Elections Bill ‘risks silencing the independent voice’ of charities, leaders warn

Charity leaders have signed an open letter calling on the government to scrap sections of its Elections Bill, which they say will damage their ability to campaign during elections.

The bill receives its second reading in parliament tis week and puts in place a number of measures that campaigners, including unions and charities such as Greenpeace and Save the Children, say will erode democracy.

They fear the Elections Bill will give too much power to ministers, allowing them to “unilaterally define campaigning and ban campaigners”.

They are also concerned that the legislation will increase red tape for small organisations at elections by lowering the spending threshold for registering as a third-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission.

Another fear is that plans to bring in photographic ID at the voting booth will create barriers to voting for minority groups and disabled people.

“Evidence suggests that over 1million disabled people in the UK do not have photographic ID and as they could face more challenges applying for one, the Elections Bill could directly discriminate against their right to vote,” warns Heather Fisken, head of policy and research at Inclusion Scotland, another of the open letter’s signatories.

"We want to see barriers to voting dismantled, not new ones erected," she added.
Government plans to control the day to day running of the currently independent Electoral Commission is another concern.

“Such changes could have a chilling effect on specialist groups organising events like hustings, just when their input into elections matters most to voters and risks silencing the independent voices of trade unions, charities, small businesses and community groups,” says the letter.

It adds: “This Bill represents an attack on the UK’s proud democratic tradition and on some of our most fundamental rights.”

Signatories include Save the Children’s executive director of policy, advocacy and campaigns Kirsty McNeil and Greenpeace’s head of news, investigations and special projects Ben Stewart.

The letter has been coordinated by the campaign group Best for Britain and has also been signed by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Hope not Hate chief executive Nick Lowles.

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