Wendygate and the Staunch Guardians of the Public Weal – Part 2: Plausible and Innocent

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by David Ferguson

If you missed part 1 then click here.

It is always worth remembering that the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the Alexander team involved two offences under the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000. The first of these – that of receiving an illegal donation (s.56) is a relatively minor one, if the amount is small (which it was) and if the breach is remedied by returning the donation within the given time frame (which it wasn’t).

The second offence, that of trying to conceal the receipt of an illegal donation (s61), is not a minor offence at all. And neither should it be. Because lying to cover up a breach of electoral law strikes at the very heart of the democratic process. That’s why conviction for an offence under s.61 carries a sanction of a five-year ban on serving in any public or elected office. That’s what would have happened to Alexander or any member of her team who had been convicted of claiming the Green donation had come from Combined Property Services in order to conceal the fact that it came from an illegal source.

Among the questions I have submitted in my original request, are (1) whether the Electoral Commission asked any member of the Alexander Team to explain why the Paul Green donation had been falsely reported as having come from Combined Property Services, (2) whether it received an answer to the question, and (3) if so, what was the answer.

Although the answers to 1 and 2 could not conceivably impact on the rights of any individual, whether within the Alexander team or the Commission itself, these are among the many questions that the Commission, in its feverish drive for openness and transparency, has refused to answer.

But now it is April 2009, fifteen months since I first lodged my FoI request, and the matter is in the hands of the Information Commissioner. The Electoral Commission has had a sudden change of heart. They are going to answer some of my questions after all.

Yes, they confirm. They did in fact ask the Alexander team for an explanation for the false recording of the source of the donation. And yes. They did get an answer.

They’re still not going to tell me what the explanation was, but I’m not unhappy. Because the country’s second-best whitewashers have managed to paint themselves into a bit of a corner.

You see, I’ve cunningly worked out for myself that either the ‘explanation’ they were given was plausible and innocent, or it wasn’t. And if it was plausible and innocent – which surely it must have been, given that the Commission decided not to recommend a prosecution – then how could it possibly be detrimental to Alexander, her team, the Commission, the general public, or the nation’s fight against galactic terrorism to have it made known to the public? Seriously. How could it be detrimental to your interests to have information made known to the public that proves that you are innocent of any wrongdoing? This simple logic rather blows all the Commission’s reasons for not answering my questions out of the water.

I have long speculated about what this ‘plausible and innocent explanation’ might be…*

“The dog ate my homework…”

“A big boy did it and ran away…”

“Elvis did it from behind a grassy knoll, before being abducted by aliens…”

“I was doing my best to write Paul Green and Jersey on the reporting document, but suddenly, unaccountably, my hand formed the words Combined Property Services and Glasgow instead. Then, before I realised what had happened, the report was signed, sealed and dispatched to the Electoral Commission…”

“I had the report in front of me, ready to fill it in, when a telephone directory fell off the shelf onto my head, then landed on the desk in front of me open at ‘C’. Momentarily stunned, I inadvertently copied the words Combined Property Services from the directory instead of writing Paul Green…”

“We took an illegal donation because we were too stupid to understand the law that we ourselves had enacted, even though we had helped ourselves to tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to ‘train’ ourselves. At some point we did waken up, but by that time the damage was done. Now we could simply have been upfront and honest about the whole thing and admitted we had made a stupid mistake, but honesty and The Labour Party share the same relationship as matter and anti-matter – they both exist in the same universe, and that’s about it. So obviously we decided just to lie about it. Why not? The reporting document was only ever going to be seen by some lowly jobsworth in the Commission, who would rubber-stamp it and file it away in the vaults forever, like the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones…”

*Warning. Not a single one of these hypothetical explanations is both plausible and innocent.

The Electoral Commission still won’t tell me what the explanation was, but no matter. For the time being I can ask a different question instead. So on 8th May 2009, I do:

“The Electoral Commission has confirmed that it asked for and received an explanation why the Paul Green donation was recorded as having come from Combined Property Services. Does the Commission hold the view that this explanation was (a) plausible and (b) innocent?

Tommorrow part 3: No information held