Friday, February 23, 2007

UKIP Donation Row: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has just appeared on Sky News alleging that the Electoral Commission is part of an establishment plot to close them down. If I were in his position I'd probably play the injured party to gain public sympathy. After all, for a Party with an annual income of £250,000, it could be curtains if they have to find £367,000 to hand over to Gordon Brown (under the rules the donation is not returned to the donor). Let's ignore the party political side of this for a moment and look at it dispassionately.

Farage is right when he says that the legislation was drafted to catch illicit foreign donations. He alleges it is all down to a simple clerical error. Well, up to a point. It is actually illegal not to put yourself on the electoral register, and we should not ignore the fact it was down to UKIP to ensure he was actually on it. This partly explains why UKIP's accounts are so late. It is clear that UKIP knew this was going to be an issue and have spent the last six months attempting to persuade the Electoral Commission to give them nothing more than a rap on the knuckles.

There is also the issue of fair play here. It was quite right to fine them for the late submission of their accounts, but it is certainly arguable that the punishment of losing £367,000 was far worse than the crime. Their was no attempt to deceive, the donor was British and it was fully declared, albeit late. The question for UKIP now is whether they can afford a Judicial Review. I am no lawyer, but it is certainly a case that is ripe for one I would have thought.

I'm also interested in the implications of this for the Liberal Democrats who still face the prospect of repaying the £2.4 million they received from the jailed fraudster Michael Brown. The Electoral Commission had intended to make a judgement on the permissability of the donation by the end of last year, but as the City of London Police are still conducting their own inquiry, the Commission is waiting until that comes to an end.

37 comments:

achilles said...

The law is an ass. UKIP need to get their house in order but they don't deserve what has happened to them.

I'm not a supporter of theirs but I absolutely love the way they wind up the EU. I would consider contributing to a rescue fund just to see more of their antics in the EU parliament....

Tim Worstall said...

I've read somewhere or other today that judicial review isn't the next step. A Magistrate's Court is. At least I hope so, for we tend not to take people's money away without the intervention of a court.
Now, what the Magistrates will do (or even what they can do) is another matter. Might they just rap them on the knuckles instead?
But I am pretty sure that the EC is "making an application", not announcing that the fine must be paid.

AnyoneButBlair said...

Feels a bit harsh doesn't it? Galling for a legitimate political party to effectively go bankrupt by being forced to give a relatively (to the government) piffling amount of cash to a certain Mr. G Brown who specialises in wasting truly epic sums of cash.

permanentexpat said...

The lengths to which the political establishment will go to rid themselves of the UKIP thorn in their sides is a source of wonderment and reflects their belief that UKIP is a SERIOUS threat to them. In the meantime, all seems to have gone peculiarly quiet on the cash for peerages megacorruption front. Banana Republic tactics. No surprizes there.

Sabretache said...

I agree. I'm no fan of UKIP either but, in all the circumstances, it is OTT IMHO.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"The question for UKIP now is whether they can afford a Judicial Review. I am no lawyer, but it is certainly a case that is ripe for one I would have thought."

I'm pretty certain that the EC has to go to a court to obtain the money anyway; I also believe that the judge has a large amount of discretion in cases like these.

It is inevitable, though, that UKIP will be hit for a lot of cash, through lawyers' fees if nothing else...

DK

bt said...

Doubt that there's an actual plot to put them out of business, but there'd be many from the three main parties who would be happy to see it happen, particularly if it were to be accomplished via a supposedly unbiased body like the Electoral Commission.

Expect lots of manoeuvring in the background as pressure is applied, reminiscient of BA et al using the establishment to crush Skytrain.

Nobody believes that UKIP are major electoral contenders, but they're very dangerous for all that. They keep on articulating these policies that so many agree with - out of the EU, Grammar Schools and so on, that the main parties don't want the public to be reminded of. Much better in their view if UKIP weren't around to piss in the soup.

No, IMO the punishment doesn't fit the crime. So far as I've been able to find out there was no intention to deceive or to break the law. As such it should be treated as a 'paperwork technicality' breech at most. Smallish fine, rapped knuckles would be just.

But if they were to be put out of business, I'd bet that there would be a near-identical replacement for them set up in pretty short order. And since the main parties are so awful it'd probably get my vote.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of UKIP, but this does seem incredibly harsh. Especially as it could close them down - totally.

Why can't the donation be repaid to the donor? Why isn't the fine enough?

I can't imagine the Lib Dems, Labour our ourselves taking this lying down if we had to hand over a multi-million pound donation to the treasury!!

mark williams said...

Just because the donor was British shouldn't mean that he is entitled to make a donation. PPERA draws a very clear dividing line and it is the responsibility of every subject of the crown to register if he wants to vote or make a donation. This distinction allows foreign nationals (who are entitled to vote in local and EU elections) to make donations, which seems fair, but prohibits overseas residents claiming British nationality from doing the same, which also seems reasonable.

I have no problem with individuals making large donations to a party, but I think there is something questionable about making a donation to a party and then not voting for the party at an election. That suggests that the purpose of the donation was to buy influence. I don't think we can legislate against making donations and then not voting, but a prohibition on donations from unregistered people, even Britons, seems reasonable.

Chris Paul said...

New Tory crime: Is it really illegal not to put yourself on the electoral register? Really and truly? Not sure about that matey!

jailhouselawyer said...

Why would the Establishment plot to close UKIP down when the last I heard Nigel Farage was trying to convince us that Tories were intending to defect to UKIP? Wouldn't that be shooting oneslf in the foot?

Anonymous said...

Given Conservative Party history in the foreign donations section I do feel a very cautious approach is called for!

Arden Forester said...

I don't think judicial review will come into it. If Farage wants to he can milk this for all it is worth. Basically, New Labour set up a commission which has failed totally to apprehend the wrongdoers in the 3 big parties, so it goes after the smaller ones. Seeing as we have a posh version of Delboy Trotter running the country, I would expect nothing else!

Off Message said...

I don't think the punishment fits the crime. He was a British citizen and fully entitled to donate. The fact that he was too stupid to register to vote when involved in a political party explains why he was supporting UKIP but shouldn't be a bar in itself. I can't understand why anyone with any brains can vote UKIP and so risk dividing the anti-Labour centre-right but they have every right to do so and shouldn't be bankrupted on a technicality. Let's hope the Commission see sense or UKIP will become a cause celebre rather than the irrelevance that they deserve to be.

barnacle_bill said...

It does appear a bit OTT for UKIP, especially inview of the offence.
Perhaps some good natured lawyer can do some pro bono publico work for them on this.
I would imagine the Liberals will be wetting themselves over this one.
But more importantly, what can we expect the Electorial Commission to do when Inspector Yates finishes his enquiries?

Anonymous said...

I'd be more interested about the implications of this for the Tories of their having bought an asset at way below its market value (the freehold of Smith Square sold for a massive profit a few monthe later) from a foreign company.

The UKIP foul up was an impermissible donation payable to the Treaury - why not the Tory one??

Lib Dems argument that that they couldn't know their donation was from a non trading company doesn't stack up to much either - Companies House listed it as non trading/dormant so they should have been on notice to investigate further.

Anonymous said...

If the Electoral Commission had any sense whatsoever(debateable?) they will just tell UKIP to repay the donation - they don't have to ask courts to confiscate for the benefit of the Treasury (if they did, I suspect the donor might trake some action) - and then would instruct UKIP about the changes they expect to be made to its procedures (and I suspect even Farage would take such an instruction seriously)

Anonymous said...

It is actually illegal not to put yourself on the electoral register

Yes but The Poll Tax showed that the Electoral Register is a farce and frankly if he was a UK taxpayer I think he has more right to donate than the Rausings or Lakshmi Mittal.

We had better see some Labour fundraisers in gaol if this little piece of expropriation takes place. It is funny how anti-EU parties seem to be subjected to close scrutiny

Man in a shed said...

I don't think it will sit well with the public if UKIP is held to the letter of the law but the Lib Dems get away with it and if there appears to be anything less than proper procedure in investigating/prosecuting the Labour party for Loans for peerages.

The real damage, though, its to UKIP's reputation. I'm guessing there are many Tory activists on the brink of defection - who won't want to sacrifice a life of service to the Conservative party for an amateur operation at UKIP.

Combine this with Norris's eurospecticism and DC's right flank is safe for a while.

Liberal Republican said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

How conveniently timed (just before the local elections) for Dave & BluLabour - just as the BBC "exposure" and (failed) prosecution of BNP leaders was for NuLabour.

The Electoral Commission have done nothing about blatant ballot-rigging with postal votes.

The Establishment are sticking together as usual.

illegal immigrant said...

They can always appeal to the EU I say..

Londoner said...

It is illegal for the head of household (i.e. whoever happens to get hold of the Electoral Regsitration Form) not to include everyone living at the address who is eligible but it cannot be an offence on the part of every individual who hasn't been registered because, without individual registration, they cannot be expected to have to check. So the question would be whether no form was sent from his address, or a wrong one. If no form, presumably it would be a defence that they assumed someone else had sent it in.

Deliberately not to register is another matter and anyone who has ever actually seen the form (it seems not inc Chris Paul above) would know that.

This seems like another good argument for individual registration by law.

Anonymous said...

the scenario- Gordon wants to call an election but the Labour party is stoney broke while the Tories have a £10 million war chest. Gordon gets the tame (and corrupt )Electoral Commission to investigate the Tories, All they need is one flaw and they "fine" the Tories £10 million. Gordon calls the elction. Pending legal action the Tory Party's funds are frozen. Gordon wins the election. R.I.P. Democracy- that's why on this occasion we must back UKIP

Anonymous said...

so how many prosecutions have there been for not entering your name on the electoral register have there been in the last say three years?

Laban said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mark williams said...

Could it be that the reason the Electoral Commission are taking a hard line on UKIP is to gauge opinion for doing the same to the Lib Dems? If the magistrates court reject their application to confiscate the UKIP donation is rejected, then they can claim that it would be unfair to do the same to the Lib Dems? Probably not, because they aren't that devious, but perhaps their treatment of UKIP is a way of softening up the Lib Dems and is a deliberate precedent.

Beachhutman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Tyler said...

This is bonkers.
Take the donor, first - how can you 'not be aware' that your name isn't on the electoral roll unless you have deliberately not filled in the form? Dunno what other councils are like, but my form comes each October, and if you forget that one or chuck it out as junk mail, they send you another one, then another, and another, each with direr warnings of impending drastic action if you don't send the thing back to them. Fair enough, you might have changed your address and forgotten about it - but here's a point: If you've got £350K to fling at a political party, well if it were me, I would want to make certain that the donation was all done properly. I'd contact the E.C. beforehand and get as much info as I could on the rules, to make sure I wasn't breaking any.
Then take it from UKIP's angle: £350K is more than their annual turnover. As the recepient, I would also want to be sure that the transaction was watertight and above board before accepting it, never mind spending it.

What is this, utter incompetence or some kind of set-up job? I'd be interested to see a detailed history of all Mr Bown's political donations over the last 15 years, say.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Lindsay said...

The Creepy Electoral Commission, the Blameronite enforcement agency that must approve both the Constitution (including the Aims and Objectives) and the Leader of any part which wants to have its name on ballot papers (did you know that?), is trying to close down the UK Independence Party, undoubtedly in order to save the Cameron Tories at the next General Election.

The signs are increasingly obvious that, unless we secure the election of large numbers of our people (of any party or none) at that Election, then, thanks to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act, it might well be the last Election that we ever have, and, thanks to the likes of the Creepy Electoral Commission, it will certainly be the last worth having.

tonemcd said...

Good to see some conservative supporters recognize this as an injustice - particularly when compared to the LibDem fiasco.

I repeat again, if the conservatives come out with a "we're taking our country back" campaign (repealing the most obnoxious NuLab laws of the last ten years and taking powers back from the Brussels fraudsters) then a great deal of the reason for UKIP's existence will dissipate.

How come the conservatives keep missing this? It's not rocket science after all. bt's comment @ 3:29pm is spot-on, UKIP keep articulating policies that people want.

Please, no more NuLab, or worse, BluLab.

Beachhutman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The Lib Dem situation is that the money was quite probably stolen and in any case donated from offshore via a non-trading company. It should go back to that compnay, not be seized by the Treasury.

UKIP took money from a UK citizen, resident and a tax payer. The common sense test says that they should keep the money, and I would say, not be fined either.

I am not a supporter of UKIP - I cannot imagine that I would ever vote for them.

Richard said...

The question for UKIP now is whether they can afford a Judicial Review. I am no lawyer....

Clearly. The case goes before the Magistrates Courts, when it is up to a Magistrate(s) to decide. Judicial Review can hadrly be appropriate when there is already an established judicial procedure.

neil craig said...

This would be the same electoral commission who, when the judge in the Birmingham postal ballots trial said that the postal ballot scheme that "short of writing steal me on the envelopes it is difficult ti think what more they could have doen to encourage ... fraud" took no action.

Daniel Lucraft said...

I'm also interested in the implications of this for the Liberal Democrats ...

I think UKIP's point is that there aren't going to be any implications for the Lib Dems.