EXCLUSIVE: 2nd national newspaper breaches electoral law

Following hot on the heels of the Jonathan Isaby’s gaff in publishing what he claimed were unofficial vote tallies taken by a member of the Tory Campaign team in Ealing Southall during the verification of postal ballots, a second national newspaper appears to have repeated Isaby’s gaff.

Visit in the Independent on-line this morning, and you’ll find its lead by-election story for Ealing Southall is the on-going police investigation into Isaby’s blog post, which appeared on the Telegraph’s website at 6pm yesterday evening.

Ealing Southall: Police to investigate Tories over leaked postal by-election results

By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent
Published: 19 July 2007

The Conservative Party found itself at the centre of a police investigation last night after allegations a “Tory source” had leaked results of a postal ballot of today’s Ealing Southall by-election.

Scotland Yard confirmed it was looking into the case and a police spokesman, when asked about the claims, said: “We’ve received allegations of possible electoral offences in relation to the Ealing Southall by-election. We take it very seriously and appropriate action will be taken.” The spokesman declined to be drawn on who had made the allegations or how the Conservatives had reacted.

The Daily Telegraph diarist Jonathan Isaby, known for his connections with the Conservative party, posted details of the postal ballot on his blog last night. He wrote: “[A] source inside the Tory campaign [in Ealing] reports that it was looking incredibly close, with them calculating the main parties’ tallies as follows: …”

The blog then listed the early results. Soon afterwards, the posting was removed from the website.

Before going on to note that:

By law, political parties are allowed representatives to oversee the validation process, however any release of an indication of how the vote is going is strictly prohibited on the grounds that it could influence subsequent votes. The offence is punishable by up to six months in prison.

However, pick up the print edition of this morning’s Independent and turn to page 10 and you’ll find a article entitled ‘Divided electorate attracts party heavyweights for last ditch appeal’, also bylined as the work of political correspondent, Ben Russell, in which it states the following:

“Postal voting returns presented to Mr Cameron yesterday were said to show Labour with XX percent of the vote … XX per cent for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on XX per cent”

The actual figures given by Russell have, for obvious reasons, been redacted.

As this screen shot from Google’s News Search shows, the article by Russell in which he sites postal ballot figures as having been ‘presented to David Cameron’ was posted to the Indy’s website last night – and the link returned by Google is identical to that of this morning’s story about the Telegraph’s gaff, which shows the the Indy have attempted to cover their tracks by overwriting their original story on the same URL.

indyscreengrab.jpg

There seem to be be possible explanations for Russell’s print edition story. Either these figures were being circulated more widely to and amongst journalists than was first thought, which may hint that there may be some truth to Isaby’s claim to have been given the numbers by a source in the Tory Party, or Russell has lifted the numbers from Isaby’s blog post and filed the first story while unaware of Isaby’s alleged breach of electoral law.

While the Telegraph may be in a position to draw some small crumbs of comfort from their gaff having taken place only on Isaby’s blog, the Indy have gone the whole hog and placed this information into print, which is an altogether more difficult thing to worm your way out of.

UPDATE

There appears to be a discrepancy between the figures cited by Isaby and those given by Russell, so its not at all clear where he sourced his figures from. There was a fair bit of chatter last night on Political Betting and few other sites, with several different sets of figures being floated once posts repeating Isaby’s figures had been removed as news of the police investigation spread.

  • Jailhouse said The Guardian also ran the figures. Not seen a copy today.

  • Pssssssst…. ‘Gaffe’ with an ‘E’.

    This whole thing’s been bloody fascinating as a neutral. I can’t say that my opinion of politicians has been enhanced by the E&S Byelection at all.

  • Richard Gadsden

    You can quote the figures now, the polls have closed

  • Sam

    My copy of The Independent doesn’t contain the figures, so they must have realised pretty early.