Public money for political gain

by Good Law Project

Public money for political gain

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We use litigation to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.
Funded
on 30th April 2021
£35,108
pledged of £70,000 stretch target from 1,495 pledges
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We use litigation to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.

Latest: June 28, 2021

We do not believe this goes far enough

The use of public money to advertise the party political purposes of the Government is a continuing source of concern to Good Law Project. As you will remember we wrote to Government in connection wi…

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Boris Johnson hijacked a Downing Street press conference - paid for by the British taxpayer and intended to provide the public with a vital COVID-19 update - to attack one of his political opponents. 

Whilst shocking, it’s not the first incident of its kind. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a worrying trend of Government videos and social media content being misappropriated to advance Conservative Party political messaging. We believe the costs are coming out of the public purse, not the party coffers. 

Take this Government video. It carries the distinct look and feel of a party political broadcast, brandishing the Tory electoral slogan “Build Back Better”, but prominently using the No 10 crest. And when you compare this No 10 branded image alongside the Conservative Party website, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish which is Government policy and which is party political campaigning. 

Government is legally required to publish - and follow - a policy to ensure a clear dividing line between informative communications, which can be funded by taxpayers, and electoral communications, which are governed by strict campaign finance rules. Without such a policy, those in power could simply divert the resources of the state to hold onto power.

We can find no evidence that such a policy exists. So far, Government has chosen to ignore our lawyers' requests to provide us with a copy. The British public should not be paying to further the electoral ambitions of the Conservative Party. We have now issued the first step in legal proceedings. The Pre-Action Protocol letter can be found here. 

The details

Good Law Project has instructed Bhatt Murphy in this case. Dan Squires QC from Matrix and Shu Shin Luh and Alice Irving from Doughty St Chambers are acting as Counsel.

10% of the sums raised will go to the Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. If there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring.

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Update 1

Good Law Project

June 28, 2021

We do not believe this goes far enough

The use of public money to advertise the party political purposes of the Government is a continuing source of concern to Good Law Project. As you will remember we wrote to Government in connection with the worrying trend of publicly funded videos and social media content being used to advance Conservative Party messaging. 

At the time we could not find a Government policy that guarded against that - and we sent a pre-action protocol letter. Government has now sent us its published guidance which you can see here

We do not believe this goes far enough. Our constitution allocates to civil servants the job of policing what will be a fraught and contested line. As the recent Boardman Report on the Cabinet Office recognised ("A commonly-understood and consistently applied process should go some way towards empowering civil servants in such circumstances, reinforcing their ability to provide this challenge.") Only a clear demarcation empowers civil servants to do that job. 

Though we still believe there is a problem, we no longer believe we can succeed in addressing it with litigation. In the circumstances we have written to Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, urging him to issue clear and practical guidance.

We send this letter in a constructive spirit, in the hope he agrees it is appropriate to ensure civil servants are empowered to uphold this important democratic principle.

Obviously we prefer not to raise money for litigation that (we later form the view) it is not prudent to pursue. And where possible, we seek to close a crowdfunding page before money is collected (as we did here for example). However in practice this is not always possible.

The surplus on this litigation - of something like £20,000 - will be hypothecated to other challenges seeking to protect the country against the misuse of public money and other public governance breaches.

We are very grateful for your continuing support.

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