CONTROVERSIAL new legislation on elections is one of the “most flagrant steps” the Tory government has taken to “change the rules to suit themselves”, campaigners have warned.

The Elections Bill was passed last week despite major concerns over the impact of new measures, such as the introduction of photo ID for voters.

Other elements include the ­minister with responsibility for ­elections – ­currently Michael Gove – now being able to set the “strategy and policy ­direction” of the Electoral ­Commission, which critics say will undermine the independence of the watchdog.

Liron Velleman, political organiser at Hope not Hate, which campaigns against racism and fascism, said: “This bill does not come in a vacuum – there is a number of pieces of legislation the government are doing at the same that are damaging institutions.

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“Whether that is the Policing Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Elections Bill or the Judicial Review Bill – and we know changes to the ­Human Rights Act are coming.

“So there is a concerted effort by the government to weaken ­institutions – also with the privatisation of ­Channel 4 and the potential changes to the BBC.

“These are changes to institutions and to our democratic way of life in the UK – the Elections Bill is a great example of that.”

One of the main concerns raised is the impact on the independence of the Electoral Commission.

The Scottish Government has ­previously said the legislation “risks interference” with watchdog’s independence and SNP sources have raised fears this could include issues such as the testing of the question for a future referendum.

While the UK Government claims the watchdog will “remain operationally independent”, Velleman said the issues it scrutinises should not be “set by the government of the day”.

“It is one of the most flagrant steps this government has taken to change the rules to potentially suit ­themselves,” he said.

“To change a fully independent body into something which they can set some sort of strategy for – or tell them to do things in plain speak – could have hugely damaging consequences.

“We are obviously going to have to wait and see what the first strategy and policy statement is to see what they want to use this power for.”

Velleman said this could include asking the commission to look at something which sounds balanced –such as postal vote fraud – but which leads to changes which impact on ­democracy.

He added: “Our concern as an anti-far right organisation is you are currently talking about this government, but we also want to protect institutions against any future government.

“We are not expecting a far-right government any time soon, but it could happen one day.

“This government could say we are not actually going to set a strategy that stops other parties doing what they want to do, but another government in the future could – so giving them space for that has a potential deep impact on democracy.”

The Elections Act includes ­providing more support for disabled people at polling stations, with the UK Government claiming the new requirement to show photo ID when voting will “deliver on manifesto commitments to protect the integrity of democracy”.

But Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said the UK Government had failed to take into account major ­concerns around voter ID.

“The Lords extended the list of IDs that would be acceptable, so partly mitigating the risk that people are ­going to be turned away because they don’t have one of these very strict forms of photographic ID,” she said.

“That was voted down by the ­Commons, so the voter ID part of the Bill has passed as the Government ­intended, only allowing a small range of photographic IDs.

“We know from the Government’s own research there is around 4% of people don’t actually have these IDs.

“So all our original concerns that people are going to be prevented from voting because they don’t have the right ID still stand.”

GARLAND said other measures which had been suggested to counteract this, such as allowing people to vouch for someone, had also been rejected.

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“We have ended up with is a form of voter ID which is actually worse than than the strictest forms of voter ID in the United States,” she said.

“It is really worrying in terms of what is going to happen when this comes in.”

Garland also pointed out the concerns raised about the Act had been cross-party – including by Tory peers – and in both the Commons and Lords.

“This isn’t partisan politics – this is right across the house in both chambers people saying this is really worrying, we can’t understand why you are doing this, there is no justification for it and it could be very damaging for our democracy,” she added.