Posted by: aboutalbion | October 31, 2019

UK Electoral Commission needs further statutory powers

With the prospect of a UK General Election [GE] on Thursday, 12 December 2019, I’m putting my little spotlight on the role of the Electoral Commission [EC].

I note that (in its present form) the EC was created by the UK Parliament nearly twenty years ago, and that its role is (a) to regulate political party finance, (b) to regulate election time finance, and (c) to set standards for how elections are to be conducted.

I pause at this point to express my disappointment that Parliament omitted to task the EC with regulating how political parties behave towards the electorate.

To explain my disappointment, the nearest analogy that comes to my mind concerns leasehold property management companies and the leasehold tenants of a property.

Consider a property owner who owns residential property surplus to their long-term domestic requirements and who invites leasehold management companies to bid for the contract to manage the tenanted property.  The property owner will conduct ‘due diligence’ on the bidding companies, and then assess the proposals of the management companies.

For their part, the property management companies will be fully aware that the Government has approved a Leasehold Management Code of Conduct which (among other things) aims to promote best practice and the prompt administration (in relation to the tenants) of the service charge and the timely issue of a budget and year end accounts.

As I myself have experienced in the past, the publication of a service charge budget before the service charge year begins (covering routine expenditure as well as capital expenditure, and not forgetting the position of healthy reserve funds), its prompt approval by residents, and the brisk provision of end of service charge year accounts – these matters are mandated as best practice in the Leasehold Management Code of Conduct.  Furthermore, the Code advises that these financial documents should be presented in a standard format to allow year-on-year comparison, and should have sufficient detail to enable residents to understand the nature of the charges being levied and the rationale behind the levels of expenditure.

Since virtually all UK residents depend on our ‘cash economy’, I see no essential difference between the leasehold property situation that I have just reviewed and the political parties that are bidding to manage the UK ‘public purse’ after the forthcoming GE.

The UK political parties seem to me to be private companies competing to win the social contract to manage the UK residential estate by having control of the ‘public purse’.  Yet, for some reason unknown to me, at GE time, each and every political party refuses to publish a ‘public purse’ budget for its first year in office (covering routine expenditure as well as capital expenditure, and not forgetting the position of reserve funds) in a standard format to allow year-on-year comparison, and in sufficient detail to enable electors to understand the nature of the tax charges being levied and the rationale behind the levels of expenditure.

[My current understanding is that the annual ‘public purse’ budget is around £800 billion, and the reserve funds are (a) the National Debt of around £1.8 trillion, and (b) the gold and foreign currency reserves of around £130 billion.  As a fiscal conservative, I find this negative reserves position unsustainable.]

Instead, during the next six weeks of the GE, I am expecting to hear lots and lots of loud and simple statements about “trust us and our fully costed programmes” as the speakers throw an uncountable number of wet sponges at their political rivals.

I am saddened by this example of the failure of political parties to practise what they preach.  In my view, the standards which Parliament expects leasehold residential management companies to comply with in their relationship with residents are also good enough for UK political parties to comply with in their relationship with the UK electorate.

Sooner rather than later, I hope that Parliament will give the EC the additional statutory powers to regulate the conduct of political parties towards the electorate.

At this GE time, I do not want to read aspirational words or hear speeches about unreachable “sunny uplands”.  My preference is to read a transparent synoptic draft budget for the taxpayers ‘public purse’, and then to read straightforward explanatory words about this draft budget.


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