THE Conservative government has been accused of using “every dirty trick in the book” after altering key rules governing General Elections, with more changes set to follow.

The Tories have already raised the amount a party can spend on campaigning, introduced “restrictive” voter ID laws, and reigned in the powers and independence of the Electoral Commission. They now look set to lift restrictions which prevent political parties from cold-calling voters.

On Wednesday, Conservative MPs backed a bill which Labour claim will “transform elections” by allowing political parties to “bombard voters with calls, texts, and personalised social media messages without their explicit consent”.

Asked if Labour’s assessment of the impact of clause 87 of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is fair, professor of digital politics Kate Dommett said: “I think quite potentially it is.”

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The University of Sheffield expert pointed to a ruling against the SNP from 2006, when the party was found to have breached privacy laws after automated calls to Scottish households played a recorded political message from Sean Connery (above).

“That has basically been kind of a proof of concept for preventing this form of unsolicited contact,” Dommett said.

“At the moment, political campaigns can't just cold-call someone. [This bill is] basically breaking down that principle of needing consent for this form of direct marketing.”

The University of Sheffield expert went on: “I think that the impacts for me are twofold. Firstly, people will be able to be contacted in ways that they haven't been able to previously.

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“The other, for me, more concerning impact, is this move towards data as a real resource in elections. It has the capacity to give certain parties that are able to collect and curate data an advantage over those that aren't. This embeds that advantage [for] rich political parties like Labour, like the Tories.”

Earlier in November, the Conservatives used a statutory instrument to push up the General Election spending cap by around 80%. Previously, the limit was set at £30,000 for every constituency contested, equating to £19.5 million nationally. Now, it is closer to £35m.

LibDem peer Chris Rennard told Sky News at the time: "Under the [£19.5m] limit, only the Conservatives have come close to spending the maximum, so this can only benefit the Conservative Party. The Government is changing the rules in its favour.”

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The Electoral Commission also raised concerns about the “significant changes to the UK's political finance controls”.

The agency said in a statement: "Any changes to spending or reporting thresholds must be supported by rigorous analysis, including on the likely impact on public confidence and transparency. The commission has not seen evidence to support these changes.

“It is concerned that the proposals risk damaging the transparency of political donations, and gives significantly more scope for higher spending parties to campaign."

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A Scottish Green spokesperson said: "This looks like the Tories quietly trying to shift the goalposts in a desperate bid to stay in Downing Street.

"They're gone from being the party of junkets to the party of junk mail. Nobody wants to receive even more misleading ads or spam from the Tories and the way they are going about this suggests they know it too.

"This is another cynical exercise from a party that has shown a consistent contempt for democracy and has already brought in restrictive ID rules that were designed to repress turnout."

In January 2022, Tory MPs voted through their Elections Bill which brought in mandatory ID checks before people can vote - a move Jacob Rees-Mogg later tacitly admitted had been an attempt to "gerrymander".

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According to Electoral Commission policy manager Michela Palese, the bill also expressly removed “the potential for the commission to bring criminal prosecutions against those who break electoral law relating to parties and campaigners”.

The bill further reined in the commission’s independence by introducing a “strategy and policy statement” for the agency, decided by ministers.

The SNP's Cabinet spokesperson, Kirsty Blackman MP, said: "Instead of focusing on tackling the cost of living crisis, the Tories are using every dirty trick in the book to help themselves at the next General Election.”

The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill passed its third reading in the Commons on Wednesday. It will go to the Lords for scrutiny before becoming law.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The bill amends the rules on electronic direct marketing so any MP and other non-commercial organisations can share communications with people who have previously shown an interest in their activities – just like businesses already do. 

“Further exemptions to these rules can be introduced where they are agreed to by parliament – and they will offer robust safeguards which protect people’s privacy. 

“The bill does not exempt MPs from their wider data protection responsibilities, which include requirements to ensure processing is proportionate and necessary and transparent."