This election is about protecting our democracy

Remember the Brexit “Battle Bus” with this slogan, “We send the EU £350 million a week lets fund our NHS instead Vote Leave”? It was powerful and “misleading” according to the UK Statistics Authority. Mr Farage referred to it as a “mistake”.

No! “The number plastered on the side of the Brexit bus was a big fat lie.” 

It was not a mistake because it affected the “Brexit” result the way Mr Farage wanted.

In short, we were misled and those who subverted our democracy with this deception have gone unpunished. Therefore it will happen again to further diminish democracy.

Last month the CPS announced that there would be no criminal charges brought against 14 MPs over their expenses in the 2015 election. In March 2017, The Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party a record £70,000 for “numerous failures” in reporting expenses for the 2015 General Election. For that election the Conservatives raised some £38, 000,000. 

Their fine for gaining an unfair advantage in winning the 2015 election is 0.01842105%  of their £38 million “war Chest”. An inconsequential punishment and a ballot box bargain!

In short, there is no effective discouragement of the financial subversion of our democracy. Whether it was accidental or deliberate matters not. What matters is the harm done to our democracy and the acceptance of such harm to our democracy.

This CPS decision also undermines our legal system. It stated “- it is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly. Therefore we have concluded it is not in the public interest to charge anyone referred to us with this offence.”

In short, the CPS establishes the precedent that if your [political?] boss tells you to do something illegal and you do it, then no one will be prosecuted.

The BBC Trust ruled that “BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg breached the BBC’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines by editing film so that Mr Corbyn appeared to answer one question when he was, in reality, answering another. The Trust found this inaccuracy was “compounded” when she went on to state that Jeremy Corbin’s message “couldn’t be more different” from that of David Cameron. The Trust also found that there was no evidence of bias or intent on the part of the journalist.

Even without bias or intent this is a fundamental abuse of trust and  professionalism for either there was no need to change the film or, if there were, that fact could and should have been stated.

James Harding, the director of BBC News, stated, “While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.”

In short, the head of BBC News is content with his viewers being presented with information that “was not duly accurate”, as the Trust said  “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern.”

Perhaps this election is about more than winning seats. Perhaps it is also about our speaking up, and possibly more, to make our country safe and healthy for democracy?

* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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7 Comments

  • James Morshead 22nd May '17 - 5:49pm

    I quite agree, Steve, but I admit I was hoping this would be the article to express our fury at the Tories current gerrymandering efforts. Propping up the 2 party state as it is is bad enough, but we’re seeing proposals to roll back what democratic plurality we have left.
    For regional mayors, for example, electing an individual instead of an assembly is poor, eliminating the possibility of proportional representation. Using additional vote instead of full STV, cutting off choice after 2 parties, was then blatant enough. But now they’re proposing regressing to FPTP for mayoral elections, to keep themselves in power. Add to that how spending rules were limited to enable Tories to buy elections, Andy Street spending nearly £1m.
    We should go stronger on electoral reform, on ending the biggest Establishment stitch-up of the lot. Label Tories and Labour as The Establishment, stifling choice and progressive politics. This not only reminds people of our radicalism, but also puts pressure on Labour to come into line or face the consequences. Once committed to electoral reform, it would be hard for them to backpedal later.

  • Laurence Cox 22nd May '17 - 8:58pm

    As I have written on this subject elsewhere:

    “The control of campaign spending is a horrible mess. We have a system that developed from a time when effectively the only national spending was on large billboards or advertisements in national newspapers to one in which the pseudo-national spending outweighs the genuinely local spending. So, in the last three weeks I have received from just one party: a leaflet from my MP, carefully timed to be delivered just before the dissolution of Parliament (so outside election expenses), one leaflet promoting the national party without specifically mentioning my MP by name or constituency (so covered by national spending limits) and today one letter from my MP as a candidate seeking my vote. Only this last letter has to be accounted for in the local expenses return. Add to this Facebook advertising and the amount that is actually spent on influencing electors in an individual constituency but accounted for nationally far outweighs what is accounted for locally.”

    “Perhaps the best approach would be to increase the amount allowed to be spent locally (the expenses limit for Parliamentary by-elections is higher than for general elections) but to block national spending entirely. There is a mechanism already that allows an Election Agent to authorise others to incur expenditure in a election on a candidate’s behalf (Section 75 of the Representation of the People Act 1983) and for this to be recorded in the election expenses return.”

    Where, as in the example above, a national leaflet is directed at a voter in a particular constituency, the mere fact that the voter is a registered elector in that constituency should dictate that the expenditure be accounted for locally. We should not be moaning about the CPS’ failure to prosecute but taking measures to change the rules on election expenditure.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd May '17 - 9:10pm

    I don’t suppose you think it’s possible that people didn’t believe the £350m claim, or at least interpreted it for themselves, and still dislike the EU?

    Mr Trevethen, with respect, there seems to be this idea doing the rounds at the moment that the public are thick. Perhaps a start-point might be to give the public just a bit of credit?

  • To be fair, Farage didn’t have anything to do with the 350 million bus, that was from the official Leave campaign which sidelined him, leaving Farage to run his own campaign.

    I don’t know why everyone is so shocked that he isn’t willing to defend it.

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd May '17 - 4:54pm

    Thank you for the comments.

    Perhaps proportional fines for errors relating to elections might reduce such errors. When it pays to cheat, cheating will continue and/or increase. Fines could take the form of a painful proportion of funds raised and/or the loss of a significant proportion of votes for the party /parties in error.

    The “mistake” comment is helpful. Thank you!. There appears to be an unstated convention that when someone says that there has been a mistake, the matter is closed. [This appears to be even more so if they say that they have put their hand up. The reasoning here eludes me.] There might be fewer such “mistakes” if there were always a prompt public investigation as to effects, contexts, benefits and losses etc. and changes to rules, regulations etc. to hamper repetition.

    Perhaps the CPS might do itself, and us, a favour if it made procedural and/or legal recommendations when they make contentious decisions so that the context of the problem is improved for the future.

    One approach might be to have a randomly chosen “jury” of citizens who consider the matter and present their findings/observations and recommendations.

    Ditto a randomly and so genuinely independent and more representative governing body for the BBC, which appears to be a law unto itself.

    Main Stream Media balance? A maximum of one “voice” only?

    Might such, or better reforms form part of Lib Dem policy? It might help us on the way to more representative democracy.

    [P.S. Perhaps wealth proportional fines all round might be an appropriate policy for greater equity and efficiency in our society?]

  • Richard Underhill 25th Sep '17 - 6:05pm

    Laura K has an ex-soldier bodyguard at the Labour conference, because of trolls.
    Shame on them.
    Times 25/9/2017 page one.

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