Voters in Pendle Provided with Free Meal and asked to Vote for Tory Councillor
An investigation is underway into an allegation of the corrupt practice of treating by Pendle Conservatives following a stockpile of evidence given to Lancashire Police by Lord Greaves, including leaflets, photos and recordings of an event which took place on Saturday 11th February where local voters were given a free meal and asked to vote for the Conservative candidate in the upcoming election.
The event at the Palatine Club in Nelson was organised by local Conservatives and attended by Government Minister Andrew Percy MP. It was also addressed by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson, County Council election candidates Afzal Anwar and Yasser Rauf and various Conservative Councillors.
Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, Pendle-based Lord Greaves wrote to the police in order to request a formal investigation into the “organisation and provision of food at the event which may constitute the corrupt practice of treating under election law.”
250 local voters attended the event, all men apart from a visitor with the Minister – as can be seen from photos taken at the event showing male voters tucking into their free chicken curry and rice while Conservative Councillors talk to them about who they should vote for.
Recordings of Pendle Tories under Investigation
Councillor Hassan Mahmood who was running the event was caught on tape asking the crowd specifically to vote for Afzal Anwar in the upcoming election on 4th May, as he stood up on stage and addressed the audience.
800 invitations were reported as being sent to households in the Whitefield area only – this is part of the County Council division where Afzal Anwar is the declared Conservative candidate. It seems as if the Conservative Party targeted residents in that specific area in order to seek their votes with the price of a chicken curry for each voter.
However, it seems this plan may have backfired somewhat as some of the residents in attendance were offended when they realised the true purpose of the event.
Lord Greaves said: “I have sent a mass of evidence to the police and to the ERO that this was a meeting at which election candidates were heavily promoted. It was targeted at the voters in that area and they were provided with a hot meal. That seems to me to constitute treating under election law, which is strictly forbidden and indeed is defined as a corrupt practice – in effect bribing people to vote for a certain candidate or party.
“Councillor Mahmood is on record as saying that another four events like this one will be arranged before the County Council elections. This is shocking. There is nothing wrong with organising free meals at events if that is their wish. What is very wrong is doing so and using them to seek votes in a direct and overt manner.
“It does look as though local Conservative Councillors and even the MP's office are implicated in this, or at the very least they have connived at it happening.”
Treating not Illegal until April, says Pendle Conservative MP
Andrew Stephenson, the Conservative MP for Pendle who spoke at the event at the Palatine Club, responded by saying that the practice was not illegal as it was before the cut-off date when it would then become illegal.
“The offence of treating, as Tony Greaves well knows, only applies to the regulated period before polling day once nominations are confirmed, which I believe will be about early April,” said Andrew Stephenson MP.
Lord Greaves responded by pointing out that section 114 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which bans treating, specifically refers to actions “before, during and after” an election. He said: “It would be absurd to allow candidates to bribe electors with food the day before nominations open but to ban it the day afterwards.”
The police are currently considering the matter and are due to meet with Pendle’s electoral registration officer Philip Mousdale to discuss the allegations further.