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Vince Cable and Tessa Munt referral to Standards Commissioner

Vince Cable and Tessa Munt referral to Standards Commissioner

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Published by Political Scrapbook
A letter from the editor of Political Scrapbook referring two MPs to a standards watchdog for apparently failing to declare expensive private polls conducted in their constituencies.
A letter from the editor of Political Scrapbook referring two MPs to a standards watchdog for apparently failing to declare expensive private polls conducted in their constituencies.

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Published by: Political Scrapbook on Jun 05, 2014
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06/05/2014

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 Kathryn Hudson Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards House of Commons London SW1A 0AA By email to: standardscommissioner@parliament.uk 5 June 2014 Dear Ms Hudson,
THE FAILURE TO DECLARE PRIVATE POLLING CONDUCTED IN TWICKENHAM AND WELLS BY THE MEMBERS FOR THOSE CONSTITUENCIES
I edit the website Political Scrapbook (politicalscrapbook.net), which has been looking into the circumstances of political polling commissioned by Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay and performed by ICM Research. I am writing to draw your attention to polls in the parliamentary constituencies of Twickenham and Wells. The results of these polls were given to Lord Oakeshott’s colleagues, Vince Cable and Tessa Munt, who are the members of parliament for those constituencies. I trust you will be in agreement that what follows constitutes grounds to open a formal investigation into whether this polling is a registrable interest under Category 4 (sponsorships) and/or Category 5 (gifts, benefits and hospitality) of the rules governing the registration of financial interests and whether the failure to declare the polling as of the latest available edition of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests is therefore a breach of
1
these rules.
The original purpose of the polling
Lord Oakeshott released a statement upon his resignation from the Liberal Democrats. This
2
makes clear that the poll of Twickenham was originally commissioned to “show us [Vince Cable’s] current position and how best to get him re-elected”. Vince Cable approved the poll and the sequence of questions:
“Several months ago a close colleague, concerned about voting intentions in Twickenham, asked me if I would arrange and pay for a poll to show us Vince’s current position and how best to get him re-elected.
1
 Register of Members’ Financial Interests as of 2 June 2014 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem/140602/140602.pdf  
2
 Lord Oakeshott’s statement on resignation from the Liberal Democrats http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/liberaldemocrats/10860280/Lord-Oakeshott-resignation-statement-in-full.html 
 
I was happy to help, and Vince amended and approved the questionnaire, but at his request I excluded a question on voting intentions with a change of leader.  Although Vince had excellent ratings, both as a Minister and a local MP, he was slightly behind the Conservatives in this poll, as the full details on the ICM website show. That poll worried me so much that I commissioned four more in different types of constituency all over the country and added back the change of leadership question. The results were in the Guardian yesterday and on the ICM website. Several weeks ago, I told Vince the results of those four polls too.”
Indeed, in an interview with the BBC , Vince Cable stated:
3
 
“In this particular case, Lord Oakeshott asked my election campaign manager if we wanted a poll done in my constituency. We said ‘yes’. It was a private local poll for general election planning and obviously nothing to do with national leadership”
Whether the Wells poll paid for by Lord Oakeshott was originally commissioned with a view to possible publication is less clear.
The financial value of the polling
The polls in Twickenham and Wells were each conducted over the telephone, had a
4 5
sample size of 500 people were composed of 12 questions. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour puts a minimum £20,000 value on Oakeshott’s polling:
 
 
“In politics it is often claimed that the messenger gets shot due to the unpalatable nature of the message they have delivered. But in the case of Lord Oakeshott, the messenger has spent £20,000-plus compiling the message and then shot himself”
If Wintour is referring to all six polls in the public domain, this comes to a minimum of £3,333 per poll. Indeed, my website has been been informed by a source with extensive professional knowledge of the commissioning of such paid research that a 500-person 12-question phone poll from ICM Research would come in at a minimum of £4,000.
3
 Vince Cable interview with BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27612492 
4
 ICM Twickenham polling results http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_twick.pdf  
5
 ICM polling results for four constituencies, including Wells http://www.icmresearch.com/data/media/pdf/2014_libdems__4polls.pdf  
6
 Lord Oakeshott: the departure leaves his political ally Vince Cable exposed, Patrick Wintour, Guardian, 28 May 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/28/lord-oakeshott-20000-liberal-democrat-peer-vince-cable 
 
The sequence of release for the polling
Polling for the constituencies of Cambridge, Redcar, Sheffield Hallam and Wells formed the basis of an article in the
Guardian
 newspaper on 27 May and therefore had to be released in
7
full by ICM under article 2.6 of the British Polling Council rules.
8
 But despite being the second poll to be completed, the details of the poll for Twickenham were only released the following day when Oakeshott referenced it as part of his resignation statement. This is further confirmation that the Twickenham poll was, in the words of Vince Cable, “a private local poll for general election planning” that was never intended for publication and was only divulged following an unexpected and fairly catastrophic turn of events from the perspective of the peer.
Disclosure of the results to Cable and Munt
Given public statements on the Twickenham poll from both Vince Cable and Lord Oakeshott, the results would presumably have been passed to both Cable and his election campaign manager shortly after they were received from ICM by Oakeshott. In his interview with the BBC, Cable also reveals that his parliamentary aide Tessa Munt was informed of the results of the polling in Wells by himself and Oakeshott:
“In one particular case concerning my parliamentary private secretary, Tessa Munt from Wells, we sat down and discussed the details with her.”
 A ‘sit down’ meeting with Tessa Munt would suggest that the figures from the polling were discussed in some detail. Given the strategic value of constituency polling and the close political relationships between cabinet ministers and their parliamentary private secretaries, it would seem extraordinary for Munt not also to have been provided with either a paper or electronic copy of the full tabulated figures and that these would be passed to her campaign manager. Indeed, Munt is defending a majority of just 800 at the next election.
The status of the polling under categories 4 and 5 of the rules
On the basis of publicly available information, it is clear that: 1. The polling of Twickenham and Wells was commissioned by Lord Oakeshott in a personal capacity and not by the Liberal Democrat federal, regional or local parties. 2. The results of these polls were related to Vince Cable and Tessa Munt. 3. The value of a constituency poll is certainly above the threshold for declaration under categories 4 and 5 of the rules governing disclosure of financial interests. 4. The fieldwork for the Twickenham and Wells polls was finished by ICM on 16 April and 18 April respectively, both more than six weeks ago. 5. The polling was not declared on the Register of Members’ Financial interests as of three days ago on 2 June.
7
 Nick Clegg and Lib Dems face wipeout in damning opinion poll verdict, Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, Guardian, 27 May 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/26/nick-clegg-and-lib-dems-face-battle-for-survival 
8
 British Polling Council rules http://www.britishpollingcouncil.org/objects.html 

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