05 Nov 2019
Campaigning during a general election
During a general election, campaigners and campaigning groups are regulated under electoral law. This can have implications for the kind of work that you may want to undertake during that time, and it’s important that everyone understands the regulations.
We have recently updated our political impartiality guidance, which when followed will ensure that all groups maintain a high standard of political impartiality.
General elections and the Lobbying Act
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) limits certain types of spending by organisations, including Friends of the Earth, before general elections. It was amended by the Lobbying Act ahead of the 2015 general election. Friends of the Earth has campaigned for changes to the Lobbying Act as we are not happy with how it regulates campaigning in civil society.
Regulated campaigning activity includes: staff time, rallies and public events, printed campaign materials. Volunteer time does not count as regulated activity.
When campaigning activity in the run-up to a general election is public and can be reasonably regarded as intended to influence the way someone votes, it is considered to be regulated activity under electoral rules. If you spend over a certain limit on regulated activity you have to register with the Electoral Commission report your campaign spending.
Under the lobbying act, these rules apply for 12 months up to polling day, even when there is a snap election with less than 12 months’ notice. This has led to the absurd situation where something you did before the election was announced could be counted as regulated spending!
However the Electoral Commission has issued guidance to make clear that “you are unlikely to be reasonably regarded as intending to influence people to vote in an election when you do not know or expect that the election is happening”. In other words, what you did before an election was announced is unlikely to be considered as intended to influence how people vote.
If you have stuck to our political impartiality guidance, you are unlikely to have undertaken much (if any) regulated activity. But this isn't an absolute rule and you will have to judge for yourselves whether your group has undertaken campaigning activity in the past 12 months which can be seen as intending to influence how people vote even if they didn't know an election was imminent (but even then there would need to be an awful lot of it to meet the registration threshold).
Any organisation which spends more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Northern Ireland & Wales on any regulated activity, on its own or in coalition with other groups, will need to register with the Electoral Commission. There is a total spending limit of £9,750 for spending in any individual constituency.
We don’t expect any Friends of the Earth local groups or Climate Actions groups to spend anywhere near the threshold for registration with the Electoral Commission (let alone the upper spending limit). So while it is important that you are fully aware of it, your main focus should be maintaining high standards of party political impartiality.
Friends of the Earth England Wales and NI (EWNI) will likely register with the Electoral Commission for the 2019 General Election. Friends of the Earth local groups and Climate Action groups are separate legal entities from Friends of the Earth EWNI so this decision will not impact your campaigning.
Working with other groups
The rules around working with other groups are particularly important to be aware of. If you are making joint plans with other campaigners or groups which involve regulated activity and cost money, then you may be incurring regulated spending without realising it, because the costs incurred by others when working together can count towards your total.
It’s therefore important to be clear with any coalitions or groups you work with that you are not working to any joint plans unless specifically agreed in writing. We recommend that, if you feel it is appropriate or necessary for your group, you send a version of the below email template to the relevant people to ensure that you have all your bases covered. If the group is not aware of the lobbying act then please feel free to share the information in this email, and the political impartiality guidance.
As you know, a general election has been called for 12 December 2019. This means we are now in a regulated period under electoral law and there are rules about how much money organisations can spend campaigning in connection to a General Election, which means that we have to make sure that we are aware of any work that is being done in our name or by coalitions we are part of.
As we frequently work together, this email is to make it clear that from now until the date of the election, we agree that we are doing the following work together (list any upcoming plans you may have with that group), and do not agree to other joint work unless agreed separately. This is a precaution to ensure we comply with electoral law.