THE Conservative party have been accused of making an “authoritarian power grab” of the Electoral Commission, after the government passed a new law to put it under ministerial control.

On Wednesday night, the Elections Bill passed through the House of Lords with a vote of 202 for to 181 against. 

The Bill was initially knocked back by peers on Monday, but was sent back to the upper house again two days later. According to sources in the House of Lords, this caught opposition parties off guard.

What is the Electoral Commission?

The Electoral Commission is the UK’s national election commission. It is an independent agency that regulates party and election finance and sets standards for how elections should be run.

A founding principle of the commission is that since its inception in 2001, it works independent from governments. This is to promote public confidence in the electoral system, ensuring the integrity of elections and the legitimacy of their results.

What is the Elections Bill?

The Elections Bill was a Bill which has now passed into UK law, having reached Royal Assent. It proposed a series of wide-ranging changes to the administration and conduct of elections.

Alongside powers over the electoral commission, changes that have gone through in the Bill include: mandatory voter ID, allowing long-term expats to vote and donate, new spending rules for non-party campaigners, new rules for postal and proxy votes, new punishment for intimidatory behaviour, and a plan for digital imprints. 

What are concerns around the new powers over the Electoral Commission?

Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove now has power to set the entire remit of the commission.

The Electoral Commission have stated that it is “concerned” about the potential impact that this will have on their future independence. They had previously cautioned that the then proposed powers were “inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy”.

Kyle Taylor, director of campaign group Fair Vote UK, said the UK Government had essentially "voted to officially end the independence of the Electoral Commission" and that the new powers mean ministers "can effectively rig election rules in their favour".

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"This is how countries slide into authoritarianism," he said. "First you take control of the institutions, then you rig them in your favour and ban noisy protest so people can’t fight back. 

“It’s a dark day for democracy.”

Naomi Smith, chief executive campaign group Best for Britain, said: “Despite the enormous efforts of a cross party, cross organisational resistance to the government’s authoritarian power grab, tonight Johnson’s regime succeeded in its latest pursuit to dodge accountability. 

“There is now an urgent need to remove this government and undo the damage they have wrought on our institutions and public trust in politics. Opposition parties must work together to make this a reality.”