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The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale


1:15 pm - February 24th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Imagine if you had a few millions to spare, and had deep vested interests in influencing an upcoming election or a referendum. Would you donate some of the money to a political party? Perhaps.

Instead, why not set up your own front organisation? You can use that to bombard people with political ads online as well as in print, without any real scrutiny. Surely that’s better than donating money to a party and then hoping for kickbacks?

In effect, that is the regime we have right now.

Yesterday I made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a print ad in the Birmingham Mail on Monday 21st Feb.

The ASA now says it can’t interefere and its a matter for the Electoral Commission.

But the latter now says its a matter for the ASA as it only deals with political parties.

So in effect its a completely grey area, which is now being exploited by a group that steadfastly refuses to reveal who is backing it and by how much.

What if others decided to follow their lead in the future to smear political opponents. Who would regulate that? Anyone rich enough could exploit this loophole to run ads and nothing could be done about it even if the claims were completely false.

The Yes2AV campaign have started a petition to try and put pressure on the ASA to step in.

But they need to be careful not to keep raising this controversy, or the No2AV campaign will have their posters displayed as free publicity for news articles in the media (a good point made by @sianberry). The Indy have reported on it with the ad, but have written an editorial calling it a ‘A dishonest campaign that deserves to lose‘.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I will probably vote No, but that ad is a disgrace.

With luck, this kind of campaign will lose them more support than it gains them. I actually think the more coverage the controversy gets the better, as it is more likely to turn undecided voters against the No2Av argument.

I think the tide is against them, and they know it.

The power and effectiveness of attack ads funded by big corporate backers has proved hugely successful to the right wing in the US. So we will get more of it here.

The (rich) tax payers alliance is just one of many astro turf outfits backed with corporate money that is using these tactics.

The working and middle class are now under huge attack from the global elites who want to take us back to the 1920s. Workers should have no rights, no benefits and no say. Then All the money can then be redistributed up the food chain to the rich.

I had one leaflet I mainly throw them into the bin with the rest of the rubbish mail we seem to be getting.

But it said all the way through a Yes vote would give the BNP a seat or more seats, it would allow the small parties to get into politics is that what you want yes it is actually, not so much the BNP but yes lets give the smaller parties the minorities labour is so proud of helping a chance. so I will now vote yes.

hang on no I will not I cannot be bothered.

I am surprised that you are surprised this is a grey area, and actually even more surprised that you went to the ASA at all.

The ASA is a voluntary trade association with absolutely no power to do anything, save compel advertisers to behave by threat of having advertising blocked by publishers who agree to abide by ASA decisions. Publishers don’t have to sign up to the ASA code, and neither do advertisers.

They just do so as it saves a lot of headaches elsewhere.

The ASA cannot force anyone to do anything.

Frankly, I would be very wary of letting the ASA “regulate” political adverts considering its lack of legislative power to do anything about them.

So, rather than muttering about “dark forces abroad in the land”, why not point out to the Electoral Commission that they should do the job they hold legislative powers to do, rather than play ping-pong in trying to palm the job of to someone else?

As opposed to the Yes2AV campaign which is funded by a company which is set to make lots of money out of a “yes” result?

hmm….those in glass houses….

@ Ianvisits

Sunny didn’t go to the ASA for them to actually do anything – he went to the ASA so he could report that he went to the ASA and kick up a fuss which might get reported by some sympathetic Guardian hack and obscure the story coming out about the funding off the Yes2AV campaign (see speccie blog). Convieniant timing of Sunny’s story, isn’t it?

Still, at least the Yes2AV campaign are immune to funding scandal or conflicts of interest.

Er…

http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6727833/exclusive-what-the-yes-to-av-campaign-doesnt-want-you-to-know.thtml

Oh hell.

Yes, quite, he day The Speccie story came out might no be quite the right day to be complaining about where No to AV is getting its money.

Snigger.

he day The Speccie story came out might no be quite the right day to be complaining about where No to AV is getting its money

It’s the perfect day, given that it illustrates exactly the same serious issue.

If partisan sniggering can be put to one side for a moment, that is.

@ 8

It’s a total non-story, as you will see from the comments underneath; it would be somewhat odd if the organisations mentioned were NOT behaving in the way described…. if ever there was an example of a “shock, horror, Pope supports Catholic dogma!” story, then this is it.

12. astateofdenmark

”Imagine if you had a few millions to spare, and had deep vested interests in influencing an upcoming election or a referendum. ”

Indeed.
If you were, say, a company that makes money out of running elections. And that company made more money the greater the complexity of those elections. And that company had setup a joint venture with another company that specialises in machine counting votes. And said company you were in a joint venture with had Lord Kinnock as a director.

Then yes, you are right Sunny, you would have a vested interest in the outcome of the referendum. You might even setup yet another front, lets call it for sake of argument, Yes In May 2011 Ltd, to conceal the sources and uses of your money.

Oh, you weren’t talking about principles….

@8 That article has to be one of the best attempts I’ve seen of making something bleedingly obvious into an apparently breaking scandal. Society in favour of electoral reform makes large donation to electoral reform platform shocker!! Business that might do well if a vote goes a certain way also makes donation shocker!
I suppose we’re meant to think they’re in favour of killing babies to get av passed as well, if the No2AV ad we’re discussing is anything to go by…

“Yes, quite, he day The Speccie story came out might no be quite the right day to be complaining about where No to AV is getting its money.”

As soon as yes2av start running ads full of lies, it’ll be a real issue.

Until then, it’s nothing but a smokescreen to cover up the fact the fact no2av are using their money to trick people into voting their way.

It’s not far different from the Torys unequivocally stating NHS investment would rise. or that the Lib Dems would vote against tuition fees. The only difference was we’ve discovered these are lies while there’s still time to do something about it.

@ Cylux

Go read the speccie article properly.

Said society in favour of electoral reform owns company which could stand to profit substantially from electoral reform. Not quite the same as jsut standing for voting reform now is it…

Since when did our right-wing friends start regarding making a profit as evil?

Gosh so Yes2AV is as bad as No2AV! Well in that case maybe we should just try and ignore both of them and make our mind up based on the merits and failings of either system.

Nah can’t have that please Mr Advert tell me which to vote for.

The Spectator article is of a piece with the other No campaigns smears and falsehoods. The Electroral Reform Society is a campaigning organisation established to obtain electoral reform – nobody can object to it campaigning on that issue, and giving money and assistance, surely. Electoral Reform Services Ltd is a company, established by the Society, to provide electoral services and as a source of income. It is highly regarded by both private and public bodies. My own organisation has used it. It has provided services for public ballots under FPTP, it may provide services for public ballots under AV in future. There is nothing sinister in that. The article claims that ERS Ltd is ‘administering’ the AV referendum and therefore there is a conflict of interest. There is not a shred of evidence that this is true claim – it is a smear. The article claims that the ERS is trying to cover up these ‘facts, yet the author of the article obtained all his information from the ERS. The true cover up is the funding of the ‘no’ campaign.

Actually, if you just post the list of people supporting the No2AV campaign, it’d go a long way to ensuring the success of the Yes campaign!

Who do I complain to about Sunny Handal? I wish to complain about the atrociously bad articles that he writes. I think there should be a voluntary organisation I can go to which has the power to force “journalists” to properly research their articles and to leave out any emotional biased clap-trap.

@20

There is. It’s the comments thread under every goddamn article.

has the power to force “journalists” to properly research their articles

*Ahem*

Who do I complain to about Sunny Handal?

I suggest you perhaps research who you’re complaining about first.

@15 I’ve attempted to read the speccie article several times now, but I keep getting interrupted by an almighty din that sounds remarkably like straws being tightly clutched.

More news about the provenance of that baby picture is here;

http://iamjamesward.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/baby-preemie/

and Clause 3.6 of the agreement between the licensees and the illustrators makes for some interesting reading. Whether it would stand up at a court of law or a PCC tribunal is a moot point.

I confess I have not read the Spectator article.

But, given Fraser Nelson, editor of said rag, doesn’t believe that HIV leads to AIDS, or of course that there is anything to worry about with Climate change (plus Mr Sneerfest James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole is a regular contributor), then I would approach it with caution.

Anyhow, let’s see who is backing No2AV. I’m almost encouraged by Matthew “Gromit” Elliott saying he’ll let everyone know before the event.

Makes a change from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance – no detailed accounts, no list of donors, no list of hangers on. Everyone has to be transparent bar the TPA.

26. Roger Mexico

The Spectator article is a good example of the the rhetoric of the new Right. You can never tell if they are being malevolent or stupid. The article actually does say “So the company in charge of administering the referendum on AV is itself funding one side of the campaign.”

So they must think it’s the Electoral Reform Society who are in charge of the referendum. Er no they’re not. It’s the Electoral Commission which is in charge of the referendum. The only connection between the two is the word ‘Electoral’. You might as well claim this site is a front for the Liberal Democrats, because both start with the word ‘Liberal’

The Electoral Reform Society is a society that campaigns for electoral reform (the clues in the name). So it’s donating money for reform of elections.

For what it’s worth, ERS’s companies don’t actually run any Local Authority elections either – LA’s own Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers do that. What the companies do do is supply the EROs and ROs with things like specialised stationery, software and so on, rather than each individual council having to invent its own. Obviously this attempt to save money on back office services by using commercial companies must stop immediately.

As for the Spectator’s insinuation that the ERS and its companies try to keep their connections secret, visiting any of their websites shows a box saying “Click above to visit our other sites”. With links between the three. Still it was good of the Spectator to make it clear to the vast majority of us who have no access to this new-fangled interweb thing. After all the ERS has only been around for a hundred or so years, so the Spectator must have thought it about time to investigate this new kid on the block.

Still I was deeply touched by the Spectator’s concern that somebody might give a donation in order to influence a political outcome that would suit them financially. I hope you are sitting down when I tell you this, but it is not unknown for individuals and private companies to do the same. I look forward to the Spectator’s campaign to ban all political donations.

All this is fairly comic of course, but as Sunny suggests it marks the deliberate attempt to introduce the campaigning techniques of the US Right into British politics.

@12 astateofdenmark: “If you were, say, a company that makes money out of running elections. And that company made more money the greater the complexity of those elections. And that company had setup a joint venture with another company that specialises in machine counting votes.”

Well that should work out OK then. If one company can make money out of elections, another one will come out with a better economic model. Cheaper.

So AV elections may not be more expensive if the demand for cheap (but honest) elections can be delivered by technology.

“Makes a change from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance – no detailed accounts, no list of donors, no list of hangers on. Everyone has to be transparent bar the TPA.”

Indeed Tim. But I like to call them The Rich taxpayers Alliance. Because it is only rich people who they are concerned about. Hence the reason they hide their accounts.

By the way, have you noticed how quiet it is on the fuel protestors front? Oil is rising, and yet not a in the desert. Oh wait….it’s ok as long as you are a conservative
peep out of the fuel protestors and mad farmers. I guess they were really only a bunch of tory tossers.

I can’t wait to read the Daily Tory graphs castigation of the prime Minister who has been swanking around the middle east acting as a second hand car salesman for the arms industry while his own people have been stranded

Dam computer…. Try again.

Indeed Tim. But I like to call them The Rich taxpayers Alliance. Because it is only rich people who they are concerned about. Hence the reason they hide their accounts.

By the way, have you noticed how quiet it is on the fuel protestors front? Oil is rising, and yet not a in the desert. Oh wait….it’s ok as long as you are a conservative
peep out of the fuel protestors and mad farmers. I guess they were really only a bunch of tory tossers.

I can’t wait to read the Daily Tory graphs castigation of the prime Minister who has been swanking around the middle east acting as a second hand car salesman for the arms industry while his own people have been stranded………………….. Oh wait.. It’s ok as long as you are a conservative.

@26 Roger Mexico: “For what it’s worth, ERS’s companies don’t actually run any Local Authority elections either – LA’s own Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers do that. What the companies do do is supply the EROs and ROs with things like specialised stationery, software and so on, rather than each individual council having to invent its own.”

The ERS sent some trade union ballot papers to me this week. I find comfort that the processes are being monitored by the ERS and that my votes will count thanks to them.

However the influence of the ERS is over powering. They have become the only root certification authority for private elections. I think that it is time for another root certificate authority alongside the ERS.

@29

“the prime Minister who has been swanking around the middle east acting as a second hand car salesman for the arms industry while his own people have been stranded”

Did you not get the memo Sally? Due to implication of the Big Society the stranded UK citizens in Libya are expected to build & fly their own planes to leave that country 😉

32. Roger Mexico

@30 Charlieman

This is one of the great unspoken problems of modern economics. What do you do about the natural monopoly? In many situations (especially technological) it makes sense for everyone to use the same system. Even apparently minor players often turn out to be dominant in a niche and nowhere else.

The dominant brand doesn’t even have to be the best, its advantage lies in the very nature of its being the most widely used. Everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook. Once the market is mature enough, movement becomes impossible unless the whole market is replaced by a different sort of product.

This can be exploitative as say BSkyB’s domination of football coverage, where power can be wielded over the consumer and rates constantly rise. Yet any attempt to break that monopoly will actually cost the consumer even more.

As it happens ERS seems to be a benign monopolist – effective, uncorrupt, financially acceptable. But any other entrant to the market would still be hampered even if it were less so. But it is especially difficult to set up artificial competition when it is only required for theoretical reasons.

In fact you might argue that structures such as those which control the ERS service companies are better ways to run such natural monopolies than the traditional models of market economics.

Sorry if it’s a bit off topic, but you raised an interesting point.

@31 Mr S, Pill: “Due to implication of the Big Society the stranded UK citizens in Libya are expected to build & fly their own planes to leave that country.”

Yes.

Other people may *choose* to put their lives in risk to attempt a rescue flight. That is the rescuers’ choice. There should be no expectation or guarantee.

I appreciate that this may be a challenging idea, but once you pass the borders of the EU, civil servants may not be so civil.

If you get a job in a dictatorship, effectively employed by the dictator, you may find yourself in shit when the revolution happens. That was one of the risks reflected in your pay packet. And the revolution happened, against the odds.

The UK government belatedly arranged for archaeologists et al to depart from Libya. Best wishes to them; to the people on the streets protesting, good luck and be liberal.

@33: “If you get a job in a dictatorship, effectively employed by the dictator,”

Well I know people have said some bad things about BP, but I didn’t think they were that bad.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  2. James Brown

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  3. Ben Cadwallader

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  4. Carl Baker

    So the AV campaign ads are not in the purview of either the Ad. Standards Auth. or the Electoral Commission. Sigh: http://bit.ly/gHuj5Z

  5. Ash Chapman

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  6. irene rukerebuka

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  7. Lisa E

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  8. Anthony Gladman

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  9. Carla

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  10. Dave Cross

    @chrismou Seems to be a grey area. See http://bit.ly/gHuj5Z

  11. Oh well done Sunny, well done!

    […] Yup, complete with they’re bastards for not revealing where their money is coming from. […]

  12. Nick H.

    RT @libcon: The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale http://bit.ly/eKcemu

  13. PRO Legal

    The No2AV campaign illustrates how our democracy is up for sale …: If you were, say, a company that makes mone… http://bit.ly/eZ8d30

  14. Censor | adam

    […] stories: Factcheck has a good post examining the truths and untruths in the AV campaign, while over on Liberal Conspiracy it has been pointed out just how difficult it is to report political adve…. Elsewhere, it has been pointed out again just how complex our rail fares are (and more on this […]





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