That leave campaigners were able to systematically cheat the EU referendum shows how unequal political power is in the UK. It’s time for the people to decide where power should lie.
Vote Leave cheated - but what happens now?
The scandal of leave campaigners systematically overspending in the EU referendum is on a level not seen in modern times. Not since the days of widespread ‘treating’ of voters to food and alcohol in the 19th century have the rules been flouted on such an industrial scale.
If the coalition of leave campaigns really did spend as much as 10% more than the legal limit, it could have distorted the result. We’ll never know for sure, but how do we stop this happening again?
Since the referendum wasn’t legally binding, there is no mechanism to challenge the decision to leave for those who feel this extra, illegal spending swung the result. At just 0.8%, the fines handed down by the Electoral Commission can be written off as nothing more than the cost of doing business. We’ll soon find out whether criminal charges are on the way, but judging by previous cases, prosecutions are rare even where there is significant evidence of wrongdoing.
It’s clear that election laws need changing to keep up with those trying to distort our democracy. We need to give the Electoral Commission much stronger powers to intervene, and stop a small number of people being able to donate such enormous sums of money in the first place.
Theresa May’s government doesn’t want to deal with this.
The government could have lent support to thorough investigations into the the power of big money in politics, instead Theresa May has defended ministers involved in Vote Leave. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has dismissed the findings as sour grapes, standing silent while former colleagues at Vote Leave called whistleblowers ‘liars and charlatans’. Since their own MPs were accused of similar tactics in 2015, it’s easy to guess they would rather the issue disappeared from the news. Combined with the Conservative party’s unique reliance on big money donors (in 2017 the Tories raised more in £100k donations than every other party combined), it’s fair to say we’ve got a job on our hands convincing Theresa May to tackle the causes of the problem.
Big money trying to buy elections is just one symptom of a political system serving the few
Cheating in the referendum didn’t just happen because some people were willing to do whatever it took to win. They had access to networks of millionaire donors who could allocate spending across different organisations, and a set of election laws they thought they could break without serious consequences.
There are obvious changes that need implement now. But even policies like capping donations won’t fundamentally address political inequality in Britain. Without top to bottom change we could see these same interests invent new loopholes to satisfy their interests. If we’re serious about making politics work for everyone, we need to think bigger.
Britain’s archaic, unwritten constitution gives the government huge freedom to grant the wishes of its paymasters. The government was able to pass the EU Withdrawal Act, giving ministers powers to dump vast swathes of laws and regulations behind closed doors.
These are problems so deeply entrenched that they can’t be solved by a change of government or a change of political party. To solve this problem we need to change our constitution. So we need to reboot our political system.
It’s time for a new constitution, one where we take control - over our lives, over our communities, over an out of control executive and a powerless parliament.
We could create a radical new vision for society, where people have power - not Theresa May and her government, not the wealthy elites that dole out politicians’ paychecks, not lobbyists who make dodgy deals behind closed doors.