Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

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.
Tags: uk: election: 2010
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