Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Conservative MP Stuart Andrew says the public should be given greater tools in being able to report incidents of homophobia in electoral campaigning.
Last week the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Electoral Conduct, in which I was pleased to play a leading role, published its recommendations. The impetus for this inquiry came from the work of the all-party inquiry into antisemitism. Too often, that inquiry panel found, antisemitism was apparent in political campaigning around elections. They recommended the Electoral Commission take action but progress was slow.
I am pleased to say that our inquiry has moved things along significantly and in the best traditions of work against antisemitism, this work should help to prevent not only anti-Jewish prejudice but other forms of hate crime too, including homophobia.
Electoral campaigning in Britain is, we have found, generally a positive and democratically enriching process. British law is, broadly speaking, sufficient and if used properly, effective. There are however a number of areas in which better frameworks for action could be introduced which make Britain not just a responsible democracy but one that is world-leading in facing down discriminatory electoral conduct.
A key recommendation for our parliamentary panel then, was that cross-party agreement be sought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on a framework for reporting discrimination during election campaigns. Specifically, we have suggested that this should incorporate a public reporting portal, named official responsible for assessing cases, a clear timeframe for investigation and publication of adjudication or sanctions.
There were, sadly, reminders submitted to the inquiry – from Stonewall amongst others – that homophobia has, even recently, been used as an electoral tool. As with all the party’s represented on the panel, I want the Conservatives to be at the forefront of challenging behaviour unbecoming of our candidates and I am pleased my party and the Prime Minister engaged so constructively in this process. Britons should feel confident that if they uncover homophobia in campaigning at elections they have a conduit to the right person to have the evidence properly assessed.
For candidates too, we want to see more and better training, support and safeguards for their welfare. Many of the people we interviewed told us that campaigning can be a harsh and frightening experience – not just for them but for their families too. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are organisations out there that will help candidates that suffer abuse in whatever form it comes. We want the political parties to better understand those support networks and to avail their candidates of them.
There are however a number of other areas in which we want to see action. It is astounding that at present, political parties are free from any oversight on election-time advertising. The Advertising Standards Agency told us that some years ago, for a variety of reasons, they stopped applying their code to the parties. That is not good enough and we have asked government to step in and seek cross-party agreement on a code of conduct for the future.
Where non-party groups are not playing a positive role that too must be addressed. There is a clear need for better regulation and the panel recognised this. Our party is at the heart of the government’s push for better regulation of third parties (or non-party campaigners as they are referred to) through the Lobbying Bill. It is clear that some of these groups should be subject to some more rigorous regulation when campaigning in individual constituencies. This might go some way to addressing concerns that have been raised.
In publishing our report, we achieved cross-party consensus on issues of vital importance to British democratic life and the recommendations if implemented will benefit not just minority communities but British democracy in general. We will maintain pressure on electoral and equalities institutions to play their part, the mantle rests equally with our party members and candidates to live up to the gold standard expected of us.
Stuart Andrew is the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Horsforth and Aireborough in West Yorkshire