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How Rishi Sunak ‘Changed the Rules’ to Keep the Conservative Party in Power

The Prime Minister accused Keir Starmer of wanting to “change the rules so they’re in power for a very long time”, despite the Conservatives making a long list of changes to elections designed to keep them in office

Rishi Sunak launches the Conservative party’s 2024 general election manifesto. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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“If Labour wins this time, they’ll change the rules so they’re in power for a very long time”, Rishi Sunak said this morning, as he published the Conservative party’s election manifesto.

His justification for this dramatic claim was that the Labour leader Keir Starmer has announced that he plans to extend the right to vote to all 16-year-olds, therefore making it, in Sunak’s words “harder to remove him from power”.

Now, aside from what this says about the Conservative party’s view of young people, and their right to be heard, this is a quite extraordinarily hypocritical comment from the Prime Minister. 

In reality, Sunak’s own Government has itself made a whole series of “rule-changes” to our electoral system, all of which appear designed to keep his party in power for longer.

Here are just some of the changes brought in over recent years.

Changed Electoral systems

One of the biggest rule-changes brought in by this Government, has been its changes to the electoral systems used in mayoral and PCC elections. At last month’s local elections, a whole series of contests around the country were held for the first time under the First Past the Post electoral system, whereas they had previously been held under a more proportional system.

When the changes were first announced in 2021 experts predicted that it would make it easier for Conservative candidates to win, due to the greater fragmentation of the left-wing vote. Voters also complained about the “undemocratic” nature of the plans.

Despite the changes, the Conservative party went on to lose all but one of the mayoral seats they held across the county.

Introduced Voter ID

The most controversial rule change brought in by the Conservative Party has been the requirement that all voters should show photographic ID in order to vote. The law was brought in despite there being no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter fraud anywhere in the UK, and despite evidence that it would lead to thousands of people losing their ability to vote.

Suspicions about the real purpose of the law were first raised when the list of acceptable IDs was published and it excluded many forms of ID used by younger voters, while including many more forms of ID used by older voters.

The changes had some unexpected side-effects, including the exclusion of certain groups of voters not anticipated to be affected. A recently-leaked memo by the Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer revealed that he had repeatedly lobbied Downing Street for veterans to also be able to use their veteran ID cards in order to vote.

However, his requests were denied by those around Rishi Sunak due to fears that it would “open the floodgates” to students also being allowed to use their ID cards to vote.


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Some Conservatives fear the change may actually have backfired on the party, however, with the former Brexit Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg saying last year that the plan was a deliberate attempt to “gerrymander” elections on the behalf of the Conservative Party, which had backfired due to many Conservative voters being excluded. In last month’s local elections those barred from voting due to not having the correct ID included a Conservative MP and the former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who introduced the new requirements in the first place.

Interfering with the Elections Watchdog

Democracy campaigners raised concerns earlier this year about new measures, which appeared designed to erode the freedom of the official elections watchdog. They warned that the changes meant that the Electoral Commission, which regulates UK elections and donations, would be under great threat from ministerial interference.

Under the changes, ministers were able to alter the watchdog’s strategy and priorities, to give it a new focus on voter fraud, while failing to focus on issues such as electoral malpractice and interference.

Raised Election Spending Limits

As Byline Times revealed earlier this year, with just weeks to go until the general election, Sunak’s government slipped out plans to nearly double election spending limits, with the maximum spending cap rising from around £19m to £36m. 

This has allowed them to accept huge donations from donors like Frank Hester, whose millions of pounds of donations to the party were accepted despite his record of racist comments, including about Labour MP Diane Abbott.

Earlier changes brought in by Sunak’s Government also raised the amount that donors could donate to political parties, while keeping the source of their donations secret.


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Extending Overseas Votes and Donations

Another big change sneaked through by Sunak’s Government has been changes to overseas voting. As this paper has previously reported, while the Government has made it significantly more difficult for UK voters, and particularly younger voters, to make their democratic choice, they have at the same time reduced the barriers to overseas voters doing the same.

Under the changes, Brits living overseas have been allowed to have their identity confirmed by an existing UK voter – while rejecting calls for the same rules to apply to in-person voters who lack photo ID. 

The changes have also made it easier for overseas voters to donate to political parties, with campaigners warning that it could open the doors to further opaque donations and potential foreign political interference.

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