As Michael Crick observed earlier this week, a private constituency poll is a substantial donation-in-kind which should be declared as an interest by any MP lucky enough to receive one:
Presumably Vince Cable was about to declare on right registers the gift of a expensive poll in Twickenham from his friend Matthew Oakeshott
— Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick) May 28, 2014
It’s not just Cable who was given details of Oakeshott’s ICM polling either. Cable’s PPS Tessa Munt was briefed and Oakeshott is also close to Ian Swales, whose Redcar constituency was surveyed. Cable admitted this week:
“in one particular case concerning … Tessa Munt from Wells, we sat down and discussed the details with her”
Scrapbook understands a 500-person constituency poll with 12 questions would come to an absolute minimum of £4,000 a pop — well above the £1,500 threshold for declaration under Section 4 of the rules for the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
“This category deals with sponsorship or other forms of support by companies, trade unions, professional bodies, trade associations and individuals.”
The support must be “linked to a Member’s candidacy” — which localised general election opinion polling unquestionably is:
“For the purposes of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, support should be regarded as “linked” directly to a Member’s candidacy or membership of the House if it is expressly tied to the Member by name, eg if it is a contribution to the Member’s fighting fund …”
With the register published every two weeks, MPs’ disclosures up to Monday 26 May — one day before the scandal broke — are due for publication. When it drops we’ll know what interests were declared by Oakeshott’s pals and exactly when they were registered — this needs to be within four weeks of receiving the support.
Calculations on the timings aren’t straightforward but could result in apologies from multiple MPs — including Saint Vince …
- Commons authorities would presumably take the view that the date on which sponsorship was ‘received’ was the day on which an MP was shown the polling by Oakeshot — but we don’t know these dates.
- We do know when the fieldwork for the polling was completed, however, and Oakeshott is likely to have received the tabulated figures from ICM within 2-3 working days.
- The Twickenham fieldwork, for example, was completed on Wednesday 16 April, so let’s assume Oakeshott had the details by Monday 21 April at the latest.
- The scandal of the provenance of the damaging polling — and the prospect of disclosure of details under article 2.6 of the British Polling Council rules — developed this week on Tuesday 27 May.
- If Cable registered his interest in the poll after the scandal broke on Tuesday, then in order to be ‘in the clear’ with the rule on registering interests within four weeks, he’d need to have been shown the poll by Oakeshott on or after 29 April (four weeks prior).
If a declaration of Oakeshott’s Twickenham polling doesn’t appear in Cable’s entry in the next published update of the Register of Members’ Interests, then a defence against a rule breach would rely on the claim that Oakeshott received the results on an expensive poll of his friend’s seat — and then kept the details secret from Cable for more than a week.
There are a number of working assumptions, but the table below breaks these down for the different MPs involved (Sheffield and Inverness were ‘attack polls’ but included for completeness):
Curiously, Tessa Munt has decided to pretend she’s on holiday:
@rowenamason Tessa Munt is not on hols- check out her Twitter timeline. Had constituency meeting this morning & tweeted about it afterwards
— Simon Davies (@simon_tweeting) May 29, 2014
We’ll know more next week.