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Politics expert advises MPs on elections bill

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A new law that will rewrite the elections rulebook risks restricting democratic rights and weakening voter confidence, Brunel’s Prof Justin Fisher warned MPs ahead of a key debate.

Director of Brunel Public Policy, Prof Fisher spoke to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee about the Elections Bill this week ahead of its second reading in the House of Commons.

Touted to tackle waning trust in democracy, the Bill includes controversial plans to bring in voter ID and give government power over independent elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission.

“Some aspects of the Bill present a significant risk of causing greater problems and require review in order to make them function as intended,” Prof Fisher told the committee, chaired by William Wragg MP.

Public confidence in UK elections is high and perceptions of electoral fraud low, research shows, Prof Fisher stressed, saying he doubts the Bill will raise public confidence or faith in UK elections.

A key focus of the complicated Bill is campaigning by ‘third parties’ – groups who campaign in elections, but who are not themselves standing for election.

Existing legislation around coordinated spending between third parties ‘patently doesn’t work’, said Prof Fisher. Drawing on his research on the 2016 referendum, he said, “What was very, very clear was that the existing rules are not fit for purpose. There was immense confusion between campaigners and it resulted in people withdrawing from activity.  

“If you want to avoid legislation that is restricting democratic rights, my concern is the possibility that we are piling uncertainty on existing uncertainty.

“What has the real potential to damage confidence is if we have constant recourse to the courts, and campaigners finding themselves on the end of investigations because of poorly drafted legislation – not because they are seeking to rig the election in any way.”

Watch the committee session here. Check the Bill’s progress here