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Police investigate top Tory Councillor for Election Fraud

 

26 April 2018

 

That’s quite some headline. And it’s all true.

 

It clearly needs some explanation:

 

Jeremy Moulton is the leader of the Conservatives on Southampton Council and has been a councillor for the Freemantle Ward for 16 years. He was also a Conservative candidate for parliament for the Southampton Test constituency.

 

Moulton is a seasoned local politician and is facing a tough battle to retain his council seat. Moulton does not live in the Freemantle ward and is trying to fend off the threat of local candidates from Labour and Viva Europa (Ed Thompson). Viva Europa are a single-issue party campaigning on an anti-Brexit platform.

The incident that caused the Electoral Fraud issue might seem rather trivial in itself but it does raise some interesting questions.

 

Pen-gate

Moulton’s campaign made hand-deliveries to specifically targeted voters who held postal votes. The enveloped pack contained a leaflet; a poster; a covering letter focussing on the need to use the postal vote wisely, and crucially, a pen. The pen carried the instruction “vote Jeremy Moulton for Freemantle”.

 

Most electoral novices would spot the potential problem with bestowing gifts on potential voters – even if the gift is only a pen. What were the Moulton campaigners thinking? Mr Moulton would surely be aware that making any kind of gift to the electorate is a hugely contentious area.

 

As Ed Thompson explained: “You really have to question the judgement of someone who thinks it’s a good idea to deliver nice new pens to specially targeted electors with postal votes – particularly when the pen carries the instruction to use it to vote for a specific candidate.”

 

The matter was initially raised by the Viva Europa candidate as an enquiry with the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer advised that this is a grey area and that potentially making gifts in this way could be considered as ‘Treating’ – and may potentially come under the Representation of the People Act 1983. The concept of Treating dates back to the 18th century when candidates would ply electors with food (and particularly drink) to secure votes. In 1911 an MP was unseated for giving coal to the poor and sweets to schoolchildren. In 2015 in Southampton Itchen, a UKIP parliamentary candidate landed himself in hot water (and in the national press) for handing out sausage rolls. This is clearly not the kind company that Moulton would not have wanted to be associated with.

 

Following guidance from the Electoral Commission fraud team, the Returning Officer has reported the incident to Hampshire Police. The Hampshire Police will investigate and potentially refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Services for a decision on prosecution.

 

At Viva Europa, we are certainly surprised to be told that the matter has gone as far as the police. Given that the Treating offence seems to require a ‘corrupt intention’ in order to prosecute, we would be surprised if the outcome is anything other than a slap on the wrist for Mr Moulton. We would like to point out that whilst we believe Mr Moulton has been foolish and a little arrogant; we are not suggesting he had a deliberately corrupt intention.

 

However, we do believe that it is right that this is taken seriously and steps are taken to firm up guidance. Everyone should be on a level playing field when it comes to elections and not all parties would be happy or able to hand out pens to postal voters. If nothing else, steps need to be taken to ensure the electorate doesn’t want to find their letterboxes filled with stress-balls, coasters and other tat.

 

And what of the pens themselves? A quick online check suggests the pens cost around 40p each and probably required a minimum run of a couple of hundred. It is important to remember that in local Council elections, a majority of less than a hundred is not uncommon (and the Freemantle vote is likely to particularly tight).

 

Although Mr Moulton must be feeling rather sheepish, Ed Thompson, the Viva Europa candidate hopes he hasn’t lost his sense of humour:

 

“Jeremy has been ink-redibly foolish. This underlines how worried the Tories must about the Viva Europa inroads in Freemantle. Perhaps, for Jeremy Moulton in Freemantle, the writing is on the wall?”

 

Viva Europa featured on Politics.co.uk

The acclaimed website www.politics.co.uk carried an article about how and why the Party was set up:

http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2018/03/08/we-ve-started-a-brexit-protest-party-to-disrupt-the-local-el

First Viva Europa launched and Press Release issued:

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