Labour Pains

There's a little more to the story of the unions funding the selection campaigns of their preferred candidates. If a union (or any single donor) gives a candidate who is a party member over £1,500, in cash or in kind, toward their selection campaign, the candidate needs to tell the Electoral Commission about that, within 30 days of accepting the gift. Now whatever counts as accepting, it is something that is done within 30 days of receiving the gift so, depending on the specifics, candidates have between 30-60 days to tell the Commission.

Now, as the Labour selection process finished with announcements mid-June, those 60 days have long gone, and it looks awfully like only one candidate has made a declaration. I am focussing on Labour, partly because their 60 days is long gone, but also partly because of elements of their selection process that make this more likely to be an issue for them than for other parties. Labour:-

  • Selected by postal ballot.
  • Gave member addresses to candidates so they could write to members.
  • Requires candidates to be members of trades unions.
  • Used trades unions in the early selection processes.
  • Gave email addresses to candidates, along with the mailchimp service, but this is believed only to reach half of the total membership.
  • Limited candidates to a 200-word statement distributed with the ballot paper.

I quite liked this bit of the Labour selection process but, with many force areas having 5,000+ members, it creates a pressure for people to invest a tidy sum in writing to members directly. Numerous candidates have lost their own money on this, but some have turned to unions to help them, and the maths can push candidates beyond the £1,500 barrier where they have to make a declaration.

But what do we mean when we say they have to declare? Well, it is an offence not to declare or to declare late and being punished for an offence is not going to be a helpful background for an election candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner. The Electoral Commission have their own policies on investigation and prosecution. Some things they investigate themselves – others they refer to the police. Sometimes they issue their own penalties. Alternatively some offences can only be prosecuted through the criminal courts, and sometimes the Commission has to decide which path to take.

I imagine this news is of interest to various sorts of people:-

  • Those who believe Labour chose the wrong candidate locally, whether inside the party or out.
  • Those who are in unions who didn't want their funds used in this way.
  • Those standing against such a candidate in these elections.

The thing about these mailshots is that they go out to lots of people, so there is a good chance where it has happened that there is evidence sitting in a drawer somewhere just waiting to trap a candidate who thinks the whole thing will pass them by, just waiting to be married up with the details in a union's accounts. And woe betide anyone who now tries to go back and make it all look legal, for that is the way to really get in trouble.

Will some be tempted to hope that no-one will find out, or just to face the problem post-election rather than now? Will that not be a bigger story, where a PCC is investigated possibly for a more serious offence, or an offence which is treated more seriously because they waited till they were elected and caught?

How extensive a problem is this? Who knows? I can reveal though that I have drawn the attention of the Electoral Commission to what I consider to be prima facie evidence of breach, and also of evidence I believe demands further investigation. I'll not name the candidates involved here but, if you are a candidate, it could be you.

If candidates want to reassure folk that they are in the clear, I'm happy to publish details candidates send me about how they funded their selection campaigns or, if you have information that suggests a candidate may have broken the law, even if it doesn't prove the whole story, I am happy to act as an anonomising conduit of information to the Electoral Commission – just send it all to or, if it is really good evidence of something serious and you don't want me to know who you are, you could always contact Crimestoppers.


This post followed a useful conversation on Twitter with policing expert @BernardRix and election lawyer @RosBaston where Ros provided some clarity on a few legal points, specifically that donation limits apply to each donor, rather than a combination of donors, that in certain circumstances the time limit for reporting is as high as 60 days, and that copies of the leaflets are useful evidence to see whether rules may have been broken. Ros has not seen the evidence I've provided to the Electoral Commission, and I do not therefore claim her support for my above analysis. She specifically makes the point that it is not unusual for unions to promote candidates, and that in certain circumstances a mailshot may not count, depending on how it's managed, though she does warn that it is very difficult to 'massage' after the event.

If you are worried that you might be caught by this, @RosBaston is probably worth a follow – heck, she might even be the lawyer you need!


This entry was posted in Convictions, Labour, Perspectives, Selecting Candidates. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Labour Pains

  1. Sam,

    In the interests of even-handedness have you also done this exercise for the Conservative candidates?

    Unless I am completely misusing the awful new PEF system on the Electoral Commission site I can see no more evidence of Tory PCC candidates reporting >£1,500 donations than you can of Labour’s,

    Yet having followed the campaigns fairly closely I can see far more evidence of significant early spending by Tory candidates than by Labour ones – for instance Andrew McKinley in Kent was boasting on twitter about having taken delivery of a million pieces of literature just a week or so after his selection, while IIRC Baroness Warsi was claiming that every candidate had the support of not one but two party staffers.

    And nobody has made a single substantial donation to pay for all this activity?

    Plus its hardly secret at all that Labour has far less invested in these contests than the Tories do – we were opposed to PCCs in principle and will probably abolish them when we get back into power, for a number of these contests our candidate has no hope whatsoever of winning and unlike the Tories nationally and locally we are seriously strapped for cash,

    So other than Unite who have quite properly reported their contribution to the Lancaster campaign I actually find it quite plausible that no union has yet contributed a sum of £1,500+ to any Labour PCC campaign – as unlike Tory-supporting multi-millionaires those unions have generally seen their incomes fall over the recession as many thousands of their members have lost their jobs – and what money they do have left in their political funds will be focused on winning back power for Labour nationally.

    You also insult Labour activists when you imagine that we would use any legal ploy to unseat a candidate we don’t like – unlike the Tories our selection contest was run using a fair and equal postal ballot of all members and as long as the process wasn’t fixed in advance we are pretty solid when it comes to rallying around a candidate that has been democratically selected.

    • samchapman says:

      I’ve looked for Evidence of donations and mailshots in Conservative postal-ballots, but there weren’t many of those and no evidence I could find. Candidates are free to spend their own or party monies on their campaigns. The same laws apply to them and if there are any breaches I would be keen to hear about them. I cannot promise to do a complete post-election review of campaign finances – I suspect I won’t have the time to wade through every declaration then, but this time there was a very manageable list of declarations when I looked at the Commission’s website.
      No Labour figures complained when I questionned Conservative selection procedures in a number of areas, or revealed the Home Secretary’s pre-campaign meeting with Simon Weston. I have happened across a problem which may throw up more problems for Labour, and am happy to report that, as most people suspect I would have done had it have been a Conservative candidate. If you want to test me on this, send me some solid evidence!
      There was no intention of demeaning your candidates or members. If someone has broken the rules they face the consequences. I have not raised the concern about selections being fixed – from memory that came up on LabourList before ever being mentioned here. My own view is that party activists can make their parties better by reporting such breaches. Waiting for it to happen by stying quiet is unlikely to work. There is no need to thank me for helping make Labour better in this way!

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