Political Power and Democratic Control in Britain: The Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom

By Stuart Weir; David Beetham | Go to book overview

4
The Independence of Elections
Government and outside influences on elections

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

(The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 25, 1966)

It is not possible to consider the fairness of elections without examining the pattern of political funding. This is simply because the money may in some circumstances have a major influence on the outcome of elections. Rich candidates and parties may potentially gain a significant and—arguably—unfair advantage…. Money may also be a source of undue influence or corruption.

(Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, expert on political funding, 1993)

IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT!

(Front-page headline, in the Sun, 11 April 1992)

If popular control of elections is to work, elections must be independent of state or party; accessible to voters; and free of intimidation, abuses, bribery, and so on. The Democratic Audit has already examined such questions as voter registration, access, abuse and electoral arrangements, and so on, in the first volume, The Three Pillars of Liberty (DA Volume No. 1: Chapter 14). Here we examine other issues of state or party control, notably the secrecy of the ballot. Equally, the two principles of popular control and political equality will be diminished if it turns out that some other actor or group of actors has undue influence over the electoral process. We therefore consider the influence of the media and other political forces and interests on the electoral process. The resourcing of the parties also affects both principles. Historically, big business and particular interests, such as the City of London, brewers and major construction companies, have been ready to fund the Conservative Party, and the trade unions have not only sponsored Labour, but played the leading role in creating the party. How transparent is the funding of political parties and how robust are controls against improper influences? These issues are covered in the following edited Democratic Audit criteria:

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