The Russian invasion of Ukraine and this Thursday’s European Parliament elections may seem like two rather distant events.
The connection is Moscow’s attempts to stop the spread of the European Union into what it viewed as its backyard and to weaken its global rival by sowing internal dissent. Just as the Kremlin interfered in the US elections to help elect Donald Trump, who last year described the EU as a “foe”, there are now suggestions it has been trying to do manipulate the EU elections.
In a report for the Electoral Reform Society, called Reining in the Political ‘Wild West’, Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan warned that “democracy is at a critical juncture”.
The UK’s current election rules, she pointed out, were outdated, having been written in 2000 before the dawn of the social media age.
“We live in a time when our democratic processes face considerable threats from a range of sources – from ‘dark ads’ and fake news, to foreign interference and the misuse of personal data on a monumental scale,” she said.
It is in this context that Gordon Brown asked the Electoral Commission to investigate Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party for allegedly receiving a large number of donations in the form of “undeclared, untraceable payments”.
According to our outdated rules, payments of less than £500 do not have to be declared. The former Prime Minister pointed out that the Brexit Party’s use of PayPal for donations meant there was no way to tell who was making the payments, so a single source could give more in instalments.
“You can pay to this party in Russian roubles or American dollars,” Brown added, pointedly. Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice’s response – “I don’t sit in front of the PayPal account all day so I don’t know what currencies people are paying in” – is simply not good enough. If democracy in the UK is to survive this “critical juncture”, it needs rules that ensure the transparency of large political donations and politicians willing to assist in that process.
What it does not need, however, is people throwing milkshakes as some misguided fools have taken to doing at political figures like Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson. It is all too easy for a food fight to turn into a real fight – the kind of unrest that would play into the hands of the Kremlin and other enemies of Europe’s liberal democracies.