Nigel Vinson

The Electoral Commission needs reforming. Will anyone dare try?

The Electoral Commission (ElCom) is an institution with a lamentable record of failing to fulfil its role as guardian of our political system. After so many contrary and arguably politically partisan decisions in recent years, one has to ask:  Who guards this guardian?

Its chairperson Jenny Watson, as a former women’s rights activist and former member of Liberty and Charter 88, has a strong left-wing influence in her background. Why Watson was ever considered an appropriate candidate for such a politically sensitive role is open to question. She began in the role in 2009, appointed by the Labour Government under Gordon Brown’s premiership, which perhaps explains a great deal.

What is less easy to understand is why her tenure was renewed under David Cameron’s premiership, when her first period in office came to an end in December 2012. By then, ElCom’s propensity for getting it wrong was becoming well known and most of the problems had occurred under Watson’s leadership. She is in post until December 2016, at a salary of £100,000 p.a. for a three-day working week.

During that time the details of the EU membership referendum are to be confirmed and ElCom will have a major influence over the running of the campaign. Will it be balanced or will it favour those campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU? The recently published draft European Union (Referendum) Bill contains no reference to a ‘purdah’ period in the run-up to polling day, which would allow the government and EU agencies free rein to make public announcements designed to influence the vote.

Certainly, those in favour of staying in are already ahead of the game in being given the opportunity to fight for a ‘Yes’ vote on the question: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’ Those in favour of leaving are already disadvantaged by having to fight for a negative, not least because the underlying question that trumps everything – ‘Who do you want to be governed by: The UK Parliament or the European Union?’ – is not being asked.

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