The Independent Electoral Commission criticized the plans, likening the proposals to a cricket team “telling the umpire how to enforce the rules of the game”.
Rishi Sunak is widely believed to be setting a date for the autumn general election(
The desperate Conservative Party has been accused of trying to rig the next election.
This comes at a time when experts and campaigners have issued dire warnings that democratic safeguards have been “damaged” under Rishi Sunak’s party.
The Electoral Commission, which oversees voting rights in the UK, said a government move to set “priorities” for the body amounted to “a team explaining to the referee how the rules of the game should be enforced”.
The commission made the extraordinary intervention ahead of a vote on Wednesday in which Tory MPs want to push through a new “statement of strategy and policy” for the commission – which a senior House of Commons committee said was “incompatible with its independence”.
Experts warned that the move was just part of an “alarming trend” that is diluting and undermining trust in British democracy.
New rules increase the amount parties can spend to £35 million, allow rich expats to vote and ban anyone from voting without photo ID. They will be tested for the first time this year in a general election that recent polls suggest could spell a crushing defeat for the Tories.
Labor MP Clive Betts accused the Conservatives of “political interference” in the Electoral Commission, “which must be and be seen as independent”. He continued: “To the public it looks like the Conservative Party is trying to manipulate the rules.”
The Prime Minister is pictured leaving 10 Downing Street this week(
Infosys, a computer company partly owned by Rishi Sunak's wife Akshata Murty, is in line for millions of pounds in government money(
Liberal Democrat leader Wendy Chamberlain added: “This Conservative government is trying to manipulate the rules in its favor because it knows it has lost the public's support.” An independent body must be allowed to do so independently and without interference a political party, especially a party that is desperately trying to stay in power.”
“Ailing democracy is getting worse and worse,” said Tom Brake of Unlock Democracy.
“In recent months, we have seen even more examples of the government threatening to break international law, cracking down on protests and using dark money to buy political influence. A campaign flooded with misinformation and disinformation, bots and attack ads would be the final straw.”
The plan to clip the Commission's wings was first launched under Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister in 2021 – when it investigated him over funding the renovation of his apartment.
The regulator concluded the redesign was a breach of electoral laws regarding donations and fined the Conservative Party £17,800. Since then, Tory MPs have unveiled a draft document containing a new “strategy and policy statement” for the Commission.
This includes a long-standing government policy to combat voter fraud, a crime so rare that, statistically, it does not exist. However, more pressing threats to elections such as AI deepfakes or disinformation are not mentioned.
A committee of MPs described the document as “fundamentally flawed” and “incompatible with the independence of the Commission”. Labor MPs are expected to vote against the motion on Wednesday.
Florence Eshalomi, Labor shadow minister for democracy, said: “An independent election watchdog is an essential part of any democracy. This reckless move undermines British democracy. Allowing government ministers to set the independent Electoral Commission's agenda is a dangerous politicization of the watchdog and has been condemned by MPs from all parties.
“Among conservatives, trust in politics and our democratic institutions is at an all-time low. A Labor government will work to restore trust in British politics, return power to communities across the country and make our democracy work for everyone.”
An Electoral Commission spokesman said its role was to “ensure a level playing field between political parties”. They added: “A team should not be able to tell the referee how to enforce the laws of the game. Nevertheless, a statement would aim to guide the Commission's priorities, including its enforcement work, with a commitment to taking into account the Government's position.” Meanwhile, last week the rules were changed and the 15-year limit on voting and Donations from emigrants to parties canceled.
Tom Brake from campaign group Unlock Democracy criticized the development(
It means 2.2 million more people – many of them wealthy expatriates living in tax havens – now have the right to vote, even if they haven't set foot in the UK for decades.
At the same time, it emerged that the Tories had hired an election coordinator to urge thousands of supporters abroad to vote for specific seats they needed to stay in power. Foreign voters should register in the constituency in which they last lived.
But the Electoral Commission warned in 2016 that expats “may be tempted to vote for a marginal seat where they once lived”. The Conservatives have also almost doubled the amount parties can spend on elections to £35 million. They are the only party to have managed to break the previous limit of £19.5 million. Existing laws requiring photo ID at polling stations risk leaving two million people without a vote.
The aim was supposedly to combat fraud – but between 2010 and 2018 there were just 50 allegations and only two convictions. The electoral laws come with restrictions on protests and strikes.
A government spokesman said: “The changes we have made to UK elections will ensure they remain safe, fair, modern, inclusive and transparent.” The Electoral Commission's strategy and policy statement is a necessary and proportionate step, to ensure that the Electoral Commission is accountable to the British Parliament while respecting its independence.
“As recommended by international regulators, we have introduced a requirement to present photo ID when voting in person, in line with long-standing rules in Northern Ireland.” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not yet set an election date, but it is widely expected to be sometime in autumn.