The Conservatives alleged that the LibDems have been illegally paying residents, through a corrupt prize draw system, to display their posters. The LibDems are accused or organising a £50 draw for a poster seen in a window and £250 when that poster is on a stake outside a home. Apparently in the first week of a by-election campaign their payouts are deliberately very generous with numerous winners. Word then spreads and everyone wants a LibDem poster up in the hope of cashing in. The only problem is that the practice is explicitly illegal.
Tory Vice Chairman in charge of campaigning Grant Shapps MP wrote last week to Lord Rennard, the LibDem by-election guru to ask him whether he had any knowledge of the practice.
I am sure that you will be as concerned as I was to hear about a practice
whereby residents are offered cash incentives, via means of a prize draw, to
display political posters during by-elections. This practice is of course illegal and the section of the relevant election offence reads as follows:
It is an illegal practice knowingly to make any payment, or contract for a payment to be made to an elector or a proxy for an elector on account of the exhibition of, or the use of any house, land, building or premises for the exhibition of, any address, bill, or notice for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of a candidate at an election, unless it is the ordinary business of the elector or proxy as an advertising agent to exhibit for payment bills and advertisements and the payment or contract is made in the ordinary course of that business. The offence extends to payments or contracts before during or after an election. A person receiving a payment or being a party to such a contract, if he knew it to be in contravention of the statute, is also guilty of an illegal practice.
I intend to alert the relevant authorities to this practice and with the above in mind I would be grateful if you could confirm whether the Liberal Democrats have ever knowingly used such incentives during by-elections in either this or the previous
Parliament. I await your response.
Grant Shapps MP
Lord Rennard has since emailed back what looks like a carefully worded denial.
Thanks for your letter. I have never heard of this practice and have certainly never been responsible for it.
Shapps has now written to the Electoral Commission asking them to confirm that the practice is illegal and what sanctions would be appropriate if evidence and a witness was brought forward.
Grant Shapps told me this evening: 'Democracy thrives when there's a good clean battle between the parties during by-elections, but there's simply no excuse for breaking the law. Everyone has to play by the same rules and these allegation that one Party may have been using dirty tricks for years to get their posters displayed will definitely disappoint and shock the vast majority of voters who expect better.'
I have to say I have never heard of this particular practice. There must be some rather compelling evidence for Grant Shapps to make this direct accusation.
It is also very strange that neither the LibDems nor Labour has selected their candidates for the by-election yet. From the way they have hit the ground running in Ealing Southall it's fair to say that the Tories look like they mean business. Melissa Kite's article in the Sunday Telegraph shows what the consequences may be for Ming if the LibDems come third.
Sir Menzies Campbell is facing a leadership challenge within weeks of taking his
party to a record low in the polls and entering into talks with Gordon Brown. A
group of Liberal Democrat MPs and peers have resolved to call for Sir Menzies to
stand down this month if the party finishes in third place in two forthcoming
by-elections, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. Sir Menzies has been struggling to maintain his authority for months amid rising unhappiness over his poor public performances and lack of impact in the opinion polls. Tensions in the party boiled over at a private meeting of the party at Westminster last week at which one senior Lib Dem peer openly called him a "liar" for failing to inform the party of his talks with Mr Brown. "There is now outright rebellion," one senior Lib Dem said. "We are absolutely livid." Sir Menzies faced an explosion of criticism from within his party for holding secret talks with Mr Brown, a long-standing friend and -neighbour in Scotland, about possible cabinet roles for a number of senior colleagues, including the former party leader Lord Ashdown. Senior MPs and peers have expressed their unhappiness to Sir Menzies in person. Those voicing dismay at the negotiations with Mr Brown include Vince Cable, the Treasury spokesman, and Lord McNally, the
constitutional affairs spokesman. "If we come third he will have to go. We are hoping he will go off on his summer holidays with a pearl handled revolver in his suitcase," said one senior Lib Dem parliamentarian.
I think I may have to change tackm slightly and start a the SAVE MING CAMPBELL campaign!