Police investigate Labour’s Lewisham by-election campaign

Dave Hill reports:

Lewisham police are investigating a campaign leaflet published on behalf of two London Labour Party byelection candidates to consider if it transgresses electoral law. The leaflet, which appears to have been distributed on polling day during the recent campaign for Lewisham Council’s Downham ward, claimed:

Our exit polls show: the BNP winning in Downham. It’s more important than ever to VOTE LABOUR TODAY

Lewisham has confirmed that its returning officer has passed the leaflet to the police, who are looking into any breach of the 1983 Representation of the People Act. This sets out restrictions relating to the use of or reference to exit polls before an election is complete.

The relevant part of the law is Section 66A of the 1983 Representation of the People Act, breaches of which can result in a fine or up to six months imprisonment: “No person shall … publish before the poll is closed (a) any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted.”

In other words, it’s ok to publish leaflets based on previous election results, the previous week’s canvass returns and so on – but not one that purports to be based on an exit poll of how people have voted so far that day.

Having looked at the leaflet in question myself, it looks to be a pretty open and shut case of publishing a leaflet which breaches this as you can see (note the “Our Exit Polls Show” in the top left):

Downham by-election Labour leaflet

The real question is whether the police/CPS decide it is the public interest to prosecute.

Chris Maines, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group said, “By referring to an ‘Exit Poll’ and distributing this leaflet on polling day, the Labour Party clearly tried to swing this election in their favour by any method possible. I think this is a clear breach of electoral law and I hope the Police take action.”

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9 Comments

  • 1. potential breach of law

    2. stupid & reckless talking-up of BNP

  • I would think a fine would be in order for such a blatant breach

  • Frankly I don’t care whether it was a ‘mistake by someone who didn’t know better’. Labour have form on this and the tactic is clearly encouraged from on high.

    They have been using this tactic of talking up the BNP since the 1993 Millwall by-election when as a result of their campaign Derek Beacon became the first elected BNP councillor. Labour were pleased as it prevented the much bigger threat of a Lib Dem win.

    Labour continue to play the race card (sometimes with fradulent postal votes attached) at every opportunity and encourage ad hominem politics (a la Hodge Hill) as a way of campaigning.

    Their offical advice on ‘beating the Liberals’ says ‘Find one flaw and smear them all. Go negative until swamped by complaints. Then do it again.’

    Downham is just the latest in a long series…

  • Brian Paddick 14th Mar '09 - 9:36am

    1. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Labour should be prosecuted. If they think they can get away with it, they will do it again.
    2. By suggesting the BNP were winning, Labour could have encouraged more BNP supporters to come out and vote. If the BNP supporters initially thought their candidate did not stand a chance, they might have turned out as a result of the ‘encouraging news’ from Labour.

  • A number of idioms spring to mind…
    1. There but for the grace of god go I.
    2. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
    3. Pot calling the kettle black.
    If Labour the Tories and ourselves think that by playing these silly games trying to discredit the BNP they are actually having an impact on public opinion then we are all suffering from a case of mass delusion. The reason the public across all social classes are increasingly turning to issue based politics is because of the failure of the main parties to listen. How many of you for example were proud of the parties stance on the Lisbon Treaty, when despite promising a referendum, we pathetically supported the government in denying the public a vote, and then tried to con the public by telling them that we would support an alternative vote on whether we should stay in Europe or leave completely.
    The BNP will fail not by this conspiracy of the main parties to try and discredit them, but because eventually after they have had a modicum of success the penny will drop. The problem we all have is that it may be already too late.

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