The Electoral Commission’s campaign against democracy

The Commission fed smears against Arron Banks and Darren Grimes to undermine the Leave vote.

James Heartfield

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Britain has left the European Union, and the Remain campaign’s attempts to keep us in have unravelled. The bad faith claims to be defending ‘parliamentary sovereignty’, the shabby shenanigans of speaker John Bercow and the collapsing reputations of Jolyon Maugham and Gina Miller have made it clear beyond doubt that the post-referendum Remain campaign was a campaign against democracy.

So desperate was the British establishment to sink the popular demand that we should leave the EU and elect our own lawmakers that it resorted to every crooked trick in the book. The Remain campaign struggled to win hearts and minds because it was mainly made up of snobs who wanted to deny the public a say in their own government. Never comfortable appealing for popular support, the Remainers could only win by using institutional power to rig the results.

The popular determination to leave the EU took the powers-that-be by surprise. They thought that the agreement of the front benches of the two main parties, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, big business and the banks would be enough to cow the voters into submission.

Even after the country voted to leave on 23 June 2016, Theresa May, formerly a Remainer, set about trying to give us Brexit in name only. And she would have succeeded but for the determination of voters.

The Remainers, unhappy even with Brexit in name only, turned to the law to overturn the referendum result. The Supreme Court arrogated to itself the power to reinstate parliament in order to facilitate our MPs’ campaign against Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission delegitimised the Leave campaign by investigating, prosecuting and fining its activists, using powers few knew it had. In 2018, the Commission fined Vote Leave for overspending. It also fined 21-year-old Leave campaigner Darren Grimes for his BeLeave campaign. Grimes was personally fined £20,000 for a paper overspend. Arron Banks, the long-standing Leave campaigner and founder of Leave.EU, was reported by the Commission to the National Crime Agency for imaginary fundraising improprieties.

These allegations were without any serious foundation. Judge Marc Dight found that Darren Grimes had acted in good faith and with transparency. His alleged ‘crime’ was really just an oversight and so the Electoral Commission’s fine was overturned. Similarly, the National Crime Agency found that what Arron Banks was accused of was not a crime.

All of the feeble attempts to show that the Leave campaign somehow cheated the result ignored the fact that Remain outspent Leave by more than two to one. Remain spent an eye-watering £28million to lose the referendum, including £9million worth of taxpayers’ money on delivering pro-Remain leaflets to every household in the country. Furthermore, during and after the referendum, the Remain campaign had the support of most of the media, most MPs, the speaker of the House of Commons, and the supposedly impartial Electoral Commission and Supreme Court. The campaign was rigged – rigged in favour of Remain.

The Commission admitted this week that the charges against Banks were without foundation. It surely owes Banks and Grimes a heartfelt apology at the very least. These two fought for democracy, while the Commission set about trying to attack it.

Many pointed out at the time the investigations were launched that leading members of the Electoral Commission, including its chairman, had made public pronouncements against Brexit since the referendum, in breach of the Commission’s duty of impartiality.

The allegations and charges against Banks, Grimes and the Leave campaign were reported in league-high letters across the press. But the reversal of those decisions and the withdrawing of those allegations have been tucked away in the back pages.

Remainers in the press, like the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr and the Observer’s Nick Cohen, all repeated the baseless allegations against Banks, Grimes and the Leave campaign with impunity. Over and over again, the Remain campaigners have called their opponents ‘criminals’. (That Banks’ wife is Russian is a fact that has thrown conspiracy theorists like Cadwalladr into paroxysms.) The point of the allegations were never proven, but that did not stop them being used as repeatable lies for Remain campaigners masquerading as journalists.

Clearly, the Electoral Commission is not fit for purpose. It was created in 2000 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. The Act sets out dubious rules that dictate how political debate should be conducted. The Commission is appointed as the final arbiter. There is no need for these rules or for officials to adjudicate democracy, supposedly on our behalf. The best thing to do with the Electoral Commission would be to abolish it.

Failing that, perhaps the government ought to invite Arron Banks or Darren Grimes to run it. Both have shown themselves to have more understanding of democracy than the current members of the Commission.

James Heartfield is author of The European Union and the End of Politics. His latest book is The Blood-Stained Poppy, written with Kevin Rooney.

Picture by: Getty.

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a watson

3rd May 2020 at 8:44 am

Well said. Yet again another reason to question the health of British so called democracy.

Puddy Cat

1st May 2020 at 5:49 pm

The Electoral Commission is not the only government created organisation to need the chop. When we have a national health service that is reputedly paid for through our tax system, that succumbs to accepting charity cash, so good we endorsed it twice, we have to have a serious thought about its structure and aims. When you have Public Health England whose job is forward planning, miring itself in interference with peoples’s lifestyle choices, it is obvious that remits are far too broad. We also see that monitoring these organisation is flabby to say the least. PHE has an hierarchy that pays itself extraordinary sums (while we are resorting to charity collections) while sleeping at the wheel. The state should rightly warn of health dangers but whether or not it should go to law or make demands of the people it addresses is another matter. Who knows if some of their impositions are not as wrong headed as the eulogising over diesel cars that took place?

We are a nation governed by strictures. The law and these QUANGOs churn out damage to our freedoms like a production line. The essence of that is quite easy to comprehend. All these committees and organisations have to be seen to be doing something if only to satisfy the huge drain they represent to the exchequer. It is in the nature of such people to want to grow their remit. False targets and the control of more personnel are means that allow these people in control to increase their incomes and it looks as though they have not been slow about it.

Five a day fruit, drinking more water, fizzy drinks look like expressions of personal tastes rather than a list of the efficacious. The first two have wandered off into the long grass. No one considered the balanced diet or personal inclination, when the first two measures were amply provided for by nothing more exotic than square meals, the meat and two veg that contained water, vitamins and minerals in abundance. Even the much trudged through war on fat and dairy proved to be nothing but hocus-pocus.

Since the small matter of life and death has taken hold there has been little or no reporting of marginal outrages or little to suggest racism (try as they may to smear the government over the irregular deaths by communities).It is almost as though without anything to occupy us we invent issues as a hook to pursue other political ends and the promotion of identitarianism.

Without being told how to live our lives, other than to employ commonsense strictures associated specifically with COVID, we are all getting along very well. In fact our condition is improving. We are in the midst of a social revolution last witnessed during the era of flower power. We are discovering disarming characteristics among the whole. We have shown great good sense which suggests that being told how to live is not required. We do not need to be told what’s good for us it seems to be an innate understanding that defies the nanny state and being bossed around my careerism in our non governmental appointments.

Marvin Jones

1st May 2020 at 4:07 pm

The lies, deceit, expert advice from the CBI and the likes of Cameron and Osborne, the dopes of the highest education provided to the donkeys groomed to reach the highest offices in the land. I just cannot ever remember feeling so much joy to see their noses deep in the sewage with the trauma.


1st May 2020 at 4:07 pm

‘Even after the country voted to leave on 23 June 2016, Theresa May, formerly a Remainer, set about trying to give us Brexit in name only. And she would have succeeded but for the determination of voters.’ I don’t think that it was the voters that saved Brexit being wrecked by May’s subterfuge, but the intransigence of Conservative ERG MPs. Ironically they were aided by the Remainiacs, both inside and outside Parliament, so many of whom tried to stop it happening at all.

Dominic Straiton

1st May 2020 at 4:07 pm

Banks should now sue. Take all the remoaning liars to the cleaners for defamation.

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