What can be done about the political activist who told Stoke Muslims to vote Labour or go to hell?

Election law ensures candidates can’t buy results, bribe voters or tamper with the ballot box

The Sun has made a number of allegations against the Labour party about candidates using religion to pressure people to vote in the Stoke by-election. Thirty-one Conservative MPs, larger than the government’s majority, are being investigated for electoral fraud. The Liberal Democrats have been fined £20,000 for breaching expenses law.

With all this going on, it’s worth asking ‘what does election law say’? For those of us that don’t have around £900 for a copy Schofield’s Election Law (3rd revised edition), it can be difficult to access anything that provides even a basic overview.


Among lawyers and law students alike, election law is a confusing, and often unknown, topic. This is despite it being an essential part of our democratic society. It ensures that you can’t buy elections, bribe voters, anonymously campaign and disparage your opponent or even tamper with the ballot box.

Without it we’d still have “Rotten Boroughs” with small electorates that could be bribed or coerced into voting for whoever the landowner wished them too. This could have a significant effect on the country’s politics. In the 1831 general election, 88 of the 406 elected members of the House of Commons, or a little over 21%, were elected by constituencies with less than 50 voters. While constituencies were forced to represent a reasonable segment of the voting population by the Reform Act of 1832, there was still a complete lack of law regulating other practices, such as spending, advertising and bribery. 



What we would now consider election law arrived relatively late in the United Kingdom, with the first piece of modern legislation being the Ballot Act 1872, which introduced the secret ballot and criminalised election tampering. S3 of the act criminalised the fraudulent production, supply and use of ballots papers, as well as their destruction or tampering.

The intended reduction of corruption did happen, but it was still common enough to justify the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883. This act strengthened penalties for intimidation and prevented bribery by forcing campaign spending limits and record-keeping for the first time.

This simple idea is an essential development in the UK’s democracy as it prevents people from buying elections. This might sound like an overstatement, but the United States shows that freedom to spend as you wish combined with other lax election laws can be a detriment to democracy. In 82% of Senate and 94% of House races, the candidate that spent the most money won. You can, almost literally, buy a vote in the legislator.

That is why election finance law is so important, and why we should be so worried that MPs may have filed false expenses returns.

In 1883, the act allowed for £710, around £80,000 into today’s money, to be spent for the first 2,000 voters in an election campaign. A further £40, around £4,500 in today’s money, could be spent for every 1,000 voters after that.

We’ve moved on slightly from these humble sums.

 Today the calculations are slightly more complicated. With national television adverts, the internet and radio, national limits are imposed, as well as constituency limits. This equals £30,000 multiplied by the number of constituencies the party contests in that area or £810,000 in England, £120,000 in Scotland, and £60,000 in Wales — whichever is greater. This law is contained in s79 and schedule 9 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, limits on individual candidates still remain in s76 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. It stands at £7,150 plus 7p for every constituent that the would-be MP is trying to represent. In by-elections this is set at a flat rate of £100,000.


WANT TO WRITE FOR THE LEGAL CHEEK JOURNAL?

Submit your idea


This is the basis of the claim against the Conservative candidates: that they filed false claim returns to the electoral commission, having either not declared expenses or falsely declared them as part of national spending, rather than spending in individual constituencies. If this is true, it represents a deliberate and calculated attempt to buy an election, evade the law and deprive the British public of the knowledge it’s entitled to. More than this, if it is allowed to continue unchallenged it would allow us to slip into a USA style slogging match, based more on the spending than ideas or even eloquence.

There are allegations against the Labour party of an even more serious nature. The allegations centre on a text message sent to Muslim constituents that said it was their religious duty to vote Labour. The message said “Will you be able to answer for this in the Grave and on the Final Day???”. It has been attributed to Navid Hussain, a Labour activist. This violates s115(2)(a) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 as it threatens spiritual injury.

This law replaced s2 of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883, which had almost identical wording. The protection is part of the old reforms of the late nineteenth century, and protects against this sort of disgusting and manipulative behaviour.

While the text message is abhorrent, the implication that the Labour party as an entity is responsible is simply not true. The individual may be held responsible under the act, but there is no part of the provision that automatically holds the party liable for its members’ acts. As there is no implication of conspiracy, or that Mr Hussain was acting as the candidate’s agent, the only indication of guilt is a picture of Mr Hussain standing next to Mr Corbyn. Given the thousands of photos taken with Mr Corbyn it’s hardly fair to hold him or the Labour party responsible for the action of one crass activist. This is particularly true as the election may be voided under s159 of the 1983 act, and prevents the candidate from contesting the resulting by-election.

It’s a serious act for a court to bar people from holding positions in the legislator. This happened recently in 2010, when a Labour MP made various claims about his Liberal Democrat opponent, which were proved to be false and personal attacks. This included a leaflet with a photoshopped picture of his Liberal Democrat opponent with armed police, implying heavily he was arrested. The Liberal Democrat brought a petition under s120 of the 1983 act, and had the election voided. The majority of 103, down from 3,590 previously, increased to 3,558 when a new candidate was selected by the Labour Party.

This is not the only restriction on leaflets, as well as posters. These would generally be counted as election material, which includes anything that improves the standing or electoral chances of a party or individual candidate under s85(2) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Under s143(2) of the same act, all this material must include the name and address of the printer of the document , its promoter and any person that the material is being published on behalf of and who is not the promoter. This is a comparably recent statute, so there is little case law related to it. This means it can be difficult to interpret exactly what this means or how it will be enforced.

While election law is complicated, in some cases archaic, it is important and generally neglected. It is a vital part of the checks and balances of British democracy, which can result in people being barred from standing for elections. Any law that allows a judge to prevent someone voting in parliament should be considered academically interesting to most public lawyers, and not ignored or forgotten as it is now.

Peter Baker is graduate from Aberystwyth University. He completed the GDL at BPP University last year and is now studying the LPC.

Want to write for the Legal Cheek Journal? Find out more here.

Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We'd be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.

28 Comments

Anonymous

Good article. I would point out that a UKIP affiliated group – ‘Christian Soldiers’ or some lunatics name like that was sending around pamphlets stating that people would go to hell for not voting UKIP. It’s odd that this hasn’t been covered by the media.

(5)(3)
Reply Report comment
Anonymous

A good start would be waking up to the fact that a significant chunk of Islam is not compatible with Western values, but is deeply misogynistic, violent and racist.

How about that?

(16)(10)
Reply Report comment
Christian of Counsel

Yup.

Galatians 3:28 (equality of the sexes)

Matthew 5:28 (places the responsibility on the man to control himself, not on the woman to cover up as per Islam)

Sermon on the Mount (not to judge people, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor, give stuff away to the poor when asked).

The teachings of Jesus Christ are actually quite radical leftist.

And Jesus himself never actually said anything about homosexuality.

(6)(0)
Reply Report comment
Ahmed

It has always surprised me that some of the more conservative Muslim types are fervent Labour supporters.

Labour values on issues such as women’s equality, LGBTQ+ rights and human rights in general (including capital punishment and penal policy) are wholly at odds with the Islamic position.

Conservative Islamic values are actually more akin to those of UKIP and the BNP.

I believe that the Muslim affiliation to Labour is just a hang-over from the days when the Labour candidate was the more attractive to the brown voter because the story candidate was the more likely to be a racist (closet or otherwise).

The only other contemporary explanation is that Labour is softer on immigration and is therefore more likely to let more Muslims into the UK than the Tories or UKIP would.

Food for thought…

(5)(1)
Reply Report comment
Anonymous

No one ever asks about why some of the paedophile grooming gangs are Muslim.

Could it be something to do with the fact that their prophet married a six year old and consummated the union when she reached puberty aged nine?

Sounds like hate speech, but the above is in the Koran.

(6)(2)
Reply Report comment
Anonymous

Ahh.. Another google scholar.. allow me to educate you..

In *one* interpretation the Prophet (Pbuh) married Ayesha at 6.. Point to note, this is a widely unaccepted translation which the majority of scholars dispute. The popular and more accepted translation states she was at the age of 16. Stop using google as a tool to feed your ignorance. Go speak to a Muslim scholar. oh, and don’t reply with a copy and pasted translation from google to try and justify your position..

Regarding your second ignorant comment on ‘muslim’ grooming gangs – Its just the same as when a ‘white’ male gang is convicted of grooming, no one comments or points out their religion..

A sicko is a sicko, regardless of race or religion..

(1)(0)
Reply Report comment
Winston Smith

Correction:

“In the 1831 general election, 88 of the 406 elected members of the House of Commons, or a little over 21%, were elected by constituencies with less than 50 voters.”

Should read:

In the 1831 general election, 88 of the 406 elected members of the House of Commons, or a little over 21%, were elected by constituencies with fewer than 50 voters.”

Rectify.

(1)(2)
Reply Report comment
Trumpenkrieg

What can be done about the political activist who told Stoke Muslims to vote Labour or go to hell?

In a sane society, deportation.

(7)(2)
Reply Report comment
Trumpenkrieg

Spare me the legalism. He might be the holder of a British passport, but his behaviour is certainly foreign, and indeed subversive of the legal and political order in Britain. My preference would be, if he is indeed a British citizen, to have him stripped of that status and deported immediately.

(0)(2)
Reply Report comment
?????

What do you think this is? It’s a brief review of campaign financing, and restrictions on campaigning practises. It just happens to focus on a few specific cases to illustrate the broader points.

(0)(0)
Reply Report comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.