Police investigate Labour’s Lewisham by-election campaign

Dave Hill reports:

Lewisham police are investigating a campaign leaflet published on behalf of two London Labour Party byelection candidates to consider if it transgresses electoral law. The leaflet, which appears to have been distributed on polling day during the recent campaign for Lewisham Council’s Downham ward, claimed:

Our exit polls show: the BNP winning in Downham. It’s more important than ever to VOTE LABOUR TODAY

Lewisham has confirmed that its returning officer has passed the leaflet to the police, who are looking into any breach of the 1983 Representation of the People Act. This sets out restrictions relating to the use of or reference to exit polls before an election is complete.

The relevant part of the law is Section 66A of the 1983 Representation of the People Act, breaches of which can result in a fine or up to six months imprisonment: “No person shall … publish before the poll is closed (a) any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted.”

In other words, it’s ok to publish leaflets based on previous election results, the previous week’s canvass returns and so on – but not one that purports to be based on an exit poll of how people have voted so far that day.

Having looked at the leaflet in question myself, it looks to be a pretty open and shut case of publishing a leaflet which breaches this as you can see (note the “Our Exit Polls Show” in the top left):

Lewisham Labour Election Leaflet Downham 2009

The real question is whether the police/CPS decide it is the public interest to prosecute.

Chris Maines, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group said, “By referring to an ‘Exit Poll’ and distributing this leaflet on polling day, the Labour Party clearly tried to swing this election in their favour by any method possible. I think this is a clear breach of electoral law and I hope the Police take action.”

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