ADD UPDATE, 22 March 2018: Last week, Sarah Charters, a resident of Bishopstoke, sent an official letter of complaint to Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) accusing Liberal Democrat councillors of misleading local people about Eastleigh’s Local Plan in their leaflets and social media.
She addressed her letter to Richard Ward, EBC’s monitoring officer, and – in the accompanying Code of Conduct documentation – specifically cited Cllrs Trevor Mignot, Vickieye Parkinson and Anne Winstanley (the latter two pictured with Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats) for criticism. We posted her letter on 16 March and said we would also publish any reply.
On Tuesday, 20 March, Sarah Charters received the following reply for Richard Ward:
Subject: RE: Complaint Against Cllrs Trevor Mignot, Vickieye Parkinson and Anne Winstanley
Dear Mrs Charters,
I refer to your code of conduct complaint.
The “Code of Conduct” system is designed to deal with the ethical conduct of Councillors whilst acting as Councillors. Accordingly under it I can investigate matters such as Councillors not declaring interests, bullying staff or disrupting meetings etc. It would not be appropriate to use the code to look at the statements of intended candidates in election or political literature.
The Electoral Commission has published the following guidance regarding political literature:
“In general, political campaign material in the UK is not regulated, and it is a matter for voters to decide on the basis of such material whether they consider it accurate or not. This includes the design of the material. There is one exception to this, which is making or publishing a false statement of fact in relation to a candidate’s personal character or conduct (not their political views or conduct), unless there are reasonable grounds to believe the statement is true. The Commission does not regulate this rule however, and any allegations should be made to the police.
“The Advertising Standards Authority regulates advertising, but non-broadcast political material whose principal function is to influence voters is exempt from its remit. Further, as broadcast political advertising is prohibited in the UK, Ofcom retains responsibility for considering whether television and radio advertisements have been directed towards a political end or placed by a body whose aims are wholly or mainly of a political nature.
“The Electoral Commission is also not responsible for regulating party election broadcasts (PEBs), however, these must observe the wider law – for example, on copyright, libel, contempt, obscenity, incitement to racial hatred or violence. In addition, all broadcasters’ PEBs must also comply with the harm and offence and incitement rules of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. BBC PEBs must comply with relevant provisions of the BBC Editorial Guidelines. More information on the production rules for PEBs can be found on the website of the Broadcaster Liaison Group here. The Commission also has no role in the arrangements for any broadcast leadership debates, which are managed between the relevant broadcasters and political parties directly. The content of any broadcast leadership debates must comply with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and/or the BBC Editorial Guidelines as appropriate.
“The wider law does generally apply to political campaign material, and if you believe any material breaches have been made, for example, with regard to equalities or public order legislation, you may wish to report this to the police or seek your own legal advice”
With regard to your concerns regarding the local plan as you may be aware the Council has to comply with a highly complex legal procedure and with detailed consultation requirements and ultimately has to convince an Independent planning inspector appointed by the Government. The procedure allows for detailed participation by members of the public including making their concerns known to the independent inspector. Further details of the local plan process can be found on the Council’s web site and also on the websites of organisations such as the CPRE.
Strategy – Monitoring Officer
Eastleigh Borough Council | Eastleigh House | Upper Market Street | Eastleigh | SO50 9YN