Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Rethinking election spending laws

The government has responded to its referral to the police for overspending by claiming that the law is unclear and that it needs to be clarified. I agree wholeheartedly - but not in this case. Contrary to their spin, Labour did not fall foul of any "unclarity" in the law. They were warned by the electoral commission that their pledge card was considered election advertising before the election, and criticised because it did not state who it had been authorised by - but they overspent anyway. This takes it well out of the domain of "unclarity" and "honest mistakes", and into a deliberate flouting of the law. And that makes it a corrupt practice rather than merely an illegal one.

As for clarifying the law, I think the Peters-Clarkson electoral petititon judgement shows that you can drive a bus through the current rules, and that they are in need of tightening. As it stands, the rich and powerful can use "mate's rates" to gain an unfair advantage, and that needs to be stopped. But no-one has fallen foul of that unclarity yet (quite the opposite, in fact), and it is certainly no excuse for Labour's clear and blatant violation of the law.