This month, the head of the Electoral Commission confirmed what had already become apparent in the run-up to polling day on November 8. The Electoral Finance Act had had, said Dr Helena Catt, a “chilling effect on the extent and type of participation in political and campaign activity”. Her comment acknowledged the dearth of activity normally present during election campaigns as interest groups vigorously put their points of view.
Some will say this was always the intention – to make it harder for people to criticise the Government.
Understandably, the association has reacted strongly, saying it will likely legally challenge the commission’s verdict. “The decision … says, in effect, it is illegal to promote any views that oppose those of the government or an MP such as Mr Mallard in an election year,” it said.
A happy coincidence for Labour!
The real culprit here, however, is not the commission but the wording of the act, which probably left it with no choice. Not for no reason is Dr Catt now lambasting a “difficult law”, significant parts of which are “obscure” and hard to interpret. Not for no reason is she now using exactly the same language that critics, such as the Herald, were using as the legislation was rushed through Parliament without reflection or consensus.
And Dr Catt herself warned the law was unclear before it was passed. The three parties that forced it through have no defence.