Efforts to protect Britain’s democracy from dark money, disinformation and foreign interference are to be stepped up by a cross-party group of MPs.
A new parliamentary group will be formed this week and will immediately launch an inquiry on how to improve election campaign rules to tackle concerns about “a toxic combination of dodgy data and dirty money”.
The MPs took up the fight after becoming concerned about how the Cambridge Analytica scandal may have influenced the 2016 vote to leave the EU.
The MPs however insisted they would “look forwards, not backwards”, arguing the issue of electoral integrity is “bigger than Brexit”.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Campaign Transparency – which features Tory, Labour, Green, SNP and Liberal Democrat members – will take evidence from experts and civil society to produce a green paper with proposals on updating “analogue-age” election rules.
It comes after reports in the New York Times that the European Parliament election campaign is being targeted by Russian-linked and far-right websites and social media accounts looking to spread disinformation and sow discord.
The inquiry will look at funding and spending on campaigns, how to better improve transparency around online political advertising, the powers of the Electoral Commission watchdog and how any new laws can be regulated.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who will chair the group which also has the backing of the likes of Tories Ken Clarke and Sir Nicholas Soames, said: “The fall-out from the 2016 referendum has exposed the fact that our democracy is in danger of being overwhelmed by a toxic combination of dodgy data and dirty money.
“Drip by drip we have seen how our legislative and regulatory frameworks are simply not fit for purpose.
“Our political system can only function effectively if the public is confident that our elections and referenda are being policed effectively and that the playing field is level. Yet we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age.”
Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research for the Electoral Reform Society, said: “The need to bring Britain’s outdated election laws into the 21st century is urgent.
“As things stand, our elections are vulnerable to foreign interference, dis-information and illicit donations.
“We cannot leave the task of protecting our democracy’s future to the whim of today’s tech giants.
“Political parties spent around £3.2 million on Facebook adverts during the 2017 general election – an increase of more than double since the 2015 election. When our primary election rules were created in 2000, the figure was £0: giants like Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist.”
Kyle Taylor, director of FairVote, said: “We’ve been trying to no avail for over a year to move the dial on these crucial issues.
“The APPG gives us the opportunity to gain a wide range of views from practitioners and experts while building cross-party consensus on key, uncontroversial areas with the hope of delivering real change this year.”