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Mayoral Election Brochures Spark Allegations Of Waste And 'Censorship'

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MAYORAL ELECTION LEAFLET
This Leaflet Cost The Taxpayer £1.5m To Produce | -

This week Londoners should have received a booklet in the post which outlines the campaign platforms of all the seven Mayoral candidates. It's quite nice and glossy, and fairly inoffensive, but did we need it? A quick straw poll of the HuffPost office suggests some copies went straight in the bin.

The leaflet was issued by LondonElects, at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.5m, London Elects tells HuffPost they were required to send the brochure by law, and it's sent to every individual, not just to every household.

That requirement was something they've gone to the government to try to change - it seems like a bit of a waste of money sending the same thing to everyone living in the same house or flat. There have been some gripes about how it was printed in Nottingham, not London, but that's another story.

A similar leaflet's been sent to everyone living in Liverpool - but there it's caused a bit of a row because the returning officer for Liverpool demanded two of the candidates make changes to their entries for the leaflet - prompting accusations of censorship.

The first candidate to have their entry changed was the Liberal party's Steve Radford, who had a joke he'd made about the local council taken out. The changes weren't helped by the fact that the returning officer, Ged Fitzgerald, is none other than the Chief Executive of Liverpool Council.

Steve Radford told HuffPost said the interpretation of the rules are unfair: "The legislation says you can't talk about issues which aren't related to the job of Mayor, but he hasn't applied them consistently.

"He hasn't allowed my satirical intervention to something he has a vested interest in, but he's allowed the English Democrats to keep in a pledge to make St. George's Day a public holiday. The National Front candidate said he wanted the Mersey tunnel toll fares abolished, paid for by the withdrawal from the EU. Why are they allowed to put things in that are beyond the jurisdiction of the Mayor? It doesn't stack up."

Another candidate - socialist Tony Mulhearn - was told to take out words which referred to the NHS, because the Returning Officer ruled that was beyond the powers of the Mayor of Liverpool.

Mulhearn was also annoyed about the alleged "censorship". But given there are lots more Mayoral elections expected this year, plus those for Police and Crime Commissioners in November - it does raise the question of whether the taxpayer should be funding election literature at all - and if so, whether the right regulation of it is in place.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg is a Social Policy lecturer at Liverpool University, and also runs Democratic Audit, an independent body which monitors the electoral process in Britain. He told HuffPost that while the basic principle of the leaflets was sound, it did throw up some serious issues.

"Because it's being paid for by the local authority, it does open up the scope for a returning officer, who is normally a chief executive of a council, to require candidates to change some of the wording. It's a point of electoral law which needs clearing up," he says.

"Cost is an issue, and while the candidates pay a contribution it's never enough to cover all the costs. But it's difficult to know how useful voters find these booklets, there's not enough research on that yet.

"But certainly in Liverpool it's been the primary source of information for voters, because here there hasn't been much media coverage. It's posed a problem for the media, where we have twelve candidates so it's difficult to achieve balanced coverage, particularly for the broadcasters. It's also made it hard for the hustings, where we've had problems with candidates not sharing a platform with the BNP and the National Front."

Robert Oxley from the Taxpayers Alliance thinks the election brochures aren't a bad idea in themselves, but thinks something should be done about their cost and who decides what goes into them

"It’s only sensible though steps are taken to ensure value for money from the mail-out, either by keeping costs down or making candidates contribute to the bill," he told us. "It doesn’t need to be a glossy brochure and one per household is more than enough. And it’s completely inappropriate for an overzealous council official to censor legitimate criticisms."

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