Monday, March 29, 2010

Tory Poster Campaign: there is no law against lying in political advertising

Woa. Wo-wow. In pursuance of the above blog about the Conservative poster baiting poor Godron Brown about the rich poor gap (RPG), I have been on the phone to the Electoral "Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the democratic process." Commission (EC).

I explain that the Tories have made a public statement about Labour's RPG record, and that I doubt that the Tories' statement can be substantiated. A nice helpful young lady navigates me through the EC website to the Guidance  where on p48 we find
False statements
4.42 It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.82

Note that; personal character or conduct. If that was breached, the aggrieved party would have to take it to the police (ibid, p51). But. The Tory poster is not about character or conduct; it is about the record of the Labour Government, and on such statements the Electoral Commission has no remit at all.

I discussed this in detail with a more senior EC officer, and he agreed that one political party can make any manner of false statements about the record or policies of another political party, and the EC will take no interest in it. The injured party can only slug it out in the public arena.

The bottom line is that a party with enough money can put up posters and advertisements making any kind of lies about its rival party with impunity. There may be three minutes of argy bargy on the Today programme about it, but the impact of that is miniscule compared to the impact of a big poster campaign.

In other words, in the UK democratic process in 2010, the richest party can buy an election victory through a successful advertising campaign that is based on lies and falsehoods, and the Electoral Commission, despite having the aim of promoting "integrity and public confidence in the democratic process", has no power to intervene - and, judging from my conversation with the senior officer, no real interest in it either.

This is not the first time that the Electoral Commission has fallen foul of the Mabinogogiblog.
The EC needs to be reformed. Big time.  But it will not be, because a Parliament elected on the basis of electoral lies is not going to legislate in favour of electoral truth.

So the best hope for the Labour party is to think up its own lies about the Tories. Hmm. Let's see...

That should do it.

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