Adrian Short

Design, citizenship and the city

With lies like these I’d rather the LibDems fiddled their expenses

with 38 comments

As the Westminster expenses scandal drags the reputation of all MPs down into the gutter whether they deserve it individually or not, you’d think that politicians would be extra-careful to keep their noses clean during the European Parliament campaign for the election on 4th June.

Obviously no-one told the LibDems. Yesterday they launched their election campaign leaflets in London which stoop to new lows in lying to the public to trick them into voting LibDem.

Three leaflets that I’ve seen all use a similar tactic of exploiting voters’ ignorance of the European electoral system into fooling them into voting tactically as they might in a general election for the UK Parliament in Westminster.

The leaflet from Paul Burstow, LibDem MP for the south London constituency of Sutton and Cheam, is typical.

burstow2

“It’s so close here” declares the headline. “Elections in Sutton and Cheam are always a close finish between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.” To the side is a big bar chart showing the LibDems with 47%, Conservatives on 41% and Labour with just 12%. “Here in Sutton and Cheam, elections are between the LibDems and the Conservatives”, a callout box reminds us.

It doesn’t say where these figures come from or give any indication as to why they might be relevant. And the fact is, they’re not just irrelevant but totally misleading. This is the result of the last general election for Westminster where the vote was indeed a close race between the LibDems and the Tories, with Labour trailing a poor third and unlikely ever to take the seat under Westminster’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

What the leaflet doesn’t say is that the electoral system for the European Parliament is totally different and there’s no need for anyone to vote tactically no matter which party they support.

The European election on 4th June isn’t an election “in Sutton and Cheam”. The Euro vote is grouped into large regions which return several Euro MPs each and the system uses a form of proportional representation, ensuring that very few votes are “wasted” on failed candidates that don’t get elected.

Sutton and Cheam voters will have their votes pooled together with all other Londoners and used to elect eight Euro MPs. It doesn’t make the slightest difference how close the vote may be between two parties in any Westminster constituency. People will be voting for a party and not a candidate and any party that gets around 8% of the total vote across the whole of London will get at least one Euro MP.

In the last Euro election in 2004, the LibDems didn’t come first but third. The Tories and Labour both took 3 seats in London each. The LibDems, the UK Independence Party and the Greens took one Euro MP each. And the LibDems’ vote at 15% across London trailed well behind Labour on 25%. So why aren’t the LibDems showing the figures that matter from the last Euro election rather than the ones from Westminster that have no significance at all?

The leaflet from Tom Brake, LibDem MP for Carshalton and Wallington in south London, takes the same trick to even more sordid depths.

brake-bar-chart

We get a misleading bar chart similar to Paul Burstow’s, showing the Westminster constituency vote from the last general election. Here, as in Sutton and Cheam, the Westminster vote is close between the LibDems and the Tories with Labour coming a very distant unelectable third.

But the language of deceit here is even stronger. “This election is going to be a tight contest and every vote will make a difference… With Labour out of the race in Sutton, more and more people are backing the Liberal Democrats to win.”

Did you see what they did there? “Labour out of the race in Sutton”? It’s not a Sutton race, it’s a London race, and in that London race Labour are still in a stronger position than the LibDems even despite the floundering government in Westminster.

And what does it mean that “people are backing the Liberal Democrats to win”? This isn’t a winner-takes-all election like we have for Westminster. All the three big parties are likely to get at least one Euro MP out of eight in London and it’s very likely that smaller parties like the Greens and UKIP won’t come away empty-handed. The real question is whether the LibDems will be able to increase their single current London Euro MP to two or whether large chunks of their vote will get skimmed off at the top by a strong Tory party and at the bottom by people voting for smaller parties like the Greens and UKIP through genuine preference or as a protest against Westminster’s dirty politics.

The theme continues with more lies elsewhere on the leaflet. In a section attacking Labour we’re told that “Labour cannot win in Sutton… voting Labour will only help the Conservatives win”.

brake-labour-cannot-win

Excuse me? This is a proportional representation election. Voting Labour won’t help the Conservatives. It’ll help Labour. And once again the entirely misleading idea of whether anyone might “win in Sutton” totally obscures the relevant matter of London-wide voting.

brake-greens-cannot-win

The Greens get the same treatment. “The Greens have no chance of winning in Sutton”, the leaflet says. Well, in the last Euro election in 2004 the Greens picked up 8% of the London vote, giving them a single Euro MP just like the LibDems. Things will be a little harder for the Greens this time in London as there will now be only eight London Euro MPs compared with the previous nine, but the Greens are still in with a fighting chance. The LibDems’ leaflet is a shamefaced attempt to con Green voters into considering a “tactical” vote for another party even though they have no need to do so. In the Euro election, every vote really does count. Need I say again that it matters not one bit who might “win in Sutton” in this London-wide vote?

holborn-bar-chart

The LibDems’ lying leaflets aren’t just a south London phenomenon. Up in Camden, LibDem leaflets in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency use the familiar Westminster general election bar chart to show just how “close” things are between the LibDems and Labour there. In this case it does at least say that these are “general election” results but the complete irrelevance of them is not made clear. In fact, the Tories’ bar is marked with a big box that says, “Can’t win here” — once again trying to trick people into making a choice between the LibDems and Labour and giving up a potential Tory vote as futile. This is bait and switch. It’s no different to a financial adviser showing a client a set of performance figures for one investment while actually selling them another. The text continues the same theme: “Elections here in Holborn and St Pancras are always a close finish between your LibDem team and Gordon Brown’s Labour Party.” This is an outright lie: In the 2004 Euro election the LibDems in “Holborn and St Pancras” (really, the London region) came a distant third to the Tories and Labour.

I’ve been studying and following politics for 25 years and I’m well aware that election leaflets aren’t written under a solemn oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Depending on your affection for the party concerned, election handouts are either good public relations or evil propaganda, designed to put themselves in the best possible light and their opponents in the worst. A party or candidate’s own successes will be amplified and their shortcomings quietly sidestepped. Opponents will be lambasted for the slightest misjudgements and their genuine triumphs ignored. That’s how it goes and it’s hard to imagine that in a vigorous, healthy and above all a free democracy it could ever be much else.

But these LibDem leaflets go way beyond legitimate criticism of their opponents and into tricking the voters to abandon an opposing vote by giving the wholly false impression that there’s a need to vote tactically in the Euro election. That it’s the LibDems doing this — a party that campaigns hard to introduce proportional representation for the Westminster parliament as a supposedly “fairer” system — makes it all the more appalling. PR would give the LibDems a big boost at Westminster, but in an election where PR is already in place and doesn’t appear to work to their advantage in some areas the LibDems try to con the public into understanding less about how their vote works than if they hadn’t read the leaflet at all.

So I’m calling them on it. This isn’t politics but a subtle and insidious form of electoral fraud. These leaflets are deliberately designed to deceive, making statements that the LibDems know will be misinterpreted by almost everyone. The LibDems have been relatively unscathed by the Westminster expenses scandal. If nothing else they have far fewer MPs there to be making claims. But frankly I’d much rather a few LibDems had been caught feathering their own nests than deliberately trying to subvert democracy as they’re doing here. Sarah Ludford MEP, Paul Burstow MP, Tom Brake MP and the LibDems in Holborn and St Pancras have shown themselves completely unable to tell the truth where it counts and therefore unfit to hold public office — and I’ll say exactly the same thing for any party that tries to exploit and increase voters’ ignorance of the electoral system for their own advantage in this way.

There’s no need to vote tactically in the Euro elections on 4th June. Just vote for the party you prefer and there’s every chance you’ll help to elect at least one Euro MP for them. Don’t let the LibDems or anyone else fool you into thinking otherwise.

With thanks to all the people that have uploaded their election leaflets to The Straight Choice and to the Straight Choice team for making the whole thing possible.

Written by Adrian Short

May 15th, 2009 at 1:13 pm

38 Responses to 'With lies like these I’d rather the LibDems fiddled their expenses'

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  1. Great stuff Adrian. Just confirms my old view that politicians’ promises and claims bear no resemblance to reality. There should be a Political Descriptions and Promises Act, similar to the Trade Descriptions Act to stamp out this kind of nonsense. But the politicos would never vote for it!

    Rob

    Rob Skinner

    15 May 09 at 3:58 pm

  2. I’ve just uploaded a leaflet for Islington South Lib Dems who have just played the same trick – highlighting the tiny Labour majority from the last general election, and saying that the Conservatives or Green can’t win, even though there are currently London Green and Tory MEPs…

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=96

    Alex Skene

    15 May 09 at 5:30 pm

  3. Thanks Alex.

    The results for the last Euro election in the London region in 2004 are here:

    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=r9csgrQAQsetnQj4JHQ68Uw

    The current London MEPs are:

    Conservatives 3 (27%)
    Labour 3 (25%)
    LibDems 1 (15%)
    UKIP 1 (12%)
    Greens 1 (8%)

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 7:45 pm

  4. Let’s add Simon Hughes MP (North Southwark and Bermondsey) to the list of LibDem electoral fraudsters:

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=97

    According to Mr Hughes,

    “The Conservatives haven’t won in North Southwark and Bermondsey since World War 2. Every Tory vote helps Labour win.”

    Mr Hughes: You are invited to give a credible explanation of how every Tory vote in the London region at the forthcoming European Parliament election helps Labour to win, and conversely, why this isn’t a deliberate attempt by you to confuse voters about the real value and impact of a vote for the Conservatives in your constituency.

    Within 24 hours on your website, please, before I report this matter to the Electoral Commission.

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 7:50 pm

  5. I’m also adding Bridget Fox, LibDem prospective parliamentary candidate for Islington, to my list of electoral fraudsters:

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=96

    According to Ms Fox:

    “Here in Islington, elections are between the Lib Dems and Labour. Conservatives and Greens can’t win here.”

    Ms Fox, I’d like an explanation of how this statement correctly represents the value and impact of a Conservative or Green vote in Islington in the forthcoming European election on 4th June. Didn’t the Conservatives win the last European election in the London region and the Greens get just as many seats as the LibDems?

    Please explain by this time tomorrow or I’ll be reporting this to the Electoral Commission.

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 8:03 pm

  6. Yes these leaflets are a constant source of angst for me. Locally I have complained about the bar charts, and was always met with the standard response, “They Work” as if that, somehow, made these things legitimate.

    Wish they realised just how much it pisses people off.

    Charlotte Gore

    15 May 09 at 9:02 pm

  7. Are there local council elections in these areas? If these are purely for the EU election then i agree that its stupid and misleading, but if there are also local council elections then I can understand the “they work” argument for those

    Alasdair

    15 May 09 at 9:19 pm

  8. There’s not a local election in Carshalton & Wallington or Sutton & Cheam.

    The LibDems have been using this style of chart for as long as I can remember (given this is probably only a span of 8 or so years…), growing up with them it’s always seemed normal to me, but in this case it is certainly misleading.

    Thomas Wood

    15 May 09 at 9:44 pm

  9. I can see how these leaflets could be seen as misleading (a bit more explanation would be nice), but I would argue that each constituency-based result adds up to a London-wide vote total, so if there is a close result in a seat in 2005, it can be referred to quite validly.

    I am a LibDem member.

    Liam

    15 May 09 at 9:50 pm

  10. Alasdair,

    All these leaflets were sent within greater London and no London council has its local election until next year. They are leaflets just for the European Parliament election — though the unwary observer could indeed be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 10:35 pm

  11. Liam,

    The London-wide vote is pooled and the 8 MEP seats allocated roughly proportionally to the vote across the whole of London. It makes no difference at all who “wins” in each Westminster constituency. Whether your chosen party comes first or tenth in your Westminster constituency, your vote will contribute towards potentially electing an MEP.

    Let’s put it another way: In the European election the constituency for Londoners is the whole of London. There are only 12 constituencies (”regions”) for the whole of the UK in the European Parliament election and each one elects several region-wide MEPs.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8040446.stm

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 10:37 pm

  12. Charlotte,

    I have no problem at all with any party using previous election results in their campaigning provided that they are previous results from the same electoral area, for the same body and under the same system as the election at hand.

    So if a party wants to argue that a tactical vote might be worthwhile in a first-past-the-post election then why not?

    But right now the Lib Dems are trying to encourage tactical voting in a proportional representation election by using figures from a completely irrelevant election held under a different voting system. That’s what’s dodgy here.

    Adrian Short

    15 May 09 at 10:48 pm

  13. (Health Warning for Rob Skinner, I’m a Sutton politician)

    It is one thing to target messages to particular groups of people – that’s what marketing/advertising/PR has been doing for decades. However, the Liberal Democrats have been calling for more extensive use of proportional representation for years. It is then disappointing but not totally unexpected that they are deliberately mixing their campaign message with an appeal suited to a first past the post election.

    (Additional warning, I’m not a Liberal Democrat politician, and not a fan of PR as a whole.)

    Cllr Paul Scully

    15 May 09 at 11:27 pm

  14. Probably not fair to pick just on LibDems because I am sure they are all at it. But you have just tipped me towards voting Green. Wish we had proportional representation in all elections. First past the post is a terribly undemocratic system.

    John Thetidos

    16 May 09 at 9:50 am

  15. I haven’t seen any evidence so far that any party other than the Lib Dems is telling lies about how the voting system works for their own advantage.

    If you spot any on election leaflets delivered to you or on the Straight Choice website then please let me know as I’ll definitely want to write about it.

    Adrian Short

    16 May 09 at 10:03 am

  16. [...] The classic Lib Dem bar chart, their staple propaganda tool, has once again ben revealed as a complete lie. Not only are the Lib Dems in Watford actually Fib Dems, the ones in Sutton and Cheam are just as bad. [...]

  17. People vote on their expectations of the result as much as who their preferred choice is, this applies in FPTP elections and PR elections.

    The London result will be a combination of those expectations from across the capital. People in Newham will have very different experiences of the Lib Dems to those in Sutton and will vote differently.

    Hey. Given how badly the reputation of in particular Labour and the Tories is at the moment, that we take a look at both the overall result and the constituency breakdowns after the election and see what that tells us.

    Duncan Borrowman
    Former Lib Dem National Campaigns Officer

    Duncan Borrowman

    16 May 09 at 4:26 pm

  18. I have linked to this from a new blog post on the European election at http://www.thetidos.blogspot.com. It fits with a Labour TV add that doesn’t even mention Europe.

    John Thetidos

    16 May 09 at 6:15 pm

  19. Adding David Howarth MP (Cambridge) and Andrew Duff MEP (Eastern) to my list of electoral fraudsters.

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=117

    “The Conservatives cannot win here.”

    Oh really?

    http://www.peterborough.gov.uk/page-518

    It looks to me like the Conservatives did indeed win the Eastern region in 2004. They picked up three MEPs to the Lib Dems’ one (third place after UKIP).

    This also means that my complaint to the Electoral Commission will also cover the Eastern region candidates for the European Parliament election. Prior to this all the other examples have been from the London region.

    Adrian Short

    17 May 09 at 11:31 pm

  20. Had a look at these links to the leaflets and dodgy statistics so on. Can’t see what your gripe is – they’re not lies or fraud or even particularly dodgy.

    In the examples you’ve given from the Lib Dems, they all seem to refer to actual voting by real people in those areas, rather than, say, having made up an opinion poll result or previous election result and put that on a leaflet – that /would/ be misleading.

    It’s all just marketing material after all; if the other parties don’t like it (and I don’t know, Adrian, whether you are a supporter of another party), they should be putting out their own leaflets with their own slant on the same statistics.

    Not a lot to see here, I’m afraid…

    Richard England

    18 May 09 at 1:01 pm

  21. I disagree. I do not think alls fair in political campaigning especially when that “all” covers what must be deliberately misleading leaflets. Sure, other parties could (and almost certainly do – I don’t know because I have had no leaflets) put their own dishonest slant on things, but that doesn’t make it right.

    A lie by misdirection is still a lie. Whoever wrote the Sutton leaflet knew that it would give the impression that in the June 4th elections Labour was “out of the race”. That would be a false impression and so the leaflet is a lie.

    The only party I have ever been a member of was the liberal democrats. I still vote for them sometimes and have no animus against them so I find these leaflets a disappointment.

    More so because I am a life-long supporter of proportional representation, formerly a core LibDem principle, and exactly what is meant to avoid the kind of strategy advocated by these leaflets.

    Lets try to avoid being evil shall we?

    Francis Davey

    18 May 09 at 11:59 pm

  22. For info, I’ve just had a Lib Dem leaflet through my door (South Cambs; East of England), which does make reference to the last general election, but stops short of the kind of deception mentioned above.

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=161

    The text talks about “the election for the final seat in the East of England” and doesn’t mention the Westminster constituency.

    They say that “there is no luxury of voting Green, it will only help elect another Tory.” Comma splices aside, I *think* that what they’re saying is honest and not misleading, in that if they’re close to having two MEPs elected this time, then each voter that switches from Lib Dem diminishes their chances of a second MEP.

    Tim Morley

    19 May 09 at 12:14 pm

  23. Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, top of the Lib Dems’ candidate list for the London region has (presumably) read the article and says:

    “I do not accept that there are any grounds for complaint.”

    No surprises there.

    Adrian Short

    19 May 09 at 12:53 pm

  24. [...] Read all about it over at Adrian Short’s blog here [...]

  25. It’s clearly a national strategy of deception. In City of Durham, they have a “Conservatives can’t win here panel”, despite there being a sitting Tory MEP. They whole thing is openly a general election leaflet, with seven photos of the ppc.

    Paul Tinnion

    23 May 09 at 5:35 pm

  26. Another example, this time in Hampshire (http://www.thestraightchoice.org/leaflet.php?q=115), in which there are more references to the county than to SE England.

    All very confusing, especially as there’s a county council election on the same day. I wonder whether the Electoral Commission is happy with part of a leaflet being used for a campaign in a different election. Misuse of expenses?

    Chunter

    27 May 09 at 4:48 am

  27. I got a reply back from Bridget Fox (Islington South LibDem PPC):

    “Thank you for your email and for taking the time & trouble to share your views with us.

    Firstly, let me reassure you that the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to electoral reform and fair votes remains unassailable. My own personal stance is on the record, from being the guest speaker at the DAGGER (Democrats for electoral reform) AGM earlier this year, to speaking in favour of fair votes on the Daily Politics Show on BBC 2 last Friday. Despite the MPs expenses scandals showing a clear link between safe seats and contempt for the electorate, both Conservatives and Labour are still reluctant to embrace fair votes. Every vote for Liberal Democrats in any election is a vote for the only mainstream party committed to electoral reform and fair votes.

    On the subject of our election address, the campaign team did debate whether to include the barchart or not. On balance they did, because it is important to remind voters in Islington how close this seat is, given that a general election could come at any time. They were scrupulous to label the bar chart as relating to the General election, and if you have been canvassed by any of my team for the Euros, you will know that we are stressing that this is a PR election and that no vote is wasted. I want people to vote positively for the Liberal Democrats and in particular to help re-elect Sarah Ludford who is an outstanding local MEP for Islington. A high Lib Dem vote should also see the distinguished writer Jonathan Fryer elected.

    I regret it deeply if our use of a barchart would deter you from voting for such a great team to represent us in Brussels, and hope you may reconsider.”

    Alex Skene

    30 May 09 at 12:46 pm

  28. Credit to Ms Fox for actually providing a substantial reply which is more than any other Lib Dem has managed. It’s still codswallop, though. There’s no way in which an unsuspecting person wouldn’t be entirely misled into thinking that the statement that “elections in Islington are always a close finish between Liberal Democrats and Labour” applied in this European election which is held in Islington even though that’s not the constituency. “Scrupulously” labelling the bar chart doesn’t really help anyone figure out that the general election figures are totally irrelevant.

    Full text of the leaflet:

    http://www.thestraightchoice.org/full.php?q=96#l166

    Adrian Short

    2 Jun 09 at 12:40 pm

  29. We have the same problem with the Lib Dems in Woking. I made the same point about the deceit on the electoral system.

    I am pushing to take a more direct line of attack against the deceitful practices of the Lib Dems. It time their style of politics and little tricks were exposed to the electorate for what they are and what they tell you about who the Lib Dems are.

    PS Great post – I’ve cached a copy of it locally to refer to in the future.

    Man in a Shed

    3 Jun 09 at 7:57 pm

  30. Now, that’s the strange thing about the Liberals. As individuals they are lovely people. But get them together in the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats and they become feral and mendacious.

    That's News

    3 Jun 09 at 11:46 pm

  31. I’m not a member or anything, but aren’t those leaflets aimed at local elections, not European ones?

    Sam

    4 Jun 09 at 12:18 am

  32. And I could equally show you Tory leaflets that do the same, leaflets from the Tories in North Norfolk used in general elections claiming the Lib Dems cannot win (its a Lib Dem held seat) and many other examples to.

    Get over yourself.

  33. It always amuses me when the Tories or Labour whine about Lib Dems using their tactical advantage in a few FPTP seats, when Labour and the Tories constantly tell voters, ‘there’s no point voting for anyone other than us because it’s a wasted vote.’

    If this is the most scandalous thing the Lib Dems are doing then good on them!

    Keith

    4 Jun 09 at 2:53 am

  34. For real lies in leaflets , see the Conservatives in Taunton . They managed to libel not only the LibDem candidate but the CEO of the Council . After police involvement they are now running around delivering another note from the chairman of Taunton Conservative Association withdrawing the false allegations .
    Incidently there is a council byelection on Sutton council Nonsuch ward on July 2nd .

    Mark Senior

    4 Jun 09 at 9:12 am

  35. @Sam – that’s the whole point. They are using the local elections to deceive people about the European ones. ( Lets face it the Lib Dems really should understand proportional representation shouldn’t they ? )

    As an example see here which clearly shows an attempt at a cross over from local election to Euro PR election. ( As an aside the local Lib Dems don’t even use the Council Division they are competing for, nor the last equivalent election for the MP constituency they do show. Claiming its only 4% between when at the last general election the gap was 14% ).

    Man in a Shed

    4 Jun 09 at 9:57 am

  36. Sam,

    These are European election leaflets. There are no local elections in London today.

    Nich Starling,

    If the Tories (or anyone else) are making claims about the need for tactical voting in a first past the post election then that’s legitimate. There’s no need to vote tactically in the European election held under a proportional party list system.

    Adrian Short

    4 Jun 09 at 1:06 pm

  37. [...] it seems that the Lib Dems’ leaflets are legal I maintain my original view that they are indecent, dishonest and untruthful. They may be “within the rules” but [...]

  38. Memo to Ms Bridget Fox

    Result in Islington

    Labour 12,428
    Greens 8,551
    Liberal Democrats 8,167
    Conservatives 6,170

    I think we can say any further claims of “two horses” is incorrect in Islington

    Barry

    8 Jun 09 at 11:03 pm

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