Posted by: John Brace | 4 March 2020

How much did the Labour general election campaign in 2019 in Wirral South spend?

How much did the Labour general election campaign in 2019 in Wirral South spend?

                                

I believe this piece falls into the category of the public right to know. These are the published results of an journalistic investigation graded and edited by myself as editor at Chase Level 3 (reasonable grounds to investigate).

I consider it beyond my remit as editor to take this matter any further than publication of this piece, however factual information is included at the end of this article should you decide for whatever reason or reasons to take any further actions on the facts outlined below.

I caution due to insufficient information on the control environment there are different opinions that can be reached on the same facts.

I am not publishing the pages in the return and accompanying documents referred to below apart from the declarations (published at the end). This is partly because this information has been seen and read by myself before publication, but also due to the time it would take.

UK 2019 General Election


    Background

  1. As part of routine election monitoring of the 2019 general election (which is 650 different elections of MPs representing different areas called constituencies to the House of Commons), an inspection of election expense returns was carried out at Wallasey Town Hall by John and Leonora Brace. There is an earlier published piece about what happened.
  2. Wirral Council employees administered the general election in 2019 for four constituencies in the Wirral area which are Birkenhead, Wallasey, Wirral South and Wirral West. The total costs of these four elections are paid for by the UK Government itself with management of the resourcing being the responsibility of the Cabinet Office (subject to approval by Her Majesty’s Treasury).
  3. This short piece details various “anomalies” discovered in the return for one candidate in the Wirral South election, more specifically the successful Labour candidate Alison McGovern who was elected as Member of Parliament. At the time of publication it is not known what the cause or causes of most of these anomalies are.
  4. General election returns and declarations (open to public inspection) are also required to be shared by Wirral Council with the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission can also request accompanying documents but it seems that these are not routinely shared with them.
  5. For ease of future reference, the anomalies are numbered (1-4).
  6. Anomaly 1 (IPSA and email issue)

  7. The election return details what is termed the short campaign and it is stated to have run from 7th November 2019 to 13th December 2019 (strictly speaking this last date is incorrect as the regulated period instead ends on polling day 12th December 2019 but this is a very minor point).
  8. During this period Alison McGovern was not a Member of Parliament. A website (alisonmcgovern.org.uk) was used as part of the election campaign. This page was archived by a third party website once on the 24th November 2019 (during the campaign period) and once on the 13th December 2019 (the day after the campaign period ended or by the return the last day of the campaign). According to the screenshot dated 24th November 2019 linked from this page here, (unless there is a technical problem with the archiving process) that page appears to state that on the 24th November 2019 that at the footer of the page the following was used:-

    “Contact details
    99 New Chester Road Wirral CH63 4RA
    View on Google Maps
    Email: alison.mcgovern.mp@parliament.uk”

  9. There is nothing wrong with a person using a parliamentary e-mail address, but the IPSA guidance published here (page 23) states:-

    “If you wish to use IPSA-funded IT equipment for campaigning activities, you must pay a fee of £135 to IPSA. This sum must be repaid to IPSA as soon as possible and no later than the day before Polling Day. The fee will count towards your candidate spending, and you should ensure that you are continuing to adhere to electoral rules for candidates, including spending limits.”

  10. Having read the return, to the best of my knowledge no amount of any kind was paid to IPSA (unlike in other returns we inspected). Obviously it is possible that the above can be interpreted as merely use of physical IT equipment, but the issue regarding email and election periods is made clear elsewhere in the same guidance.
  11. Anomaly 2 (Facebook spend)

  12. On the return £2,300 is declared as spent on advertising with Facebook. However Facebook state that a different amount was spent (£2,113). Both amounts don’t match. This is listed as payment 5.
  13. The legal requirements for a return require the bills or receipts (above a threshold of £20) relating to the payments to be included with the return. An amount spent on Facebook advertising of either £2,113 or £2,300 is quite clearly above the £20 threshold yet cannot be properly audited as apparently it has been “lost” (although a partial credit card statement was provided for part of it). In such circumstances, it is puzzling as to why the Facebook breakdown of spend wasn’t included.
  14. Anomaly 3 (Splitting)

  15. Six figures on the return have been typed in a different font suggesting editing or alteration, but relate to figures where something has been purchased, but the full cost not counted towards the total election spend which for clarity I will simply refer to as splitting.
  16. The legal limit for expenditure was £13,381.80. Declared spend was £12,904.87. Just for information if taken at face value (if the figures are accurate) this is just £476.93 under the legal limit.
  17. The payments numbered 2, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 11 on the return are for a different amount paid (according to the invoices). The total amount of these invoices is £3,398.80.
  18. However only roughly three-quarters (£2,577.88) of this expenditure actually counts towards election spending on the return.
  19. Therefore a somewhat objective and hard to understand decision has been made that is hard to understand due to lack of detail provided (the nature of the split apart from scribbled percentages).
  20. It is to be noted however that detailed questions (covering much of the above) before publication were put in writing to Alison McGovern’s election agent Noel Hutchinson, who has declined to reply to us.
  21. Essentially therefore little detailed explanation can be given as to the precise rationale behind the differing percentages used for the splitting.
  22. The issue of splitting campaign spending requires an honest assessment of the proportion of the cost that can be fairly attributed according the guiding principle.
  23. Splitting introduces at times a somewhat subjective decision and in this case refers to paid for but undelivered material (of the value of around £820). More usually in other returns I have seen, the actual quantity of unused leaflets is included (then converted into a percentage). There is however a problem to this straight line method used that has worried me for a while on previous returns with large amounts ordered due to the way leaflets are priced. For example if 100,000 leaflets are ordered, only 20,000 used, you would think that 20% of the cost would be reasonable to declare? Yet if originally only 20,000 leaflets had been ordered the price would be much higher (because the prices per a thousand go down the more that are ordered). There is therefore another principle at play in that the value (counting towards election spending) has to be declared at commercial value.
  24. Anomaly 4 (Register of Members’ Interests)

  25. I have received two written responses as to whether (or not) the £12,904.87 of spending by Wirral South Constituency Labour Party should be declared by Alison McGovern MP in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
  26. The short and clear reply from Alison McGovern MP is as follows “Thank you for your email. MPs are not required to register the details of any support received from the central Labour Party or from their own and other local Labour Party organisations. I hope this information is helpful.”
  27. The somewhat longer response from the press office of the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is “Chapter 1 of the Guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members contains the detailed rules on the registration of financial interests. Donations and other support for activities as a Member of Parliament are registered in category 2 of the Register. Paragraphs 14 to 21 of chapter 1 of the Guide set out the details of what must and must not be registered in this category. Paragraph 18 of chapter 1 says:

    “Members should not register in this category:

    Direct support from the Member’s own party organisation;
    ….
    You can see the rules in full by following this link: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmcode/1882/188201.htm

  28. Paragraph 18 has to be read with paragraph 16 (which unfortunately appear to slightly contradict each other), “A Member must register under this sub-category support received by his or her constituency party organisation or which he or she receives via a central party organisation if there was a clear link between the donation and him or her; for example, if it was given to a such an organisation with a wish that it be allocated to him or her, to his or her fighting fund or to a front bench office which he or she held; if it was assigned to him or her in circumstances where he or she was aware, or could reasonably be expected to be aware, of the identity of the donor;”
  29. On balance, I don’t believe Alison McGovern believes she has to declare the amount of support towards her 2019 election campaign in this way and the way the rules are worded this is one reasonable interpretation.
  30. I will finish this piece with the signed declarations that both Alison McGovern MP and her election agent Noel Hutchinson signed. I am nearly exactly the same age as Alison McGovern MP (just a few months older), but my personal opinion of Alison McGovern MP and indeed knowledge of how general election campaigns are run (but not this one) is that the election return and accompanying documents, if just read through without detailed scrutiny and audit are on the face of it plausible. There are indeed more thorough tests that I haven’t run on it, but the above matters causes concern as the problem is it in parts it doesn’t match with reality.
  31. As promised I wrote earlier that I would include details if you wish to take this further. I will however state that these contact details are for information only – at this present time I am merely stating that the matter is impossible for me to investigate further. The people involved may have reasonable (but as yet unknown) explanations that are not known about at the time of publication.
  32. Obviously Alison McGovern MP herself can be contacted using alison.mcgovern.mp@parliament.uk.
  33. Slightly strangely, our somewhat complicated internal guidance here usually refers to a rather obscure section of the CPS that deals with high-profile matters who can be contacted at SCandCTVRRandcompliants@cps.gsi.gov.uk.
  34. Merseyside Police (who according to a letter last year have a focus on “education” rather than prosecution) can be contacted at Electoral.Fraud.Team@merseyside.police.uk.

Alison McGovern 2019 general election candidate declaration Wirral South

Alison McGovern 2019 general election candidate declaration Wirral South

Noel Hutchinson 2019 general election agent declaration Wirral South

Noel Hutchinson 2019 general election agent declaration Wirral South

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