Are Eastleigh Borough Lib Dem’s Playing Fair This Election?

Introduction

During Eastleigh Borough Local elections I have encountered what I believe to be unfairness in the campaign run by the Eastleigh Lib Dems. Keith House, the leader of the council and Lib Dem Party has held onto power for 25 years and I believe is now going to additional lengths to maintain that power using his lengthy council leadership position over other parties.

I help run a local Facebook group (16k people) and we recently received pressure to approve a post which we initially declined as we considered it unfair given our local election canvassing rules of one canvassing post per candidate. To try and make sure the facebook group is as fair as possible I looked for election rules to follow, and it seems the LGA have advice on this. Reading this guidance, I see the Eastleigh Lib Dem group seem to breach almost every line of advice from the LGA.

The advice from the LGA on Purdah is below:

These guidelines suggest that:

What you shouldn’t do

  • Produce publicity on matters which are politically controversial
  • Make references to individual politicians or groups in press releases
  • Arrange proactive media or events involving candidates
  • Issue photographs which include candidates
  • Supply council photographs or other materials to councillors or political group staff unless you have verified that they will not be used for campaigning purposes
  • Continue hosting third party blogs or e-communications
  • Help with national political visits, as this would involve using public money to support a particular candidate or party. These should be organised by political parties with no cost or resource implications for the council.

In addition “Ultimately, you must always be guided by the principle of fairness. It is crucial that any decision you take would be seen as fair and reasonably the public [sic] and those standing for office”

Example 1 - Woodland destruction

Recently there was an issue with illegal felling of woodland (Topic covered in detail here: https://eastleigh.online/t/ancient-woodland-trees-protected-by-a-tpo-destroyed-in-horton-heath/872). Cllr Michelle Marsh did a great job with keeping the community up to date on this issue with seemingly no political motive. No other political parties or independents sought to make this issue political.

Later, once it was discovered to be a hot topic locally Cllr Keith House (candidate and council leader) promoted Cllr Nick Couldrey (candidate in the ward) as front photo-op man for this, and then used it as an opportunity for electioneering and to gain wider publicity for Nick Couldrey at election time. Cllr Michelle Marsh who was initially the front face of this story, was then pushed back to advertise Nick Couldreys Facebook page.

This was an active council issue in which the council leader made reference to individual politicians and arranged a proactive media event involving candidates, and issued photographs which included candidates to the local social media, and newspaper.

The post was shared across the borough, either by Lib Dem candidates up for re-election (Margaret Winstanley), or Lib Dem Party members. The post was also shared on the ‘Hedge End Councillors News’ page, a page run by Cllr Keith House.

Cllr Nick Couldrey then paid to promote the story on his Facebook page, electioneering on the back of this council issue.

Lib Dem party members then shared pictures of candidates up for election with the daily echo: https://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/19227919.outrage-horton-heath-woodland-torn-burnt/







I believe this is unfair to other candidates as they would not have had the same airtime, or access to council resources to publicise off the back of this issue. The echo article also did not provide other candidates the same opportunity.

Example 2 - Horton Heath Politically Controversial Issue

The house building at once Horton Heath has been a divisive topic (more background here: Horton Hearth Development for 2,500 new Homes!)

On the 14th April during the pre-election period, council leader Cllr Keith House (lib dem candidate) wrote to Nick Couldrey (lib dem candidate) to publicly thank him for the work in what was clearly a canvassing stunt in an attempt to win over voters. This letter was posted from an electioneering page, and shared in many groups across the Borough. This clearly produces publicity on matters which are politically controversial.

Example 3 - Allington Lane

Our council leader again shares a social media letter to our MP producing publicity on a controversial issue. The background to this issue is a little more misleading than Cllr Keith House mentions in his letter. The council is long overdue adopting a local plan and so development plans have not “been clear for 20 years”, and so development has been happening ad-hocly around the Borough and there is strong resistance to the current local plan. The council have incorrectly erected signposts which suggested new development is about to begin. https://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/19241587.mysterious-road-signs-spark-fears-new-eastleigh-housing-scheme/

The council responded to the MP on an issue via letter, but then shared this controversial issue across all social media channels suggesting ‘fake news’. This letter fails to apologise for Eastleigh Borough Council’s own errors which led the public to believe this was happening and instead points the finger elsewhere.

Example 4 - Hedge End, West End, Botley & Local Facebook Group

This group is home to 8,000+ residents, and is administered by Cllr Keith House in his own ward where he is standing for re-election. This is not listed on his register of interests (Register of interests for Councillor Keith House - Meetings, agendas and minutes - Eastleigh Borough Council), but as you can imagine being able to steer the conversation of 8,000 residents proves a significant advantage during election time and could be a clear conflict of interests. This is surely continuing on hosting third party blogs or e-communications.

I raised the above issues with Eastleigh Borough Council Chief Executive Nick Tustain and returning officer Richard Ward, in the hope they can improve my confidence level that Eastleigh Borough Council is operating fairly. I received the following response:


Example 5 - Local Plan Update

On the 27th April, the council has produced publicity on matters which are politically controversial and released an update on the local plan. This looks specifically designed to win votes for the local Lib Dems, who risk losing votes due to excessive recent house building. This was then shared in all local groups;

The update reads:

The Council will be considering the latest Local Plan report in May 2021 that will provide details of the Inspector’s modifications to the Local Plan and confirms that the Council is on track to provide sufficient housing for the majority of the local plan period, and that there is no requirement to allocate any new land for housing developments in this Local Plan.

Following the Local Plan hearings in November 2019 - January 2020 the Inspector wrote to the Council in April 2020 stating:

  • that the Strategic Growth Option (including 5,300 new homes) should be deleted, (this will leave some shortfall in housing supply during the last 4 or 5 years of the plan period to 2036)
  • that the remaining housing sites in the plan would be sufficient to meet the need and requirement for housing for the majority of the plan period,
  • that there are significant advantages to having an adopted plan in place, and that the next review of the Local Plan can address this long term shortfall.

In May 2020 the Inspector completed a list of action points that included a detailed list of the areas where she considered the Local Plan should be modified. The Inspector has not indicated, at any time, that she intends to modify the plan to allocate any new land for housing (either in the south of Bishopstoke / Allington area or anywhere else in the Borough) and explicitly states that the longer term housing shortfall can be picked up in the next review of the Plan. There are therefore no proposed modifications to allocate any new land for housing in this Local Plan.

The Council is preparing the detailed wording for the Inspector’s proposed modifications and these will be considered by Full Council on 27 May 2021. The modifications will then be subject to public consultation for 6 weeks. The Inspector will consider any representations received on these proposed modifications before finalising her report and modifications. The Council can then proceed to adopt the plan, incorporating the Inspectors modifications.

The Inspector’s letter of 1 April 2020 (ED71) and action points of 18 May 2020 (ED72) can be found on our examination webpages.

Considering the inspector wrote to the council in April 2020, why the timing of this press release now, a whole year later?

Summary

I struggle to see where the council ends and the Eastleigh Lib Dem team begin. This is an alliance forged over the past 25 years. Can I truly believe that Eastleigh Borough Council staff members are non biased in their responses to my complaint?

It seems clear to me that I cannot trust this council, who in my opinion is breaking LGA guidance and Purdah rules and using its overwhelming power to increase its media control and use council issues to promote its own Lib Dem party members during election time.

I’m sharing this now because I have no idea where to go next. As per my response above from Eastleigh Borough Council they referred me to the electoral commission. The electoral commission refers these kind of issues to my “local authority”, which I have already done - it’s Eastleigh Borough Council!?

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Open questions I have:

  1. Is this legal or fair?
  2. Is it right that the council leader up for re-election can control social media in his own ward?
  3. Is it right that the “Councillors News” page continues to pump out electioneering news for the Lib Dems?
  4. Should ownership of the facebook group be declared on Keith House’s register of interests?
  5. Is this right that the candidates can make social media posts without any imprint? I understand candidates are meant to be clear on material they publish during Purdah.
  6. How should the press release from the council, council leader, or candidate differ at election time? Right now it all appears to be unfairly one voice.
  7. Did the Eastleigh local Lib Dem Party breach Purdah rules?
  8. How can I trust this council to be fair when the lines between the Eastleigh Lib Dem ruling party, and the operating council of 25+ years are so blurred?
  9. Who can I take this complaint to after the local authority whom i no longer have faith, have rejected my complaint?

Isn’t just the Tories mired in sleaze. Lib Dems going full speed ahead with their own sleaze agenda in Eastleigh.

Question dear reader - do you think the above is fair to all other election candidates?

  • Completely fair, its election time - anything goes!
  • Partial - some is unfair, some is ok.
  • None of this is fair and action should be taken to ensure fairness.

0 voters

While we seem to be blurring the lines between local and national (unless you’re saying Paul Holmes or Eastleigh Conservatives is embroiled in sleaze), Labour have a leader who many of their supporters have said is a Red Tory and thus they won’t vote for Labour (as a means of protest)

Be careful what you read on the internet! That’s a wide claim!

… isn’t all of what @afdy has posted sourced the Internet though?

Those lines are always going to be blurred. Look at PMQs yesterday for an example - a chance to ask Boris a question about a local issue/campaign, yet Conservative MPs (in the interests of clarity, NOT @PaulHolmes88 ) chose to use it as a stage to ask Boris to "back Tory Candidate X for Mayor in the local elections ", which they did at least 5 times.

And while I mention Paul, is it fair that he’s publically backing the Conservatives and is seen out and about with them while being an Eastleigh MP and thus representing all of us?

I dont know the answers to any of the above. But I will say this, politics has never been the epitome of fairness. And, in a world where social media exists, it never will be. One could argue that all posts on Eastleigh Neighbours should also remain politically neutral (as one of the more prominent groups of Eastleigh) but that will be impossible

Yeah but that’s factual :joy:

But - there is guidance from the LGA that states what fairness is, and it’s clearly not followed by the Eastleigh Lib Dems? Isn’t it up to us the people to speak up for what’s wrong? Focus on the bit that’s wrong and fight to get it corrected (without pointing the finger elsewhere?).

I don’t think pointing at tories here, or PMQ’s is helpful (despite them having problems too) - stay focussed and examine the facts at face value.

I don’t think we can just say “oh it’s ok it’s politics”, because that way the conversation will never improve and politics will be forever locked in a downward spiral of reduced engagement and “they’re all the same”. I think we need to hold people accountable for a better level of conversation.

As for Eastleigh Neighbours facebook group - its not possible to tell everyone to stay political neutral! :rofl:. I’d argue that the Facebook group would become considerably less useful if you tried to stifle peoples views, and more new groups would just be born! Net result - same problem, different group name. :slight_smile:

Side story - I just gave birth to an Eastleigh Borough Local Politics facebook group.

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I’d say so because I’ve done my election when National purdah kicks in and so I’m not covered. I’m governed by central government purdah when parliament dissolves.

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It’d be wonderful if you transcribed this so I could quote the right section… lol.

Anyway, from this response… the Council seem to be “living in the grey”, so to speak. They’ve disregarded purdah saying it doesn’t apply, and THEN brought in this whole other bit about the EC not having a proper social media policy for England .

So, the grey area I speak of when I say “living in the grey” may be pointing to the fact that social media actually has no real jurisdiction, which seems to form part of the Council’s defence :frowning_face:

They definitely shouldn’t have published it via the Echo though. But again, it becomes a case of “who’s watching the watchers?”.

The way forward is to vote. If you need to get this to more people, I hear the Lib Dems have a printer on steroids that can get leaflets to people’s houses quickly :wink:

I am definitely not an expert but I think this is about spending public money on things which could reasonably be seen as campaigning

Example 1 - Woodland destruction

The council’s news item on this looks fine to me. Is there something else the council did to promote a candidate or candidates?

Example 2 - Horton Heath Politically Controversial Issue

I had thought the date might exempt this (I think it was before the statement of persons nominated) but the date on the LGA FAQ seems to be earlier than that. This seems like the most suspect example to me.

Example 3 - Allington Lane

If it wasn’t for the wording in that letter, I would personally have said the Allington Lane example was ok. Their usual squabbling might have crossed the line though.

Publish factual information to counteract misleading, controversial or extreme - for example, racist/sexist information. An example might be a media story which is critical of the council, such as a media enquiry claiming that the salaries of all the council’s senior managers have increased by five per cent. If this is not true, a response such as ‘none of the council’s senior management team have received any increase in salary in the last 12 months’ is acceptable. It is perfectly right and proper that the council responds, as long as it is factual.

Example 4 - Hedge End, West End, Botley & Local Facebook Group

I don’t think this has anything to do with the pre-election period but is actually really interesting. I hadn’t even realised that group existed - it’s not the biggest in Hedge End. It looks like he’s “only” a moderator, and I don’t see why he shouldn’t be if he’s open about it.

I can see why it might be nice to mention on a register of interests though. It would be interesting to see if there are any examples of councillors adding that kind of thing- I’ll ask around.

Example 5 - Local Plan Update

Summary

I personally think there is room for improvement and it might be worth taking some of the examples further, but it doesn’t quite seem on the same league as some other examples around.

I really like that some candidates have carried over the imprint to social media but I get the impression that the rules really haven’t kept up with society unfortunately.

Seems fine to me, why shouldn’t he campaign for his party’s candidates? It would be different if he used government resources, like the new Downing Street briefing room, to do it but he hasn’t as far as I’ve seen.

100%

This! :point_up_2:

Electoral Commission has proposed it, don’t think it has been taken up yet though:

https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/changing-electoral-law/transparent-digital-campaigning/report-digital-campaigning-increasing-transparency-voters

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Latest here:

https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/changing-electoral-law/transparent-digital-campaigning/transparency-digital-campaigning-response-cabinet-office-technical-consultation-digital-imprints

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This might help to answer some of your questions:

Interestingly, Eastleigh Borough Council helped the LGA put this together (see acknowledgements at the end).

Wow @ACulley good spot! So Eastleigh Borough Council are one of 3 councils that literally helped write the guidance on election fairness!

Agree, i feel they really need to catch up fast! Looking at other local candidates I note the Bishopstoke Independents always post with a clear imprint. Looks like they set the bar. :slight_smile:

The published item on the council website looks fine to me. However my point is - when Keith, the leader of the council posts on facebook, is he posting as the leader of the council or as a Lib Dem candidate? Judging by posts i’ve seen so far he posts as the council leader - in which case a voice of the council?

One of the guidelines states: “In general, authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters”. Keith as leader of the council clearly shares a picture of Nick, who is up for election front and centre and advertises Nicks electioneering Facebook page. This seems wrong to me as its intention is to influence voters into seeing Nick as electable. The initial approach of Michelle (who is not a candidate) leading communications was correct, but this was flipped when publicity grew on the issue.

It’s the biggest discussion group in Hedge End I think? The others I think are selling only groups which work differently on facebook and are always larger. “only” a moderator? On Facebook a moderator has the same rights as an admin, except they can’t completely commandeer the group and adjust some minor settings which are rarely changed. They still have the same power to ban/mute/close topics/remove content. I’m intrigued if this is considered “Hosting a 3rd party blog/forum”.

Agree but I do think every case should be raised and tackled. One example shouldn’t be diminished just because “there is bigger around”. Small infractions lead to bigger, and bigger! We all need to call it out and nip these things in the bud before they grow.

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They certainly do.

It looks like Scotland already have tighter rules on imprints which is interesting.

If he’s posting on Facebook, and not using council resources to do it, I think that’s absolutely fine. The incumbent in any election has a natural advantage… well, unless they’re really bad at the job I guess!

The one I thought you meant has 12k members and seems like the same kind of group to me.

The council aren’t hosting it so from an election point of view I think it’s fine. I do think the register of interests thing is a really interesting question though- still looking into that.

Absolutely, unfortunately recent events have shown that the Electoral Commission is pretty toothless. Btw. have you seen the Fair Vote campaign?

P.S. having a council which isn’t dominated by one party might help here as well as in other areas. Of course a one party council with a different party isn’t the solution, which is what I suspect other parties really want :slight_smile:

This is a very interesting subject and strangely politically strategic on timing, but I am not nieve to avoid their obvious intentions, any party would take a similar position with the majority and dominance they have. Councillor House has always, in my opinion, been a very strong and dominant person ever since he started his political career on the local parish council many years ago. However whilst acknowledging that there are obviously aspects of the leadership that have happened to the benefit of their party’s political aims there have also been some, albeit small, projects that have benefitted the local people. However, in my opinion, all these things have taken place as a back drop of the major deveopments of massive housing/infrastucture development that are being allowed to take place because of the lack of a “local Plan”. Without a properly developed plan parties have seen this as a source of ample “politics” and blaming others for “non action” whilst all these major/broader issues being lost in a distracting smoke screen of these, lesser important local issues. Like all good politics you have to have an effective oppositition, which is not the case with our local politics. They have their strengths, but thier dominant position has gone to thier head. Strong opposition usually helps to ensure that a wide range of good issues are brought to the political table by a range of parties working for the benefit of the local populations. With out it you get bad legislation, unscrutinised, is allowed to developed for the aims of the dominant party: rather than the group. Current Scotland politics would, in my opinion, be a very good example of dominant politcs being undesirable. Having lived and worked in the area since the early 70s I have seen the decline in the mix of local parties, working for the local interest, and being prepared to be elected on their personal activities in the area rather than the aims and career objectives of a few individuals. So sadly without the return to a much better mix of stronger parties with a range of local initiatives, but also seeking to actively work together in a constructive manner to achieve the broader important issues for the area, we will continue to see this negative blaming culture of politics to the detriment of our long term culture, environment and society as a whole.

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Interesting you say this. What makes an effective opposition in your opinion?

Welcome to the Eastleigh Online Community

Can’t really have an effective opposition with Lib Dems having 34 of the 39 seats. Also, publishing the local Plan early would’ve put to bed all the talk when the Allington sign went up, but the LDs are comfortable to not have a plan it seems