Police urged to investigate campaign against Labour and Lib Dem councillors in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Liberal Democrats are asking the police to investigate campaign leaflets put out during this year’s council elections which attacked both Lib Dem and Labour councillors for their views on providing space for Travellers.

A series of leaflets were put out during the election attacking named candidates from the two parties, accusing them of putting too much effort into housing Travellers compared to “the homeless, OAPs, and the disabled”. Although the leaflets contained a name and phone number, they did not contain the election imprint information required by law on such leaflets.

Moreover, credible estimates of the costs involved in producing and distributing the leaflets far exceed the legal limit for ‘third party’ campaigning during the council elections.

Third party campaigning of this sort against candidates can be carried out by anyone, but there is a limit in each ward of £50 plus 0.5p per entry on the electoral register for the electoral area. The local party has been told that the leaflets were delivered by a local commercial delivery firm, whose advertised rates far exceed the third party limit, even without factoring in printing costs or any allowance for the costs of more general newspaper adverts run on the same issue by the same group of people.

 

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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29 Comments

  • The Residents newsletter is a regular local newsletter published by a residents group. And it is hardly surprising they report the councils recent vote on the Fenny lock travellers site at the special meeting considering this is a big local issue, particularly in the Walton Park area.

    This looks like professional politicians wanting to avoid responsibility for their actions and hide behind the elections rules (drawn up by other professional politicians) to deny the public information before they vote with this article being a whinge that they failed to get away with it.

  • “Third party campaigning of this sort against candidates can be carried out by anyone, but there is a limit in each ward of £50 plus 0.5p per entry on the electoral register for the electoral area.”

    So am I right in thinking that the parties mentioned are complaining that this representative residents group over spent? As a former secretary of a residents group I can tell you that money is a major problem for such groups, however what seems to be the case here is that the relevant rules need to be updated to realistically cover the cost of printing and distributing such material.

    A further point I’d make is that Residents Groups are NOT political parties, but made up of local people concerned about local issues and as such do not have access to or familiarity with the precise legal strictures third parties must adhere to in elections.

    This complaint smacks of sour grapes, and appears malicious after the fact, clearly the parties mentioned need to get back to grass roots and find out just exactly what issues on the ground are of major concern to the electorate.

  • The Milton Keynes Liberal Democrat Party and the Milton Keynes Labour party have not exactly endeared themselves to the Residents group by supporting the Fenny lock travellers site. I don’t think calling in the police on a election cost tecnicality of which we were unaware will do anything to rectify this, as “A Liberal” says the rules here need to be updated to realistically cover the cost of printing and distributing ONE leaflet. (I had at least 3 through my letter box from the Lib Dems, 4 from the Conservatives, 1 from Labour and nothing from either the Green or the UKIP candidates).

    If the Lib Dem and Labour politicians don’t want to be held to account for supporting the Fenny lock travellers site perhaps the should have voted differently? The Greens and the Conservatives did not vote for it and so were not mentioned. (UKIP could not vote for or against it as they did not have any council members but had said that they would not have supported it).

  • I should also point out that calling in the police (using any excuse they can) seems to be the modus operandi of the Milton Keynes Liberal Democrat Party who filed a complaint to the police in the same election that the Conservative candidate was “inciting racial hatred” because she had mentioned that she did not support the Fenny lock travellers site in one of her leaflets.

    I know I and others resented being branded as racists because we were opposed to this development.

  • As a councillor in Milton Keynes, a couple of factual comments: Firstly the leaflets were backed up with similarly styled newspaper ads throughout the campaign, undoubtedly with their own expense. Secondly there is no suggestion of a cover up; the issue was regularly reported in the local paper and was the only issue highlighted in some Tory leaflets. We were under no illusions that supporting a travellers site was not likely to be a vote-winner, nor that our opponents would not use it against us. We simply felt it was the right thing to do, and Labour (eventually) followed our lead. I’ve had the courage of my convictions and explained why I supported the site in my latest FOCUS – not a single complaint to date.

    I have to challenge A Liberal’s comment about the naivety of the Residents group. They printed various versions of the leaflet relevant to each ward, arranged for newspaper ads and engaged a commercial delivery company to distribute the leaflets (although amusingly we think someone’s wires got crossed and they put out the wrong versions in several wards.) If they have the capacity to do all that, and have chosen to engage in the political process, then there is no excuse for not following election law.

  • tpfkar – I am surprised that someone who claims to be from a democratic party would object to ordinary people getting involved in the democratic process and local issues that they care deeply about.

    I’ll tell you what the residents group will stop using Adverts and Leaflets and just rely on local News coverage for the issues that matter to them if the Milton Keynes Liberal Democrats agree to do the same. Deal?

  • Dean, how about an even better deal – Milton Keynes Liberal Democrats and the residents group both agree to abide by election law, and that the best people to investigate allegations of either side breaking the law are the police.

  • Duncan – So you back Milton Keynes Liberal Democrats bully boy tactics? They have a history of fileing malicious police complaints against anyone who disagrees with them as I explained above. Trying to silence any critics and scare off opponents, this is just the latest example.

    Can you not see that in a democracy the is something fundamentally wrong with politicians making laws designed to protect the politicians from being held to account for their actions by the people during an election? – no we must protect the politicians at all costs and use the power of the law to silence the people!

  • Hi Dean. One of the saddest things about the results for me was the turnout across MK, with several wards reporting under 30% of eligible residents voting.

    I sensed on the doorstep a real detachment from and mistrust of all parties and I believe many other areas found the same. So of course I welcome engagement with issues and democracy and have no problem with any group that wishes to do that; leaflets are clearly an effective way to reach large numbers of people.

    The difficulty in the leaflets put out is the reference to the political groups and the local elections, so it comes across as an attempt to influence votes as much as to highlight the issue – it’s the crossing of that line that raises questions under election law.

    Another unwelcome aspect is the sense that it’s ordinary people against the political parties. I wanted to get involved so I joined the Lib Dems and started campaigning in my area, as a very ordinary person indeed, and it’s been a privilege to serve on the council. I live in my ward, and I try to spend as much time out and about as I can to avoid any perception of being detached.

    Perhaps if you really want to get involved with the democratic process, you might consider putting candidates forward or even offering to get involved with one of the existing parties – you might be surprised by the people you will find.

  • John Richardson 16th May '12 - 4:42pm

    Dean, the campaign finance laws were put in place for precisely the opposite reason to the one you suggest. To prevent money trumping ideas! This Residents’ Association are not ‘the people’, they are a politically active group out to influence the decision of the people. They are basically politicians themselves! There is no justification for exempting this group from campaign spending restrictions. Their point of view is no more or less important than anybody else’s.

  • tpfkar – I completely agree with you about the poor turnout. People have a right to abstain I suppose but such a low level of engagement in our towns public life is disappointing for all. I wonder what might be the solution to the problem of voter detachment and mistrust political parties? Something that has been suggested in that wake of all this is that the residents group runs candidates independent from political partys in future local election – this would avoid the problem of us accidently overspending as appears to be the case this time and may help with the distrust\apathy. At the minimum it would provide voters with an extra choice. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    I must admit perhaps we have been forgetful that not all people who are involved with the political partys are professional politicians. I know I have been guilty of seeing you all as somehow different to “ordinary residents” at times, perhaps this is a prejudice of mine you are right to point out.

    I hope you will accept that the overspending mistake was a genuine one. I am not involved in politics on a daily basis and I honestly don’t think we realised that the were rules governing what can be spent by a person who is not a candidate. Yes we tried to get involved and hold the politicians to account at election time – I believe in a democracy we should be able to do this and maybe these rules need looking at?

  • John Napper 16th May '12 - 4:51pm

    I have just read this leaflet. I don’t know who was responsible for it, but it doesn’t look like a political party product to me. It’s a group of nimbys who don’t want travellers.

    The problem with travellers is that they will come whether you like it or not and the provision of sites is a way to control them. No sites available means they will park where they like which is certainly not welcome.

    What annoys me about this leaflet is the mention of Homeless, OAPS & Disabled. You can be sure that the group who produced this leaflet don’t care about these people either, they just don’t want council money spent on travellers’ sites. You can safely bet that if this group was offered the option of spending the money on priority housing or a council tax cut, they would take the tax cut.

  • Tony Dawson 16th May '12 - 4:57pm

    ‘Dean’ might it not occur to you that some might see YOU as being he one who is a ‘nasty politician’? Nasty politics is nasty politics irrespective of whether you are involved in a political party. You were playing politics, involving yourself directly in electoral matters as a propagandist but expecting to not have to abide by the same rules as other people have to abide by. What you were doing was NOT ‘holding the politicians to account’. You were attempting to put your own ‘spin’ on reality and spend considerable sums of money to advance one set of issues above other issues in the campaign. You are perfectly entitled to do this if you stick to the rules. You claim not to realise that there are rules about this during an election. Might you say the same thing to the policeman when you are caught doing 140 mph on the motorway?

  • Tony Dawson – You must be suffering from being in the political bubble too long. However it is amusing to see you blame the residents for being mean for daring judging the lovely politians on there actions.

    Simon Shaw – The issue of the Fenny lock travellers site engaged a lot of people and many came forward to get involved at that time.

    Mark Park – Not really fair when it is the politians who are writing favourable rules for themselves while restricting what others can do. I made the point earlier that I received 4 leaflets for the Conservatives, 3 from the Lib Dems and 1 from Labour and an organisation independent of the political partys produces one leaflet and we are the ones the Lib Dems report to the police. This 1 rule for us, 1 rule for others is exactly what turns a lot of people off getting involved with the council\goverment.

  • John Richardson 16th May '12 - 6:27pm

    This 1 rule for us, 1 rule for others

    But you’re the only one advocating that! Everybody else is saying the rules should apply equally to all those involved in the political process.

    No doubt the leaflets you received from the political parties were delivered by volunteers not a delivery company. If the Residents’ Association had done that they would not have exceeded the spending limits and there would be no case to answer.

  • Tony Dawson 16th May '12 - 7:27pm

    Dean, I don’t think you are ‘residents’. You are just SOME residents, the same as the candidates in the election are ‘residents’. You speak just for yourself and perhaps the odd friend but hide behind a pseudo title to give yourself ‘authority’. Your contribution on here shows beyond any shadow of doubt that you are a politician par excellence – including a fine line in excuses and red herrings when you get caught!

  • Dean, to me the Residents’ group could have done two things. As you say, they could have chosen to stand candidates of their own which would have limited the spending to the same as everyone else – this has been done in other areas where something like this comes up. The big problem though is when these councillors are elected, overturn the decision they don’t like, then find that they’ve suddenly got to make lots of decisions on things that they haven’t really thought about before. Not too different from those of us in political parties, but at least we usually have some policies to guide us and a direction which is generally the same.

    The group could also have simply put out a newsletter making the group’s position clear on the sites. That wouldn’t be electioneering so wouldn’t incur expenses.

    What they did though was state opposition to two specific candidates – which inferred support of others and thus got themselves embroiled in this argument. A quick phone call to the Returning Officer’s office might actually have solved the problem, but I suspect this wasn’t done. I understand your point about people just wanting to do their best for their area, but there are laws which need to be kept to.

  • Political parties, and ‘professional’ politicians are all ordinary people too with an interest in the political process and supporting their local communities; we all have to abide by the law as all citizens have to. But either way, these are not favourable rules determined by ‘professional’ politicians but sensible laws designed to ensure a level playing field that is not dominated by resource, bias, and a lack of information for the electorate.

    The problem with not having an imprint is that the leaflet doesn’t actually inform residents who you are (and many will not know who you are [there are always some!]) so I do not know to what extent the attack on political parties is a committee/individual/residentsassociation/political/other decision. The law is only there to ensure that spending is equal and information is actually at its highest level.

    Finally, you did not need to put the leaflet out to inform residents as I gather the Conservatives were doing that well enough at the time.

  • Grammar Police 17th May '12 - 9:07am

    Unfortunately Dean, any group attempting to influence the outcome of an election has to abide by electoral law – the same rules that everyone has to abide by.

    If the residents group broke these laws then they should be dealt with appropriately. To claim that politicians have written these laws to favour themselves is disingenuous at best. The expenses limits are to stop rich individuals/groups “buying” the election, and to create a more level playing field.

    IMO your residents group deserves everything it gets for trying to subvert rules that the other people involved in the election were constrained by.

  • “Firstly the leaflets were backed up with similarly styled newspaper ads throughout the campaign, undoubtedly with their own expense”

    “They printed various versions of the leaflet relevant to each ward, arranged for newspaper ads and engaged a commercial delivery company to distribute the leaflets ”

    If the above statements by @tpfkar are factual, which I have no reason to dispute, then ofcourse a police investigation is warranted, in my experience a ‘Residents Association’ would simply not have the funds necessary to achieve this. It will be interesting to see the results of the police investigation.

  • @Simon Shaw – we can’t have a Goldsmith buying a constituency – oh no. That wouldn’t do at all. Ahem.

  • Dean – sorry I haven’t yet replied to your question about standing candidates. had you stood this time, the outcome would likely have been to give us 1/2 extra seats! Probably not what you intended, but you would likely have taken votes from the Tories and we lost a seat by 4 votes, and another by just less than 150.

    This illustrates the difficulties in standing as a single issue party when another party agrees with you. There was clearly a small number of vocal people for whom this issue determined how they voted. That group would all have gone for the Tories (possibly UKIP but they did very poorly) so I think that’s the pool you would have been fishing from had you stood. But with Labour gaining 7 seats across MK, it’s hard to argue that this was the pivotal issue across the borough for a large group.

    However you would have been on much safer ground putting out overtly political leaflets had you been standing yourself, and it would have given you a name and contact point (for queries and potential helpers) rather than the semi-anonymous ‘Residents Group’ so it may well be in your interests in future.

  • Derek Eastman 4th Jul '12 - 8:53am

    It been a few weeks and I was on holiday when I was dealing with this. Let me say quite clearly…. I have no problem with anyone putting out a leaflet if the election law is complied with. In this case it wasn’t. It is also against the law to tell lies in leaflets. In this case lies weer told. The need for an imprint with name and address deatails is so that agents or others can contact the people responsible. In this case details were not provided and all I could do was leave a voice message, which was intially ignored. These leaflets were not from a residents association but was led by a failed UKIP candidate. I want free, fair and open elections. This does not help promote that.

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