Monday, 14 June 2010

Challenging Election Results

Yesterday the Sunday Mirror reported that the new Conservative MP for Romsey, Caroline Nokes, had been having an affair with her agent. In itself, that news should be nobody's business but Mrs Nokes, her husband and the man involved. What makes this worthy of comment is that, during the election, Mrs Nokes signed a campaign group's pledge stating that extra-marital sex was wrong. My understanding is that her signature was then used to appeal to some of her electorate for votes.

If all the above is true, that means that Mrs Nokes campaigned using false promises to the electorate. In short, that she lied.

Her Lib Dem opponent, the former MP Sandra Gidley, is suggesting that she might apply to have the result of the election overturned on the basis of this lie.

In the past, cases of this sort were very rare. The law on whether a false statement could be grounds for overturning the result was unclear and the only way an action could ever succeed would be if the defeated candidate could find people who were prepared to state under oath that they voted for the winner on the basis of the false statement but would not have done if they had known the truth. Sufficient numbers were needed to overturn the majority. But the law was changed recently to allow a judge to set aside the result if false statements of significant magnitude can be proved.

But Mrs Nokes' case is not the only such instance. In Oldham East and Saddleworth, defeated Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins has claimed that former immigration minister Phil Woolas made false statements about him in his leaflets. The Conservative challenger in David Laws' Yeovil seat is also complaining that Mr Laws made statements about being 'clean' on expenses. No doubt there are others out there as well.

It is right that the degree of culpability and its likely effect should be judged on the facts of each case in a court of law. But the principle that an election can be overturned by a court on the basis of false statements should be made clear as soon as possible. The electorate needs to be protected from blatant falsehoods so that they can cast their votes in confidence or know that the result will be set aside.

This isn't a party political issue - as I have demonstrated above, winners from all three main parties have been accused.

1 comment:

Richard Gadsden said...

I was a candidate in the general election. I was asked to sign the Westminster Declaration.

There were two things we were asked to sign; one was that we thought that Christians should be allowed to follow the Declaration, the other was the Declaration itself.

I signed neither, as the principles in the Declaration amounted to a demand that Christians should be entitled to additional rights over and above those granted to citizens as a whole.

Still, if Nokes signed merely the first pledge and not the second, then she was not binding herself to the covenantal view of marriage; just to accepting that Christian signatories to the declaration have that view.