Queen's Policy Engagement

What to expect from Transparency and Integrity Reform after the General Election: Manifesto Analysis

In light of tomorrow's election, Dr Michele Crepaz and Dr Ben Worthy review the main party manifestos and their pledges for transparency and integrity reform.

What to expect from Transparency and Integrity Reform after the General Election: Manifesto Analysis

The General Election, unexpectedly called by the PM and scheduled for July 4th, is fast approaching. In late 2023, when journalists and analysts were expecting an autumn or winter election, political reform on the UK’s transparency and integrity system was considered a hot topic and high on the next government’s agenda. Back then, we offered our own interpretation of the possible paths for reform that lay ahead. Six months later, trust in government, parties, and politicians is still dangerously low, and citizens still expect the next government to address issues of lack of transparency and integrity that have been prominent during the Tory administration.

This week, the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, and Greens published their electoral manifestos, and other parties will soon follow. We have started looking into these documents and benchmarking their pledges for transparency and integrity reform against the paths of reform we previously identified.

To do so, we focus on three main shortcomings of the current Westminster system, namely transparency, enforcement mechanisms, and lobbying integrity and the level of ambition of the suggested reforms in relation to these three dimensions.

First, it needs to be noted that the Conservative Party manifesto, 80 pages long, does not address the topic of transparency and integrity reform, nor does it mention or commit to provisions to improve existing rules and regulations on conflict of interest, lobbying, second jobs, or campaigning transparency. While transparency and integrity reform is certainly closer to the heart of Labour’s and the Lib Dems’ agenda, one would have expected to see the Tories addressing this topic, after the succession of lobbying and conflict of interest scandals affecting the party at several levels during Johnson’s, Truss’, and even Sunak’s premiership.

The Lib Dems, as pledged also in previous GE manifestos, are ambitious on the transparency front. First, they commit to aligning the Ministers’ conflict of interest declarations with the register of the House of Commons, which would result in more frequent disclosures. Second, as recommended by PACAC, they seek to extend transparency (under, for example, FOI) to instant messaging within ministerial departments as well as in meetings with lobbyists. Thirdly, they pledge to reform the toothless 2014 Lobbying Act; however, they miss specifying the ambition of such reform. Finally, with regards to the enforcement of transparency and integrity rules, the Lib Dems’ manifesto pledges to improve the independence and investigative powers of different enforcement actors: on the one hand, of the Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, currently lacking independence and legitimacy because they are appointed by the prime minister; on the other hand, of the Electoral Commission, whose role – it is suggested – should be expanded to maintain an innovative transparency register of political advertising, donations, and campaign spending.

Comparatively, the Labour Party’s manifesto is most ambitious as far as lobbying integrity and enforcement is concerned, but less so on the transparency front. The party has decided to focus mostly on stronger revolving door rules and the ban of second jobs in Parliament. Its strongest proposal would certainly be the establishment of a new Ethics and Integrity Commission, with its own independent Chair, tasked with ensuring probity in government. This was an expected commitment that was already announced in 2021 based on earlier recommendations by the Public Administration Select Committee and a series of high-profile integrity scandals in the Conservative Party. Should Labour lead the next government, the creation of this agency will represent an ambitious but complex task. As already pointed out by the Constitution Unit, it remains to be seen whether this Commission would replace the existing constitutional watchdogs or act as an umbrella body for their procedures.

Lastly, the Green Party, like the Lib Dems, declared the need for reform of the 2014 Lobbying Act. In addition, and innovatively, they propose to regulate the work of think tanks, particularly as far as political and policy activities are concerned. The proposal speaks of establishing think tanks as a distinct legal entity for political foundations with a requirement to be transparent, especially when it comes to sources of funding.

Our quick analysis shows that commitments for transparency and integrity reform are a GE topic for Labour, Lib Dems, and the Greens, but have been ignored by the Conservatives, at least as far as their manifesto is concerned. Going forward, it will be interesting to monitor to what extent this agenda point will feature in debates ahead of the vote and whether other parties, which haven’t published their manifestos yet, will address this point. Follow our work to find out.

 

About the Authors

Dr Ben Worthy joined Birkbeck College in 2012 and is a senior lecturer in politics. His research interests include Government Transparency, Open Data, Political leadership, British Politics, Digital Democracy and Public Policy and Policy-making. He has written articles for Governance, Parliamentary Affairs and Public Administration. He has also written a number of reports and presented evidence to the Justice Select Committee.

Dr Michele Crepaz is a Vice-Chancellor Illuminate Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast. His research interests lie at the intersection between comparative politics and public policy and is particularly interested in the role of interest groups and transparency in politics.

 

The featured image has been used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Michele Crepaz
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Dr Michele Crepaz is a Vice-Chancellor Illuminate Fellow in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen's University Belfast. His research interests lie at the intersection between comparative politics and public policy and he is particularly interested in the role of interest groups and transparency in politics.

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