Thursday, November 25, 2004

Unfair, cries the Chairman of the Electoral Commission

Sam Younger, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, who, let’s face it, made some very strange decisions during the campaign in the North-East, has come out and said it: the spending rules are unfair.

Speaking to an academic seminar yesterday, he gave his opinion that ministers should be banned from promoting the EU Constitution for at least 10 weeks before the actual vote, bearing in mind that they do so, using taxpayers’ money. Well, of course, everything ministers do uses taxpayers’ money, so, perhaps they ought to call an occasional 10 week moratorium on all their activity? Just joking.

The rules on spending in the last 10 weeks, as stated in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, are reasonably straightforward:

The main group (decided according to rules devised by the Electoral Commission and incomprehensible to everyone else, though that is not how the Act puts it) can spend up to a total of £5 million.

Other organizations that are registered as “permitted participants” can spend up to £500,000 each. Whether the European Commission comes under this or some other, unspecified, category is not clear.

However, the Government can spend an unlimited amount of the above mentioned taxpayers’ money on pro-constitution leaflets and advertising until the last 28 days of the campaign.

Mr Younger said that his Commission has already complained about this anomaly but nothing has been done so far.

A Bill to pave the way to a referendum on the EU Constitution is expected to be published in the next few weeks, though the referendum is likely to be next spring. The government’s timing is constrained by the fact that from July 1 to December 31 2005 the UK will have the rotating EU presidency. Therefore, those six months are out as far as the General Election or the Constitutional referendum are concerned. They have to come either side of what is likely to be a fraught presidency in any case.

Mr Blair has until June 2006 to call and election and until end of that year to call the referendum. If, as expected he will go to the country this spring, incidentally incinerating most of the proposed legislation, March 2006, ten weeks or so after the expiry of the presidency, is more or less the earliest time he can have the referendum

This posting appeared first on the UKIP London Assembly blog.

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