Conservative council group leader faces police investigation over free pens

Jeremy Moulton, leader of the Conservatives on Southampton Council, is facing a police investigation over the handing out of free pens:

Hampshire Police has confirmed … it is working with the Crown Prosecution Service and Electoral Commission to assess whether an offence has been committed after pens with “Vote Jeremy Moulton for Freemantle” were delivered to residents in the ward ahead of the city council elections on May 3.

This was reported by fellow candidate Ed Thompson [standing for Viva Europa], who says he wanted to make sure all prospective councillors were competing on a “level playing field”. [Southern Daily Echo]

The pens were in mailings delivered to postal voters, along with a letter, leaflet and poster.

In the direct marketing industry, including a pen with a mailing that has a form you want someone to write on (e.g. to make a donation) is a fairly standard tactic. The argument here is whether or not a pen is such a generous item that to include it counts as treating under election law.

Southampton was also the site of a previous treating complaint. That one featured sausage rolls and a Ukip candidate who went on to quote Mein Kampf at a hustings. It resulted in a formal police interview but no further action as the rolls were considered to be no more than part of ordinary hospitality.

As a side-note, I’m intrigued by the decision to allocate such a chunk of the local election expense limits to buying pens to give to postal voters. Local election limits are, unlike general election constituency limits, still relatively tight. You could buy a lot of extra campaign activity for the likely price of the pens.

UPDATE: And the outcome

Hampshire Constabulary said: “Following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, we have concluded that no offences have been committed.”