WHAT a first week back at Westminster. Tories lecturing the rest of us about how the civil liberties costs of vaccine passports are worth paying because we are not in “normal times” when they won’t even wear a mask.

Asylum seekers giving harrowing evidence before the Human Rights Committee about their journeys to the UK while Priti Patel announced plans for Border Force officials to turn back refugee vessels in the Channel, despite the dangers and the potential breach of maritime law.

And at Scottish questions it was the usual yah boo sucks carry on while SNP MPs tried in vain to get answers to major questions from what the UK Government can do to assist in the fight to reverse the terrible toll of drug deaths in Scotland to what they can do to facilitate a ferry link from Rosyth to the continent.

I was going to write about the woeful debate that took place on Boris Johnson’s so-called plans for funding social care and the NHS, but it would be impossible to better what Lesley Riddoch had to say in her column yesterday. The debate on these proposals at Westminster was peremptory although Alison Thewliss made an excellent contribution, exploring some of the real issues.

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While it seems England is incapable of having the debate that is needed about this important problem, Scotland must have it. As Lesley argued, an exhortation to “get your mitts of our NHS” simply won’t cut it. What Scotland needs is a visionary radical challenge to Boris Johnson’s plans.

We need an informed debate about what we want by way of social care and how we fund it. Yes, we are ahead of the game in having free personal care but it’s the “hotel” costs of care home accommodation which are astronomical. How to fund this is a very difficult challenge and we need to make sure that the ambitious plans for a National Care Service don’t end in failure or being watered down. This is a tough issue to solve and we need to drag the problems out into the open and talk about them.

Soundbites are not enough. Indeed sometimes they can be counter-productive if they don’t hit the mark. Johnson’s plans are not a new poll tax. Calling it that is not helpful and detracts from what is really going on here. This is not a properly thought-through plan for social care at all.It’s a cynical attempt to balance the books of England’s NHS on the backs of the working poor and small business while letting those with unearned income off the hook and it completely dodges the challenge of how we fund and manage social care in the future.

Of course, the Tories voted for this despite a few noises off because, ultimately, they are all about protecting their mates and their own backs. Those with most influence on the Tory Party have a lot, and I mean a lot, of unearned income and their support and donations keep the whole boat afloat regardless of whatever so-called red wall Tories might have promised their working-class voters.

In this sham of a social care policy we see clearly what’s wrong with Boris Johnson’s government. Protecting vested interests, making policy on the hoof with cynical sleight of hand and rushing decisions through to frustrate proper scrutiny and debate.

There was another classic example of this earlier this week with the second reading of the Elections Bill on day one of the new term. Much of the opposition to this bill has rightly focused on concern about the introduction of voter ID and the impact this might have on disenfranchising already marginalised groups in our society including disabled, elderly and BAME people and Gypsy and Traveller communities.

The Government has produced no evidence of a real problem with voter impersonation, so it is hard to see why this change is required. Many opposition MPs argued that it’s a deliberate Trumpian ploy by the Tories to make sure the sort of communities who don’t vote for them anyway are less likely to vote.

BUT I wondered if it’s a little more sophisticated and cynical than just that. I suspect the totemic issue of voter ID is there not to just to benefit the Tories but to distract us from the rest of the bill – both what is there and what is missing that should be there.

This bill plans to give the Government more power over electoral regulation than it has ever had before while at the same time doing nothing to regulate the shadowy groups with anonymous sources of cash that have successfully sought to influence British politics.

The Electoral Commission, the independent body that is supposed to scrutinise and adjudicate on the fairness of elections, is to be put directly under the control of government,which will now set its policies and direction. A committee under the direction of the Speaker is the primary mechanism through which the Electoral Commission is accountable to Parliament but, for the first time ever in its history, this committee now has a majority of government MPs.

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So it seems likely the Electoral Commission, already found wanting over the Brexit referendum fiasco, is to be even further emasculated.

At the same time the bill takes no steps whatsoever to close the loophole in electoral law that allows unincorporated associations to mask the ultimate source of the funds they donate which may include foreign entities of dubious provenance trying to influence politics in the UK. These groups are not listed at Companies House which means that their financial backers can remain anonymous.

Open Democracy recently revealed that since 2019 the Tory Party has accepted £2.6 million in donations from such groups. Thanks also to Open Democracy we know that the Scottish Tory surge in 2016 was in part funded by such “dark money”.

And, as SNP MPs told Parliament, sometimes this stuff is hiding in plain sight with big donors to the Tory Party in 2019 including the household of a former Putin minister, only eight months after the Salisbury poisoning which killed a British citizen, and a weapons dealer and gunrunner who was a personal friend of the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

On July 7, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published a report suggesting practical steps to modernise and streamline the way in which donations and spending are reported, regulated and enforced.

It made 47 recommendations including that political donors should have to be on the UK’s electoral register, greater checks to identify the original source of funds and new rules on donations from businesses to make it harder for overseas donors to anonymously give through shell companies to political campaigns.

When I raised with the Minister which of the recommendations she would include in the bill by way of Government amendment she was unable to name a single one.

It seems the Elections Bill has been carefully tailored to serve the interests of this government rather than democracy. In taking the hammer of voter ID to crack the nut of the problem of impersonation, this government doesn’t mind risking voter suppression because those most likely to be suppressed – the already marginalised and dispossessed – don’t vote for them.

It is very dangerous for a democracy to pass measures which could have the effect of silencing or marginalising those who seek to challenge the ruling orthodoxy. And itis reprehensible to do so while at the same time failing to tackle those who really are subverting our democracy with dark money and hidden donations.