Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

In wide-ranging evidence to a recent House of Lords Select Committee Richard Mawrey QC referred to the creation of a political party by Lutfur Rahman and how the Electoral Commission registered this corrupt and by any reasonable standard, non-existent party.

The transcript of Mr Mawrey’s evidence says:

“As you know, he (Lutfur Rahman) created his own political party, Tower Hamlets First, which consisted very largely of his own associates. It was a wonderful political party that had no bank account and no headquarters. I do not know how the Electoral Commission passed it, but they were intimidated as well; they just nodded it through—a political party that does not have a bank account, but there we are. His coterie were undoubtedly, as I found, as corrupt as he was. They manipulated this thing as what used to be called a rotten borough.”

What I can confirm is that the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police were notified in writing well before the corrupt 2014 elections that Tower Hamlets First was a sham. Both organisations were provided with written evidence as to this. Both organisations ignored this evidence.

Compare and contrast the way in which the Electoral Commission did nothing, until they were forced to do so, to remove a sham and corrupt political “party” whilst pursuing Darren Grimes through the courts for incorrectly ticking a box. The contrast between Darren Grimes a young, gay, working class man from Durham and Lutfur Rahman, a corrupt, London based solicitor, is hard to avoid.

Yet this indolence by the Commission in taking action to use their powers of regulation regarding fake political parties continues into the 2019 election.

Last December I was election agent in Stevenage. One afternoon we discovered leaflets viciously and personally attacking the Conservative candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden distributed in roads in Stevenage that form the boundary between the two constituencies.

Shortly afterwards, Guido Fawkes did a brilliant job identifying similar leaflets in four other constituencies. All were expensive, well printed and consisted of personal attacks on the local conservative candidate. In each case they were supposedly on behalf of the “Advance Together” party although this would be very difficult to identify, apart from the imprint, as the candidates name appeared just once in the tiniest of fonts.

This “party,” registered by the Electoral Commission, had been founded and led by Amanda Mullin, the 2017 Liberal Democrat candidate for Kensington and the nominating officer had previously worked on a number of campaigns connected to the Liberal Democrats. Amanda Mullin had proposed to lead a campaign in Kensington and Chelsea in the 2018 elections on behalf of this “party.” She was rewarded with an extensive interview in the Evening Standard. As a resident of Lambeth she could not actually stand for election to Kensington and Chelsea council and in the event her candidates obtained just over two per cent of the vote.

In the 2019 General Election, Amanda Mullin publicly said that the candidates standing for her party were “to be tactical and not to win.” The results and the return of election expenses for each of these five candidates is disturbing:

  • Chipping Barnet. Conservative candidate – Theresa Villiers. Votes for Advance – 71. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,353.
  • Hitchin and Harpenden. Conservative candidate – Bim Afolami. Votes for Advance – 101. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,710.
  • Esher and Walton. Conservative candidate – Dominic Raab. Votes for Advance – 52. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,618.
  • Mid Sussex. Conservative candidate – Mimms Davis. Votes for Advance – 47. Advance Expenses Returned – £7,443.
  • Wokingham. Conservative candidate – John Redwood. Votes for Advance – 80.  Advance Expenses Returned – £7,746.

That is an expenditure of £40,870 to secure a total of 351 votes. However, as their leader said, their intention was not to secure votes, it was to move voters from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats. Esher and Walton and Wokingham were Liberal Democrat targets. Chipping Barnet was a Conservative/Labour marginal. The campaign in Mid Sussex was an attack on the Conservative candidate for changing constituency, presumably hoping this would garner Liberal Democrat votes. Their choice of Hitchin and Harpenden has remained obscure.

The literature of this party in these constituencies did nothing to promote their candidate who was on the ballot paper. It was personal attack documentation against the Conservative candidate and there was a lot of this literature available for distribution.

There were just 52 Advance supporters in Esher and Walton and yet this “non party” produced and distributed tens of thousands of leaflets. How did they manage this? In Chipping Barnet, Liberal Democrat activists were identified by local Conservative campaigners as distributers of these leaflets. Esher and Walton was a close contest and the “Advance” campaign effectively doubled the expenditure available to the Liberal Democrat candidate.

The front of the Esher and Walton leaflet was a picture of Dominic Raab overprinted with the words ”not wanted here.” Guido Fawkes perfectly described the effect of this campaign; “It’s unlikely voters will remember the name Advance Together when they get to the ballot box. They will remember the attack on Raab.” Let me again record the quote of Amanda Mullin, “our object is to syphon tory votes to the Lib Dems.”

The leaflets in the four other constituencies had similar layout but were completely different lines of personal attacks and they were deeply personal attacks.

The result is a fake political party whose leading members had connections with another political party, using extreme negative campaign methods and considerable campaign expenditure, to the benefit of the party with which they were originally connected and not for that for which they were standing in an election.

One may ask what has the Electoral Commission done with regard to Advance? What is their view of a registered political party which does not campaign to secure votes but exists to campaign against named candidates using personal campaigns to, in the words of the leader “syphon tory votes to the Lib Dems.”

The answer is nothing.

Their silence on this matter is overwhelming and creates yet another example of what appears to be bias. That all of the five MPs targeted by Advance are Euro sceptic may just be a coincidence. In Hitchin and Harpenden, Bim Afolami had opposed a second referendum describing the possibility as “divisive.” The Advance leaflet in his constituency called for an MP who would not accept instructions from Nigel Farage.

The Electoral Commission does publish numerous, wordy reports on electoral matters. So far, fake political parties has been absent from their output.

Let us consider two other matters, which cause concern but in both cases it would be difficult to legislate for. They are however sufficiently serious that the commission could at least look at and comment on them.

Last December, concerns were raised about the growth of party political broadsheets disguised to look like local newspapers. This has been a Liberal Democrat staple for years. This was the first time that fake newspapers have been raised by reputable journalists across the country. The Yorkshire Post in an editorial said in reference to a fake newspaper in Leeds:

“Here we have someone peddling imitation newspapers around the country in the hope that those reading them will be fooled into thinking the messages are checked and endorsed by the same local journalists who fought for their libraries; demanded their A&Es were saved; exposed that corrupt business person or found out the politician who was up to no good.”

The Yorkshire Post was not alone. The Editorial Director of Newsquest, owner of titles across the south east of England, complained about Liberal Democrat newspapers called “The Gazette” which was being circulated in Basingstoke whose local Newspaper is the “Basingstoke Gazette.”

Significantly the Society of Editors has called for guidelines to prevent political parties hiding partisan messages by masquerading as independent newspapers.

This story was covered by The Guardian, no less, which would surely have alerted somebody within the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission is a body that has produced protocol after protocol. Guidelines regarding imitating actual newspapers to disguise political propaganda should not be too difficult. It would be very interesting to see how the Liberal Democrats, who are long term supporters of the Electoral Commission, would avoid supporting such a protocol.

Finally, there is that great favourite “the dodgy barchart,” long a staple of Liberal Democrat leaflets. Guido Fawkes regularly publishes copies of some of the more extreme examples of these. Last year at the start of the general election campaign a Lib Dem bar chart was circulated in North East Somerset suggesting that the party was just eight per cent behind Jacob Rees Mogg. At the 2017 election they came in third polling eight per cent of the vote. Guido published this information and both Jo Swinson and Layla Moran were asked to comment in interviews in early November. The result, apart from Jo Swinson’s embarrassing interview, was a slew of stories and even more revelations about bar charts. In Hampstead and Kilburn voters were informed that the Liberal Democrats had “won the previous election,” despite the Labour MP having a majority of 15,500 in that election. In a northern constituency voters were informed that the Liberal Democrats had won the constituency in the Euro Elections. This was achieved by deleting all reference to the Brexit Party who had topped the poll in the May Euro Election in the constituency.

Layla Moran informed listeners in her interview that she was a former maths teacher and checked her bar chart with a ruler. She could give no explanation as to why other parties were omitted from her ruler checked bar chart. What was not raised in the interview was that the bar chart appeared in a so-called “Observer” newspaper printed, produced and circulated by the Liberal Democrats, looking like a local newspaper but being no more than a propaganda sheet for Layla Moran.

Polling organisations have strict guidelines as to questions and methodology. Voters may look at a leaflet with a poll result and assume that it is a reprint of a genuine poll. Legislation on this could be problematic but whilst the Electoral Commission continues it could include “dodgy bar charts” and “fake newspapers” in its codes and protocols for the political parties and enable Layla Moran to put her ruler to good use.