Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV ad


10:17 am - March 1st 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Remember my complaint regarding the £250m claim by the No2AV camp?

I wrote an article for the Guardian saying the Electoral Commission washed their hands off the issue too, referring people back to the ASA.

The ERS Electoral Commission have sent me a statement.

Dear Sunny

I read your recent article on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website entitled ‘No to AV baby ad is in dire need of reform’. I wanted to clarify the Electoral Commission position on this issue of political advertising content. Your article states:

“When I filed my complaint, I was told by the ASA that it can’t interfere and that it’s a matter for the Electoral Commission. The latter, however, now says it’s a matter for the ASA, as it only deals with political parties.”

In fact, we recognise that the content of political advertising is not a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority. Our role is also more complex than ‘only dealing with political parties’. We provide candidates, agents, parties and referendum campaigners with guidance on the rules relating to campaign materials (the legal requirement for an ‘imprint’ for example) as well as on rules relating to campaign spending. We do not, however, regulate the wording or other content of political advertising.

Kind regards,

But that still means there is a clear loophole around the content or wording of political advertising.

No2AV can carry on making this dishonest claim and no one pulls them up on it.

* * * * * * * *

Incidently, the No camp have also urged the authorities to investigate the role of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), following claims in the Spectator that it faces a conflict of interest over the referendum.

The ERS told the BBC

But the organisation said it should be “no surprise” that it was supporting a Yes vote given its “longstanding commitment” to changing the voting system.

“The Society has openly declared the financial support we have provided to the Yes campaign – in sharp contrast to the No campaign who have so far refused to declare their financial backers,” said its operations director Kate West.

So when are the No2AV campaign going to reveal how many Tory donors are backing them?

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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


Those backing the No campaign may not just be Tories.

It will be interesting to see if Matthew “Gromit” Elliott honours his commitment to publishing details of all donations before the poll.

It would not surprise me if that slipped his mind in all the excitement. After all, the TPA have still not budged on the question of the transparency they are so ready to demand of others.

Firstly – small but important typo in the first half of the article. You don’t mean the ERS sent you a statement. Anyway, on to the actual point of the article.

No2AV can carry on making this dishonest claim and no one pulls them up on it.

No one … except the Yes Campaign, several newspapers, etc. etc. Which is how it has to be. (If they were to go on with genuinely no-one pulling them up on it, then it would be a major problem, but with the campaigners, not the system)

I don’t think there is a practical way to formally regulate political claims regarding a referendum.
1) Timing: it took several months to adjudicate in the fairly clear-cut case of Phil Woolas. Any adjudication probably wouldn’t arrive until after the referendum voting was over. (And any less rigorous process would be easily subject to appeals, which would make it take as long as there was money for lawyers)

2) Effect on the campaign: By the time the statement has been appealed, it’s too late: lots of people have already seen it and it needs counter-campaigning anyway.

3) Distraction: malicious or vexatious claims against them could easily tie up an under-resourced campaigner

4) Consequences for those responsible: For a candidate, disqualification is a serious punishment, as Woolas found out. For a referendum option … you can’t disqualify them. Short of a disproportionately large fine or jail time, what can you do to them that actually acts as punishment?

I’ve written elsewhere more on why going to the ASA / EC is a strategic mistake for the Yes campaign.

“what can you do to them that actually acts as punishment?”

If you make a demonstrably dishonest statement you get a warning, continue to do so you lose X% of your vote.

Incidently the poster probably doesn’t qualify, as it’s basically an extreme example of a normative statement rather than a factual innacuracy (the message is changing the voting system will cost money and shouldn’t be the priority for a government). On the other hand saying AV is a proportional system (for example) is simply wrong and would be the kind of thing they should be pulled up on.

“If you make a demonstrably dishonest statement you get a warning, continue to do so you lose X% of your vote.”

Well that’s all political parties up the swanee.

“But that still means there is a clear loophole around the content or wording of political advertising. ”

How actually would you fix this? How could you in fact? And do you even want to?

The way this reads is that you want some independent body to rule on the truth or not of claims in political advertising.

How would this work?

If the BNP put out an ad saying “The darkies are ruining this country” does that get banned?

If Labour puts out an ad saying that “Companies should pay more tax” does that get banned on the grounds that no company, ever, pays tax at all?

#3 Ah, but how would that work under AV? Would the votes lost be redistributed to a percentage of the next preference of each voters’ vote, to make sure that everyone’s vote “counted”?

7. Planeshift

Tim,

the first one is clearly an example of an untrue statement, the second one is technically not. If labour put out a poster saying companies should pay more tax, then it is irrelevant that an economist has said companies never pay tax because even if that is the case the poster hasn’t denied this – it is suggesting they should.

“you want some independent body to rule on the truth or not of claims in political advertising.”

Well essentially wasn’t that what the courts did with regards to the phil woolas case?

“Well essentially wasn’t that what the courts did with regards to the phil woolas case?”

No. Woolas said “My opponent is doing X” when he wasn’t. It’s more about defamation than fact.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV complaint http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  2. Jane Fleming

    RT @libcon: Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV complaint http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  3. sunny hundal

    Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  4. Neil Hughes

    RT @sunny_hundal: Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  5. Tom Wheatcroft

    RT @libcon Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV complaint http://bit.ly/fzZkdD mhhm interesin.

  6. Christopher Ward

    RT @Tomwheatcroft: RT @libcon Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV complaint http://bit.ly/fzZkdD mhhm interesin.

  7. HouseOfTwitsLab

    RT @sunny_hundal Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  8. Andy Hicks

    RT @HouseofTwitsLab: RT @sunny_hundal Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  9. Gods & Monsters

    RT @sunny_hundal: Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  10. Why the ASA does not regulate political advertising | Mark Pack

    […] is the day the ASA's remit extends in the online world and it's also in the news for (rightly) rejecting requests to rule on a controversial advert for May's electoral reform referendum.That its remit does not extend to such advertisements has come in for a fair amount of criticism […]

  11. Doris Fone

    RT @fleming77: RT @libcon: Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV complaint http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  12. David Poole

    RT @sunny_hundal: Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  13. Lisa E

    @andrew_paradigm The ERS responds: http://bit.ly/h3HSxF

  14. meanfluff

    RT @sunny_hundal: Electoral Commission respond to my complaint about the absurd #No2AV £250m ad http://bit.ly/fzZkdD

  15. Trakgalvis

    Recycled news: Electoral Commission respond to #No2AV ad | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/U892g





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