Elections Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Antisemitism Policy Trust (EB06)

Elections Bill: Public Bill Committee Evidence

The Antisemitism Policy Trust is a charity which works to educate and inform decision makers about antisemitism. We provide the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

We are writing regarding the Elections Bill. Specifically, we would like to comment on the changes to section 115 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (undue influence). The Antisemitism Policy Trust welcomes the approach set out in the Elections Bill. By providing a more detailed explanation as to what constitutes undue influence, the law will have greater clarity and will be easier to enforce.

The 2013 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct report [1] , commissioned by then MP and All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism Chair Lord Mann, and to which the Antisemitism Policy Trust provided the secretariat, highlighted several problems in elections legislation. One of the issues found to be of significant concern was the conduct of some non-party campaigners and their potential influence over voting. The report cited Lord Mann’s own evidence to the Committee for Standards in Public Life, in which he suggested that the use of materials such as those deployed by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), a group which has previously engaged in antisemitic behaviours, in seeking a tactical vote, create an electoral advantage. He wrote that a candidate could discreetly signal to others that "they spend money negatively campaigning against their main opponent. This would not feature in any election expenses". He went on to argue that "someone could even calculatedly set up an organisation to do damage to certain candidates and other than criminal law there is nothing that can be done". Whilst the law has been tightened in this regard since the All-Party Inquiry, the All-Party report recommended that:

"… there would be merit in revisiting the modern application of undue influence with specific reference to non-party campaigners. We recommend that the Law Commission investigates the current definition and scope of the law relating to Undue Influence in the RPA 1983. In particular, it should consider the increasing presence and activity of non-party campaigners and provide good reason to not recommend extension of existing language." [2]

Non-party groups’ campaigning and spending are regulated under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). They should also be regulated under the Elections Bill which makes references to several conducts, including spiritual influence, that the All-Party report found to be problematic in this regard (for example a ‘British Muslim Initiative’ leaflet of support for former Mayor Ken Livingstone citing Muslims’ moral duty to vote for him). [3]

Reference in the Bill to (c), ‘damaging or threatening to damage a person’s reputation’, is also welcome. However, we suggest that the law regards not only the elector, but also the candidate in respect of such behaviours. The All-Party report mentioned instances in which non-party campaigners had distributed leaflets containing information on candidates, thereby damaging their reputation, and exerting undue influence over voters. [4] It may be useful to add more clarity to this section.

Whilst there are positive and necessary changes, including section 5 (b) and (c), stating that undue influence can be carried out by more than one person, which could indicate a group or on behalf of an organisation, we would be pleased to see specific reference to non-party campaigners. We believe that regulating non-party campaigners in the way the All-Party report recommended, would have important impacts.

Finally, the All-Party Inquiry recommended that electoral imprints be extended to incorporate online and other election communications for political parties and non-party campaigners. We support this sensible and overdue aspect of the legislation.

Antisemitism Policy Trust
September 2021

[1] https://antisemitism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/3767_APPG_Electoral_-Parliamentary_Report_emailable.pdf

[2] https://antisemitism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/3767_APPG_Electoral_-Parliamentary_Report_emailable.pdf , p.24

[3] Ibid. p.61-2

[4] Ibid. p.62


Prepared 19th October 2021