Council chiefs are being asked to explain why Labour was apparently given a head start in the East Brighton by-election.
The former Conservative leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Mary Mears, has written to chief executive and elections returning officer Geoff Raw outlining her concerns.
She threatened to take up the matter with the Electoral Commission – the national elections – watchdog if she wasn’t given satisfactory answers to her questions.
Here is the text of her letter and below a statement from the council …
I am writing to you as chairman of the Kemptown Conservative Association and wish to lodge a formal complaint with you regarding the upcoming by-election in East Brighton Ward.
There are three important areas of concern which need to be addressed as quickly as possible:
1. Awareness of date of polling: I spoke to Michael Appleford on Tuesday 2 (January) at 3.28pm, asking him if the date of the by-election had been set. He replied he would inform all the parties later in the week. You can imagine my surprise and concern when I reviewed the Labour Party Twitter feed to find that the party clearly already knew the date as they were posting information about polling day of (Thursday) 8 February on (Tuesday) 2 January. If the date had not been announced, or was not known, why was the Labour Party able to publish the date?
2. I am reliably informed that the Labour Party had already begun leafleting in the ward before the date of the election was published. Again, the clear point there is, how did the Labour Party know that (Thursday) 8 February was to be polling day, and given that there is a time lag between ordering the printing and having it available for delivery, I need to know when the Labour Party was advised of the date. I would be grateful for sight of the communication to the Labour Party advising of the date. If there is no written communication, how was the date provided?
3. The clear awareness of the polling date by the Labour Party, as evidenced by their Twitter posting and early delivery of literature, provides a distinct advantage to Labour and a gross disadvantage to other political parties, not only the Conservatives.
I require immediate clarification on these points in order to determine my further response to this matter. As a courtesy, I am advising you that I have already spoken to the Conservative area campaign manager and CCHQ (Conservative Headquarters in London) with a view to taking this matter to the Electoral Commission if I do not receive a satisfactory reply by return.
The council said: “A by-election for the East Brighton Ward will take place on Thursday 8 February 2018 following the resignation of Cllr Lloyd Russell-Moyle.
“Councillor Russell-Moyle’s resignation letter and notice of vacancy were submitted on Wednesday 27 December 2017.
“The council’s acting returning officer and electoral services team then checked the paperwork and looked into the logistics for a local by-election.
“The East Brighton Ward by-election date of Thursday 8 February was confirmed on Wednesday 3 January. By-elections are by convention usually held on a Thursday.
“The leaders of the local political parties were informed of the date by the acting returning officer as soon as the decision was made.
“The timeline for by-elections is set by the Local Government Act 1972.
“Any councillor considering their resignation can seek legal advice in advance about the timing involved. The information is also available on the Electoral Commission website.
“Political parties will be able to work out the timeframe between submission of the necessary paperwork and the most probable date for an election.
“A councillor tendering their resignation will consider when to issue their letter of resignation to suit their party’s preferred timeframe for holding an election. This is nothing new at local or national levels.
“The council is committed to upholding the democratic process and following election law as laid down nationally.
“Complaints about any aspect of the election process are taken very seriously and will be looked into.”