Dirty tricks, planted stories and anonymous briefings – they’re all part and parcel of a party leadership contest. But now the bigwigs over at Conservative Central Headquarters (CCHQ) have brought in some experts to stop anyone hacking Tory members’ ballots: namely experts from the National Cyber Security Centre, which works closely with GCHQ’s finest in Cheltenham. An email to party members went out tonight, reminding them that ‘it is an offence to vote more than once: any member found to have voted more than once will have their party membership withdrawn.’
An NCSC spokesperson told Mr S:
Defending UK democratic and electoral processes is a priority for the NCSC and we work closely with all parliamentary political parties, local authorities and MPs to provide cyber security guidance and support. As you would expect from the UK’s national cyber security authority we provided advice to the Conservative party on security considerations for online leadership voting.
As part of this, the Tories have made a subtle but potentially crucial change to the voting rules. Previously it had been reported that members would be able to submit ballots but then change their votes. Yet now, that has been reversed, with members being sent a one-time code to vote digitally which will then be deactivated once a vote has been registered.
They were told tonight that ‘once used, your codes are invalid and you won’t be able to re-enter the site.’ For those voting by post ‘once received by the ballot company we will deactivate your online codes, reducing the risk of any fraud.’
Such a development is perhaps unsurprising but will be perceived as being unhelpful to second-placed Rishi Sunak as he desperately tries to make up lost ground on Liz Truss and change the minds of activists. Given that tonight’s YouGov poll has him on a 34-point deficit, Sunak looks to have very little time to do this – especially as ballots will be arriving on doormats later this week.
The deadline for votes remains 5 p.m. on 2 September. Good luck to both candidates…