international reputation of and comparators for the UK Electoral Commission

What, if any, reforms of the Electoral Commission should be considered?

I see no useful purpose being served by my making individual submissions in response to each the above questions. In one way or another they have all been ably addressed by the Commission itself and/or the Electoral Reform Society and similar bodies.

However,I would wish the Committee to take full account of the reports produced by the Electoral Commission itself in the last 5 years, together with those produced by and/or published by the Electoral Reform Society (( “ERS”) in the same period. These contain carefully complied evidence and excellent recommendations, which should be given maximum weight in the Committee’s deliberations.

I trust that the Committee will have read the Commission’s own report in full, several times over. I support its recommendations and conclusions, which ( for ease of reference) can be found here




Most particularly I would ask the Committee to give the fullest consideration to the evidence given and recommendations contained in the ERS report Democracy in the Dark,” in  which the authors highlight 10 key reforms needed to shine a light on online political campaigning. I set these out for ease of reference: 

  1. Require campaigners to provide the Electoral Commission with more detailed, meaningful and accessible invoices of what they have spent, boosting scrutiny and transparency over online vs offline spend. 
  2. Strengthen the powers of the Electoral Commission to investigate malpractice and create a stronger deterrent against wrongdoing by increasing the maximum fine it can levy. 
  3. Implement shorter reporting deadlines so that financial information from campaigns on their donations and spending is available to voters and the Commission more quickly after a campaign, or indeed, in ‘real time’. Currently, voters have to wait far too long to see the state of the campaign.  
  4. Regulate all donations by reducing ‘permissibility check’ requirements from £500 to 1p for all non-cash donations, and £500 to £20 for cash donations. The current rules are riddled with loopholes and haven’t kept up with the digital age, raising the risks of foreign or unscrupulous interference.  
  5. Create a publicly accessible, clear and consistent archive of paid-for political advertising. This archive should include details of each advert’s source (name and address), who sponsored (paid) for it, and (for some) the country of origin.  
  6. New controls created by social media companies to check that people or organisations who want to pay to place political adverts about elections and referendums in the UK are actually based in the UK or registered to vote here.  
  7. New legislation clarifying that campaigning by non-UK actors is not allowed. Campaigners should not be able to accept money from companies that have not made enough money in the UK to fund the amount of their donation or loan. 
  8. Legislate for a statutory code of practice for the use of personal information in political campaigns, to clarify the rules and ensure voters know their rights. 
  9. A public awareness and digital literacy campaign which will better allow citizens to identify misinformation. 
  10. Rationalise Britain’s sprawling, Victorian-era electoral law under one consistent legislative framework. 


The conduct of elections is a topic which I have discussed widely with family and friends over the last 5 years. One consistent theme throughout, and view shared by so many of them, is the grave concern that there is not a “level playing field” for political parties or groups to fight campaigns. Much of that concern stems from the vast sums received and spent by some political parties (or campaign groups, in the case of the Brexit referendum) in comparison with others. This creates an extraordinary advantage to those with the greatest financial resources. This advantage is leveraged by the lack of sufficiently stringent regulation of how campaign funds are spent. This needs urgent reform.

There also needs to be much greater transparency, so that the electorate can see how and from where such funds are raised and deployed, and have confidence in the electoral process.

At present there is a significant distrust in the electoral system. What we have all observed in relation to the conduct of the 2020 US election has filled many of us with horror and has led to the question being asked, repeatedly, “ Could elections in  the UK ever be conducted in the same way?”  The general sentiment in response has been “Heaven forbid”.

But it is not up to heaven. It is up to us all, to protect our democracy and restore much needed trust in the system. That means strengthening the role, powers and duties of the Electoral Commission and reforming associated legislation .

I urge the Committee to make suitable recommendations accordingly.

I would like to thank the Committee for undertaking this very valuable and important review.


November 2020