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Vote Leave, the Electoral Commission & William Cobbett’s Rotten Boroughs

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2018 by kmflett

Vote Leave, the Electoral Commission & William Cobbett’s Rotten Boroughs

The decision by the Electoral Commission to fine Vote Leave for overspending and other malpractice during the EU Referendum campaign tells a story about the state of British Parliamentary democracy.

Of course not everyone who backed ‘leave’ in the Referendum was involved in malpractice. Some genuinely wanted out of what they saw as a neo-liberal EU.

However it seems clear that Vote Leave was engaged in targeting funds to whip up racist sentiment and hence in effect to attempt to ‘buy’ a leave result. They were only just successful and we cant really be sure what precise impact they had.

The reality of large sums of money being used to buy political decisions however takes us back to the days before the 1832 Great Reform Act started the century long process of allowing everyone to have a secret ballot.

Even after 1832 it was common for candidates to buy drink for those eligible to vote during an Election (a minority) and to keep an eye on how they voted. The campaigns of the Chartists helped to end that.

William Cobbett referred to those constituencies which could be bought containing few voters but offering Parliamentary influence as ‘rotten boroughs’. He wrote of ‘vile borough-mongers, their tools and their stopgaps’.

We haven’t quite yet got back to that yet- after all Farage has failed 7 times to be elected as an MP- but Vote Leave is a staging post on the road to it.

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