This is a cross-post from Politics Home by Natascha Engel MP – 29th October 2013
Chair of the APP Inquiry into Electoral Conduct and Labour MP Natascha Engel spells out how Britian can be a world-leader in facing down discrimination
Today, the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct which I chaired published its recommendations. Its main focus was on racism and discrimination in political campaigning.
We have found that campaigning during elections is positive on the whole, but we were shocked at some of the stories we heard when things went wrong. From early on in our inquiry, we were convinced that work needs to be done by Government, Parliament, the political parties, but most of all by the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to stamp out race hate and discrimination from political campaigning.
Our inquiry was launched as a result of a previous all-party report in 2006 on anti-Semitism which found worrying evidence of anti-Semitism in election campaigns. Our predecessor inquiry recommended that the Electoral Commission produce a code of conduct.
The Commission’s response? It said that it found the recommendation unwelcome and unenforceable. We have therefore tried to come at this from a wider angle by including all victims of race hate and discrimination during election campaigns and bring forward recommendations that are both welcome and enforceable. We hope that the Electoral Commission’s response will be more positive this time.
Our recommendations have focused on putting freedom of speech and expression first, not to prevent robust campaigning but to start a cultural shift in the political parties that would help identify and deal with unacceptable behaviour more quickly.
Britain should be a world-leader in facing down discrimination, so we have suggested that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should bring all registered political parties together and agree to have:
• One named person in each party who can be contacted with complaints – either from other political parties or members of the public
• A clear timetable for investigating any complaints
• Publication of the outcomes of any investigation and if any sanctions have been applied.
We found that when members of the public complained, their concerns were often not properly dealt with or even registered. This would be a vital first step. We are delighted that the Equality and Human Rights Commission have responded so positively to our recommendations and have tabled them for discussion at their next board meeting. We look forward to hearing the results.
The evidence we heard from the previous Commission for Racial Equality about their proactive work they used to do in keeping records up-to-date and working with minority groups and individuals to combat racism and discrimination was lost when the organisation changed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We hope that they will look at this and start doing their excellent work again as they did in the past.
We also called for more and better training, support and safeguards for candidates. We heard some shocking testimony of anti-Semitism from Lee Scott MP and the former Labour Minister, Parmjit Dhanda whose children found a severed pig’s head in his garden the day after he lost his seat in Gloucester.
While the political parties are discussing press freedoms in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal, we hope that they will also consider widening out conduct of non-broadcast media during election campaigns. The Advertising Standards Agency used to regulate these materials but doesn’t any more.
This report is published during the passage of the Lobbying Bill. Because of the political storm that surrounds this legislation, we recommend that the Electoral Commission should do some independent research into what action needs to be taken on non-party campaigners. This was an area that raised serious concerns for us and we felt needs some urgent attention.
Our inquiry is unique. It is the first time parliamentarians have systemically analysed electoral life with a view to eliminating racism and discrimination from it. We achieved cross-party consensus on issues of vital importance to British democratic life. We will keep up the pressure on electoral and equalities institutions to play their part. And we will keep championing these issues within our own political parties.
Natascha Engel MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Electoral Conduct