Tony Lit, Ofcom and the schmooze cruise…

Something that’s been bothering me since Tony Lit’s first appearance as the Tory candidate for Ealing Southall is the business of his resignation from his position as Managing Director of Sunrise Radio.

If you’ll recall, a number of questions were asked over at Tory Home about Lit’s sudden appearance on the scene and his credentials as a Tory, let alone as a Tory candidate, in response to which cam this ‘explanation’:

Just to be clear, Tony did become a member of the Party before passing the Parliamentary Assessment Board. He has always voted Conservative but couldn’t join the Party earlier due to his directorship of the radio station, a position which he has duly resigned from.

Now the idea that Lit couldn’t join the Tory Party as an ordinary member while serving as a director of a local radio station is complete and utter nonsense – there is absolutely nothing to that effect in either electoral law, broadcasting law or in OFCOM’s own regulation. In actual fact, as a regulatory body set up by Act of Parliament, OFCOM are a public authority in law and therefore bound by the provisions of the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights and, in particular, by article 11, which provides for freedom of association as follows:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

Clearly, even with it being a qualified right, there is nothing there that would permit OFCOM to restrict Lit, or anyone else for that matter, from joining a political party while holding a directorship of a local radio station – in fact there’s nothing to prevent Lit from holding down such a directorship while standing as candidate in an election, whether as a member of a political party or as independent. Remember, Lit’s father, Avtar, stood as independent in 2001 in the same constituency while still retaining ownership/control of Sunrise Radio, and even though the station was fined £10,000 for breaching regulations on political broadcasts, having played excepts from a interview with Avtar Lit where he expressed political opinions related to his subsequent, unsuccessful, campaign to become an MP, at no time was Lit’s ownership of the station questioned or deemed unacceptable.

And of course, if one wants a even more striking precedent, one should remember that disgraced former Tory MP, Jonathan Aitken, fought the 1983 general election in the seat of South Thanet while serving as the managing director of TV-AM in 1983 – he got a glass of red win poured over his over his head by Anna Ford, later that year, but that’s another story.

There is nothing in either law or regulations that would force Lit to resign as a director of Sunrise Radio in order to stand for election in Ealing Southall, or any other constituency, and while political broadcasting is heavily regulated prior to and during elections, Lit’s position as MD of Sunrise Radio is entirely immaterial – he’s not a broadcaster or presenter on the station, so there’s no possible conflict there, and as for any possibility of him using his position to make use of the station to support his campaign, well the station is being carefully monitored by his opponents to ensure it stays willing broadcasting/electoral law during the by-election campaign anyway. Sunrise Radio is a family-owned business, so even if Lit has removed himself from a position of direct influence, other members of his family, including his father haven’t, which is why the station is being monitored.

Lits’ apparent resignation as a director of Sunrise Radio has no bearing whatsoever on either its being controlled by the Lit family or on its being monitored carefully by his opponents to ensure it stays within the law.

At best, Lit’s resignation from Sunrise Radio is a bit of meaningless PR, even if you take it entirely at face value.

It’s a facet of this election campaign that, frankly, doesn’t make sense and, as a result, has had my ‘something’s not quite right here’ bump itching all week – until Saturday evening that it, when this photograph came to light.

2tonys.jpg

As is now well known, that Tony Lit pictured with Tony Blair at a Labour Party fund-raising event a matter of only four weeks ago, and event it which Sunrise Radio paid £4,800 (as a donation to the Labour Party) for a table at the event and then outbid other tables in an auction to pledge a further £4,000 for a trip to Atlanta to one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fund-raising events, which Sunrise hasn’t, yet, paid.

Suddenly the light bulb goes on.

£4,800 plus another £4,000 pounds equals £8,800 – excuse the very basic maths, I have to explain these things slowly and patiently so Praguetwat can keep up – and any donation to a political party over the sum of £5,000 has to be declared to the Electoral Commission and entered on its register of donations.

Suppose, just for a second, that this photo hadn’t come to light over the weekend and that Lit had actually gone on to win the by-election on Thursday. Its an unlikely scenario, I know, but in an infinite universe anything is possible… well, most things anyway – Praguetwat growing up and behaving like an adult is too much for anyone to expect.

Had that happened, and Sunrise had coughed up the other £4,000 the owe the Labour Party, then we would have had the rather embarrassing scenario of a fledgling Tory MP being exposed as the managing director of Sunrise Radio, a Labour Party donor, within his first three months in the House of Commons, with all the attendant adverse publicity that would go with it…

…unless said fledging MP had made a big public show of resigning as Managing Director of Sunrise Radio, right at the outset of his campaign.

Two or three months down the line, as an unremarkable backbench Tory MP and with the media’s attention on other matters by then, Sunrise’s donations might easily have crept through onto the Electoral Commission’s register almost unnoticed, especially as by stalling on payment of the £4,000 for the Atlanta trip until after by-election over, what the register would show is that this donation was made well after Lit has joined the Tory Party and resigned from Sunrise Radio, giving him a measure of plausible deniability that’s lacking once one become aware that both donations relate to same event, which took place only slightly before he became a Tory PPC and a time when he most certainly was the Managing Director of Sunrise Radio.

All that is conjectural of course, but the more you come to think about it, the more this last scenario, which has Lit resigning as MD of Sunrise Radio to put a bit of distance between himself and a couple of potentially embarrassing donations to the Labour Party sounds much more plausible than the suggestion than the story put out by Tory Home, which in the absence of any relevant regulations or laws to compel Lit to such a course of action, looks rather short on verisimilitude.

Of course, if Lit can produce correspondence with OFCOM, or a transcript of a discussion with them, which categorically demonstrates that he was advised by them to stand down as MD of Sunrise Radio on becoming a Tory candidate, then the matter of the veracity of the story put out by Tory Home will be settled conclusively in its favour.

Unless and until that happens, we seem to have two possible ways of accounting for his resignation from Sunrise Radio to  consider, of which that suggested by this weekend’s revelations current seems the more plausible.

Comments are, of course, open here as they always are, should Mr Lit wish to confirm which is the more accurate account of his reasons for resigning from Sunrise Radio…