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Help us find misleading electoral advertising in the local, Mayoral, Welsh and Scottish parliamentary elections

Rae Burdon

More referees wanted.

The great political punch-up that is the local mayoral elections is upon us. With twenty-four rings around the country (there are 24 directly elected mayors in England), a red corner, a blue corner, a yellow corner, a green corner and many others besides – Brands Hatch has fewer corners. There’s heavyweights, lightweights, featherweights, all in the same ring at the same time. There’s hitting below the belt, before and after the bell has sounded, plenty of in-fighting, the occasional clinch, rabbit punches, sucker punches, and above all, trash talk.

That all takes some refereeing. The Harry Gibbs of the political fight game is the Electoral Commission. They make most of the rules and try to ensure a fair fight, if there’s such a thing in politics. They review the fitness of the contenders, set out the rules, make sure the promoters don’t spend more than allowed and that the judges’ (that’s the voters) scores are added up correctly. 

Political punches are, however, verbal blows. Politics is a war of words that express an idea, well or otherwise. And the referee has no power over those words: the Electoral Commission does not govern what can or can’t be said in an election. So there is no appointed ‘claim ref’, except those political commentators and observers who pick up the more obvious, er, ‘terminological inexactitudes.’ That form of ‘regulation’ or refereeing works well enough most of the time. Politicians don’t like to be deducted points by the media for a low blow.

Much of the trash talk, however, happens in advertising, paid or otherwise. And for electoral advertising, unlike any other advertising, there is no regulator: no Andrew Neill, no Laura Kuenssberg, no Robert Peston, and definitely no ASA, sadly, between the lie and the reader. 

We think that’s wrong, and so do 87% of voters according to our YouGov research. So when election campaigns happen, we try to help out the referee by finding and highlighting bad advertising.  As we did in the 2019 General Election, and as we plan to do in the local, Mayoral and Scottish parliamentary elections. But we need help, too – help in the form of impartial observers across the country who identify electoral advertising that looks a bit suspect (most of it is) and send it to us for review and rapid counter-punch. 

Please email alex.tait@reformpoliticaladvertising.org  if you would like to help. Thank you. 

Ding! Ding! Seconds out.

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