Norman Lamb leadership campaign suspends two over phone calls – UPDATED

Just out from Norman Lamb:

I was made aware yesterday of a potential breach of data protection by volunteers in my campaign team. I take this issue very seriously. I will not tolerate breaches such as this on my campaign. My campaign manager immediately reported the issue to the Acting Returning Officer, Tim Gordon. I took immediate action to suspend the two individuals from further involvement in the campaign.

I am proud that until now this has been a positive campaign. I believe it is essential to get back to debating the future and my vision for the party. My team are under clear instructions that negative campaigning will not be tolerated.

The issue is phone polling of Lib Dem members which was done by two of his supporters without the Lamb campaign’s authorisation, and which allegedly involves the two of them and an external company using party data about members without permission. That is likely to trigger an Information Commissioner investigation given that unauthorised use of personal data is against the law.

The phone number used for at least some of the calls (01702 318 818) is registered to Market Quality Research (Southend), a firm which is on the receiving end of quite a few complaints online for its phoning. A cause of possible confusion is that its initials, MQR, are the same as that of a rather more high profile firm in political circles – Messina Quantitative Research, as in Jim Messina, the Obama-turned-Conservative Party campaign adviser. However this is just a coincidence and the two companies are unconnected it appears from the evidence I’ve checked.

The two people who have been suspended are said by multiple sources in the leadership campaigns to be Mark Gettleson, a former Liberal Democrat councillor whose Twitter account was removed earlier today, and Gavin Grant, formerly of Burson-Marsteller and the RSPCA. They both face a party disciplinary investigation, although the Daily Telegraph quotes a denial of involvement from Gavin Grant and The Guardian has subsequently quoted a defence from Mark Gettleson.

Multiple sources in both camps, however, agree that Norman Lamb was not aware of, and did not authorise, the phoning – which was using a message testing script that included much more negative messages about Farron than Lamb. (Update: despite some people calling the calls ‘push polling’, they weren’t.)

This is the party’s statement:

We have been made aware of an alleged breach of party rules and are looking into the issue as a matter of urgency.

“The Liberal Democrats take any alleged breaches of party rules extremely seriously. The party has contacted both teams to reiterate rules on the leadership process.

And this is a quite unwise tweet from Greg Mulholland, Tim Farron’s Campaign Coordinator:

But this is much better from Tim Farron himself:

Tim Farron on Norman Lamb's apology

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