The recent Conservative party retention of Uxbridge and Ruislip was generally attributed to their anti-ULEZ campaign. The campaign took many forms; one of the most significant was the imaginatively named ‘Stop Ulez Times,’ which looks like doing what it said on its ‘tin’: stopping ULEZ. It also looked like a local freesheet distributed by a campaigning group. All fair enough so far, until that campaigning group is revealed as the Conservative party. Revealed, that is, everywhere after the event and to some during but not to voters in the publication itself.
Identification in election publications (‘any material which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the election of a candidate at an election’) is required by law – the Representation of the People Act 1983, primarily. Under section 110 the required ‘relevant details’ are: (a) the name and address of the printer of the document; (b) the name and address of the promoter of the material; and (c) the name and address of any person on behalf of whom the material is being published (and who is not the promoter). There are no other legal requirements of the content of election material except that candidates ‘may not make or publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct.’ Neither is there any other oversight, as such content is out of both the ASA’s and the Electoral Commission’s declared remit.
Bizarrely and for reasons unknown there is no requirement to identify the political party, an aberration that has been maintained, incidentally, in the 2022 Elections Act requirements of digital material, despite representations from ourselves and others more influential. Nobody gives a fig who the printer is, ditto the promoter and a significant proportion of voters will not know the candidate’s name, in this case anyway not identified as the candidate.
Here for the record is the identification imprint from Stop Ulez Times.’
In case those readers who are still with us, despite this uninspiring plod through identification legislation, are beginning to consider all this to be somewhat arcane, there is both a specific and general point that are of considerable significance. First in the context of this by-election, the margin between victory and defeat was some 500 votes in 30,000. We suggest that at least 500 voters exposed to the campaign and publication might have been less inclined to vote for the candidate if the associated party were to have been identified in the material.
Our second point is that the Conservative party has considerable previous on this issue. Shaun (now Lord, for goodness sake) Bailey in his bid for London Mayor in 2021 published a campaign leaflet, complete with the requirements set out above together with the additional flourish of a counterfeit logo, that purported to be from ‘City Hall,’ itself an entirely fictitious organisation. And in the 2019 General Election, ‘CCHQ’ (that’s the Conservative party head office) declared itself as ‘Factcheck UK.’
These issues have not been without some attendant, but quickly forgotten, publicity. Andrew Rawnsley of the Guardian reported that the campaign literature in Uxbridge implied that the ULEZ charge applied to all vehicles and various tweets referred to related ‘lies’. We could detect no lies per se, only cynical, tawdry, misleading omissions manipulating very poor legislation for which the unidentified party is responsible.
Who would have thought it of Uxbridge and Ruislip?