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Unfashionable opinion: Zac Goldsmith

I don't like much of what I know about Zac Goldsmith. But I think that the media coverage of his alleged dubious election expenses should be seen in the context of the bizarre and arcane requirements of British election law. I have twice myself been a candidate, and twice an election agent, in UK elections between 1990 and 1996. I was frankly stunned at the mismatch between the actual costs of the campaign and what was required to be declared to the authorities. This was also the time when Joe Hendron, the MP for West Belfast, was found to have overspent on his expenses but the court ruled that it was OK anyway (in McCrory v Hendron and Kelly [1993], if m'learned legal friends want to look that up).

I'm obviously a bit out of touch, and I suppose it is possible that the system has been drastically reformed since 1996 to bring it into line with reality. But my suspicion is that any breach by Goldsmith's campaign was almost certainly in line with, or not far out of line from, current practice by all British political parties running candidates in winnable constituencies. Whether or not that current practice is in line with the letter of the law is a different question, and whether the limits set by the law are in the right place is another. But I miss that context in the coverage of the Goldsmith affair.

I hesitate to use the word 'unfair' about the current pursuit of Goldsmith. He has a past record of failing to comply with political spending laws. Having inherited vast wealth from his father, he is not exactly under-privileged; and I suspect that his visible fury at the implication that he has managed to buy his way into the House of Commons is because at some level he himself knows it may be true. As I said above, I don't like much of what I know about him. But I don't like witch-hunts either.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)
I too was an agent and I find his actions at least outside the spirit of the law and reminds me of the expenses scandal `it was all within the rules`.

He also seems to want to make us believe that he will be MP for decades - something he can't predict. What if he falls under a bus? Would it mean that the Conservatives have a lot less money in future years in Richmond Park for campaigning?
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
He represents everything that is wrong with Britain and its society.

Jul. 17th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
Is your interest in the fragrant Zac based on this exchange with Jon Snow/
Jul. 17th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC)
That, and a general but unarticulated unease about the way the media played the expenses scandal.
Jul. 17th, 2010 10:10 am (UTC)
The law has been changed (I don't know by how much, but I know Labour changed it), and my local organiser, who co-wrote ALDCs election law guide, now says he doesn't consider himself an expert ont eh current law.

But from what I've read, he was pulling tricks that went a long way beyond anything we were doing. Our guidance (non target seat, but we were fighting it) was to be cautious, especially on returns. Some of the allegations appear legit (buying the coats isn't an expense, the stickers are), but some is definitely dodgy (apportioning the posters 50/50 when the posters make no mention of the local campaign) and some is downright wrong (alloting stuff ordered in April 50/50 to the short and long campaign).

There's no way we'd have even considered doing that sort of thing.

One thing thoug, I hope this goes to court, regardless of outcome, because a test case will do a lot to clarify a very difficult set of regulations. It looks, to me, according to the guidance I've read, including electoral commission guidance, like he was in breach. If the court finds otherwise, so be it, but it'll open a massive can of worms.
Jul. 17th, 2010 10:46 am (UTC)
As far as I'm concerned, the expenses scandal was nothing more than a witch-hunt designed to take attention away from two messy wars and an economy going down the toilet.

Rotten law? Change it by all means, even admit that the taxpayers all got screwed. But applying the new law retrospectively and taking money back that was within the law at the time (no matter how morally reprehensible) is Just Plain Wrong. Your terminology - witch hunt - is spot on.
Jul. 17th, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
two messy wars and an economy going down the toilet.

That makes it sound like a scheme by the then Labour government to raise its poll ratings. That doesn't sound to me like something that either happened as a result of the scandal, or would be expected by anyone to be a result.

In my opinion, it was corporate media-led (starting with the Telegraph who published the leaked expenses), and designed to take attention away from the bankers who spend more of our money on a business lunch than those MPs fiddled in a year. I think it worked, both to get our attention off the really fat cats and on the "rich" MPs, and to get their attention off reining in the financial malpractice with new legislation, while they were fighting for their political lives.
Jul. 17th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
I have a very short list of journalists who have treated me so unprofessionally that I will never return their calls and will actively discourage friends and colleagues from having anything to do with them. (I emphasise that they are very much the exception; I have dealings with scores of journalists who behave entirely correctly.) The name that has been on my list longer than any other is, I recently discovered, one of those who broke the expenses "affair". I was uneasy about it from the start and this discovery multiplied my unease to the point of active disgust.
Jul. 17th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
I was frankly stunned at the mismatch between the actual costs of the campaign and what was required to be declared to the authorities.

Are you talking basically about politicians and would-be politicians deciding not to bother sticking to the rules they themselves have brought into being?
Jul. 17th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Well, I never got elected, and Goldsmith had never been elected before this year, so I don't think either of us can be blamed for the laws being the way they are!

But no, what I meant was that the expense declarations included items that nobody actually used in real campaigning in the 1990s, and insisted on notional costs at least for, eg, rent of campaign headquarters, while making no provision for, eg, volunteer time spent knocking doors. The biggest real cost of an election campaign to the activist is the days and nights spent away from family and less political friends (and sometimes from employers as well). There is no accounting for that in election expenses, and there probably shouldn't be and couldn't be, but that means that the declared campaign costs are in no way reflective of the real costs.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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