Making And Breaking The Rules In The U.K Election

Politics can often be seen as a game. A dangerous one at that. ‘The Great Game’ was the term coined in the nineteenth century for territorial conflict between Britain and Russia. But it seems that in the U.K. general election, the rules often fluctuate, and don’t necessarily lead to disqualification if broken.

June’s recent election has been widely criticized for the inappropriate use of advertising and media to promote the Conservative (winning) party. Electoral rules state that during the ‘regulated period’ in the run-up to the election, tighter restrictions apply to campaigning.

During the pre-election period, the Information Commissioner’s Office issued a warning to all major political parties, reminding them of the rules: paid canvassing, cold calls and illegitimate market research are prohibited.

A recent investigation by Channel 4 News revealed that in Neath, Wales, Blue Telecom was contracted by the Conservatives, employing up to 100 telemarketers to contact thousands of voters in marginal seats across Britain, potentially breaking election and data protection laws.

Under the bogus title of ‘Axe Independent Market Research’, calls were conducted with loaded questions and rhetorical language in an underhand attempt to canvas voters in marginal constituencies. Calls were also openly made on behalf of the Conservative party, echoing key campaign messages on Brexit and immigration as the election neared.

On the day of the election, specific Conservative candidates were named in calls to their respective constituencies, with the undecided voters being fed further campaign messages, and the decidedly Conservative voters encouraged to go out and vote.

People in 10 marginal seats across Wales were targeted and manipulated by disguised market research. Deceptive anti-Corbyn advertising was posted over social media in an attempt to soil the opposing party’s reputation, and chances of winning the election.

Dirty tactics also took place in the 2015 election where the Conservatives overspent the £15,000 budget per constituency in an attempt to gain the upper hand through battle bus campaigning and hotel stays, charging to the national, rather than the local budget.

The Conservative party were reported to have spent an alarming £1.21 million on YouTube ads in 2015. However, the Electoral Commission does not yet contain specific budget allowances for online advertising, including Facebook and YouTube, where much of the social campaigning took place.

Sneaky tactics and foul play should not be tolerated in any game, especially not one involving the lives of the public. Rules have been broken, and it is necessary to equalize the game and make it fair for all players.

Misinformation and fraud are at the heart of this problem, and one solution could lie in voting distinctly on policy issues, rather than voting for one figurehead to represent all future government decisions every half decade. This could enable the public to vote for electoral rules to be fairly organized for the benefit of all parties; an equal opportunity voting system. This contrasts with the current system where the leading party is able to make changes to constituency boundaries in order to benefit their own winning potential.

However, some might argue that the results of the EU referendum prove policy-voting an unworthy method. Turnout is a key factor; the extent of the public’s passion on certain issues is dependable, and thus attendance to votes will vary.

Another problem with this comes back to misinformation: conflicting reports and opinions presented in newspapers and the media poses difficulty for anyone trying to find a balanced, factual depth of knowledge on an issue.

When there is no neutral information source to pick up, people with lives and commitments outside of politics are left with a knowledge void. There is no time to acquire a depth of researched knowledge and no commonplace objective source. With newspapers and media outlets as they are, individual policy voting is not immune to corruption.

So, the question is now about how to break electoral corruption and change the voting system?

The answer is as follows: make the system fair by changing from first past the post to proportional representation or other inclusive systems. It will also be important to introduce disqualifications for electoral rule breaking and decide on the electoral rules democratically, rather than allowing them to be prescribed by the current party. Lastly, it will be crucial to provide factual and accessible accounts of issues to the public, with opinion as a secondary supplement to this.