UK Election Offences - help me not offend!
January 31, 2010 5:21 AM   Subscribe

With UK elections fast approaching I need a crash course in offences.

I'm actively working against one political party and need to understand two distinct areas of UK electioneering. I'd like to hear primarily if not solely from folks who have worked on UK elections in the past; I've googled a fair amount and also have spoken to representatives from various political parties, but now I'm hoping to get some input based on personal experience.

First, what can I say and what can I not say while delivering a stump speech? For example, I'm rehearsing one speech and clearly identify an elected official by name, recounting the history of statements made by this individual directly and publicly to the my organisation. Then I openly raise the complaint that this individual is repeating statements made by a commercial third party and vice versa. In fact sometimes the entity says something that the elected official repeats later and vice versa. In this speech I'm trying not to be subjective, but if I approach this from the point of view "we expected better of an elected official", and "who does this individual really work for?" and variants thereof, am I indemnified?

FWIW, I am already engaged in a UK Libel action (complainant) and believe this approach to be kosher, especially from the point of view of what I've seen as part of the lengthy pre action protocol for libel and defamation in the UK, but I'm not sure what flies during a campaign. For example, our usually supportive local newspaper has been backing off on running stories critical of pretty much any political party for fear of being viewed as supporting one over another (and thats just what they're telling me; I'm aware they have their own libel issues to deal with).

Second, pamphleting and this is a two parter.

A) What are the rules regarding citing authorship / responsibility? Everything coming through my mail slot or that I've handed out to date in support of one party of another has direct and clear identification at the bottom. I will be producing pamphlets identifying candidates positions on issues important to the folks I represent. Do I need to clearly note who is responsible? And what form does this citation take, specifically in terms of legal address, etc? Would a web site and office phone number suffice? We don't have registered address for our organisation but clearly have web and an 0845 number with a 24x7 call centre. Since I pay for everything out of my own pocket I'm trying to keep costs down and would prefer retaining a registered address if at all possible.

That said, I seriously don't want to be putting my home address on these things, especially so as I've already produced some fliers recounting history in excruciating detail and clearly documenting broken promises; if thinks go well someone will not like what we're going to be saying (I learned long ago keeping folks honest does that) but I don't want to open myself to personal attack, especially so as we've already been subjected to low level and protracted harassment from a few of the locals who openly support the BNP.

I spoken with folks from the various parties (as an organisation we're agnostic however we've targeted the incumbents as baggage that will be discarded come May 6th) but need impartial advise. Not that I don't trust these guys and gals, they's all great as long as they ain't the incumbents but they do have vested interest and they aren't really going to look after mine as that's my responsibility.

B) Second part, I've got access to data detailing precisely what these Local Councillors cost the taxpayer in terms of allowances, pension & reimbursed expenses. I'd like to bring to folks attention the fully loaded cost of some of these individuals but, once again, I'm not totally sure what we can / can not say during a UK election campaign. The operative phase here is some and, as I've assembled data from disparate sets and I'm convinced the public at large doesn't know precisely just how expensive some of these incumbents are.

As a banker living in a Borough that is running an eight million pound deficit and proposing extensive NHS cuts, I'm very surprised this information doesn't see the light of day more often but, then again, they don't make it too damn easy. We clearly won't be targeting all elected officials, just the baggage, so is this ok? I'm assuming that we can use this public data in pretty much any way we'd like (short of defamation, of course) but does this change in an election year?

Some of these concerns may appear naive, however I recognise I'm in a foreign country and must fully understand local rules before I execute to avoid offence. FWIW, I previously raised this query as I was concerned about the "service of a foreign government" issue, and as an American I'm clean there (unless I take up a position post election, but that's for another thread).
posted by Mutant to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ha. When I saw this question, I knew it was going to be you asking it Mutant :)

I'm not aware of any specific constraints on what candidates can say about other candidates in election material: there are specific constraints that come into play for the media, especially once a general election has been called, but those have to do with equal access to the media for the parties, not what the candidates actually say.

Printed pamphlets have the publication details at the bottom because (as I understand things) all printed material must show the publisher at the bottom (IIRC) in the UK.

Have you looked at the Electoral Commission website? They would seem to be the obvious first port of call for this kind of question. Specifically Guidance for candidates and agents - local government elections in England, 1 May 2008 looks like the ideal document to start chewing on.

Best of luck!
posted by pharm at 10:13 AM on January 31, 2010

NB: That document makes it clear that there are legal constraints on what you can and can't say in election materials.
posted by pharm at 10:14 AM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: NB2: It looks like you should start here, specifically with the 2010 version of the document I linked to above, which can be found at the bottom of that page.
posted by pharm at 10:19 AM on January 31, 2010

NB3. Oh for an edit button.

Tangentially, I think the printed materials thing might only apply to election material and anything published by a company (which has to include the company details somewhere). Election material is defined in one of the Electoral Reform Acts. I have no idea whether material printed by private individuals has to include their contact details or not.
posted by pharm at 10:32 AM on January 31, 2010

NB4 (Anything a private individual prints about election candidates obviously falls under the 'election material' classification however.)

(I think I'll stop now.)
posted by pharm at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: Hey wonderful that document is just what I was looking for. Much appreciated as it looks like I might have otherwise offended !
posted by Mutant at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2010

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