Tue Apr 19th, 2011 at 08:11:05 PM EST
The other Day, Dr John Reid stood on stage with David Cameron and in the middle of his speech made an utterly false claim. Now that may be par for the course with politicians, especially during the current AV debate where honesty has been particularly lacking, but for once it was provably false.
Here's an excerpt from what he said
Labour Peer John Reid No to AV Speech in Full « Vote NO To AV
They say every MP would have majority support under AV. Again, not true. This could only happen if you made it compulsory for voters to mark a preference against every name on the ballot paper. And even then someone might be elected who was the first choice of only one in four voters.
They say it would increase turnout.
But when AV was introduced in Australia turnout fell sharply, and they ended up making voting compulsory. Is that what we want - compulsory AV? Do we really think people want to waste their time in polling booths pondering whether the Monster Raving Loony Party deserves their sixth or their seventh preference?
Now apart from the patronising superior attitude displayed "We know whats best for you so don't worry your little heads with all that thinking" there are two major flaws, According to Antony Green the Australian broadcasters tame psephologist
Antony Green's Election Blog: Turnout at Australian Elections 1901-1925
Last month I published a post (at this link) where I dealt with the claim that the introduction of preferential voting in Australia caused a decline in turnout which led to the introduction of compulsory voting.
As I outlined at that post, this new theory has only recently emerged from the United Kingdom's referendum campaign, eight decades after the event. The theory has no backing in the Australia historic record or political science literature and is completely absent as an explanation of compulsory voting in any Australian source.
So firstly Turnout didn't fall sharply after AV was brought in (In fact it didn't fall at all) and as that didn't happen it can't have been the cause for the introduction of compulsory voting.
Now I have looked at complaining about false claims in elections before. Any electoral broadcast is not covered by the advertising standards authorities in the UK for a year before an election, as they "do not wish to interfere in the political process". How this can possibly work in a system where a prime minister can call an election basically whenever they wish, apart from as an excuse from the advertising authorities to abdicate any authority over what politicians are saying isn't entirely clear to me. All approaches to them end with them saying that the best approach would be to contact the Electoral commission.
So I wrote to the Electoral commission and said
During the last several weeks we have seen lackluster campaigns from both sides in the AV referendum, however the No campaign has been putting forward arguments which are at times Factually incorrect. Dr John Reid has claimed that it is a fact that AV in Australia reduced the number of voters which caused the Australian government to bring in mandatory voting. Both of the details of this purported fact are untrue. As this is an argument that will scare voters with false information, can he be forced to publicly withdraw this claim?
Today I get this reply
The Commission does not regulate political advertising. Campaign publicity material is subject to a number of requirements under electoral law and is also subject to the normal civil and criminal law relating to published material. For example, no campaign publicity material may resemble a poll card or contain a false statement about the personal character or conduct of a candidate. Candidates can make any statement about politics or another candidate's or party's policies, but they need to be aware that campaign publications are subject to the general civil and criminal law. They must not contain statements or comments that constitute libel otherwise they could be liable to serious legal action. Statements or comments that incite violence and/or hatred would also leave them liable to criminal action.
We would recommend that you complain to the party in the first instance, but if it is believed that an offence has been committed and you are prepared to substantiate this allegation through a written statement, this should be brought to the attention of the police. Reporting allegations to the police should not be considered unless the complaint is substantiated by evidence and you are prepared to make a written statement.
So you can say whatever you like, true or false, unless you libel another candidate, looks like the law is there for them and not us. Now that is hardly a surprise, but it does look like a typical sending from department to department exercise, while being fobbed off at each stage. Think I will have to read through all the appropriate regulations and make sure im not being misinformed.