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A Problem with Data: Tactical Voting Website Distances itself from the Lib Dems’ Latest Misleading Advice

Stephen Delahunty reports on more shady electioneering, but this time from the Liberal Democrats

Stephen Delahunty reports on more shady electioneering, but this time from the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrat Party have again been caught misleading voters after one of the main tactical voting websites distanced itself from its latest election material.

The leaflet has a picture of Mike Smithson who is described as an independent “polling and elections expert”.  What it fails to mention is that Smithson is a three-time former Lib Dem councillor and has stood twice to become an MP. 

The text of the letter varies between constituencies, but many versions suggest that the election in the target constituency is “between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives” – urging Labour supporters to vote tactically.

The letter seen by Byline Times, that was sent to voters in Watford, claims “nearly 200 seats across the UK could be decided by Labour supporters voting tactically for the Liberal Democrats”.

In Watford, Labour finished less than 2,000 votes behind the Conservative candidate with 24,639 votes in 2017. The Lib Dems got just over 5,000 votes.

There is no indication that the letter was produced by the party apart from tiny print at the bottom which says “published and promoted by M.Dixon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.”

Smithson did not respond to a request for comment but has since put out a statement on his Political Betting website which suggests he did not even know which seats the letters purporting to offer tactical voting analysis of the seat were sent to.

Where did they get the polling data?

The Lib Dems refused to answer questions about how many constituencies similar letters may have been sent to and why there is no mention of the “polling and elections expert” being a Liberal Democrat.

Although hundreds of people have taken to Twitter complaining to the party that the letter was misleading: both for not declaring openly enough that it was from the Lib Dems, and for not properly reflecting the constituency.

The party also refused to answer where they got the data to back up their claims, and whether they had permission to reference the tactical voting website Best for Britain before sending the leaflet out. 

A party spokesperson said: “The leaflet has a clear imprint stating it is published by the Liberal Democrats.

“As is stated repeatedly in the letters, in these constituencies, Liberal Democrat success depends on Conservative voters lending us their vote.”

However, a spokesman for Best for Britain said: “We were not approached for permission, and, while our October MRP suggested the Lib Dems were ahead in many seats across the country, our November update put Labour ahead in most of these.

“We have always been clear that we would be releasing further updates to our data – and the recommendations based off them – as the election campaign wore on, with a final release due next week before polling day.”

Lid Dem Voter Data Sold

It’s not the first time the Lib Dems have been accused of misusing or presenting misleading data during the election campaign. Back in 2016, the party sold voter data to the official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, for £100,000. The Lib Dems have always maintained there was nothing wrong with the lucrative deal, but it resulted in an investigation by the Information Commissioner.

However, it emerged last month that the evidence is being withheld from public scrutiny by the UK’s information watchdog, according to a report by openDemocracy.

The party’s response was to threaten legal action in an attempt to get the story retracted. It accused openDemocracy of failing to follow standard journalistic practice by ignoring a denial from the party which had been emailed in advance of publication. But the news website said it had checked its records and no such email had ever been received.

The party’s lawyers then provided a screengrab of the alleged communication. The Lib Dems held this up as irrefutable evidence that openDemocracy had engaged in journalistic malpractice and demanded a prominent written apology. However, the screengrab of the supposed email from the Lib Dem official was dated the day before its journalist had approached the party for comment. So it was not possible for the Lib Dems to have proof of a senior member of the campaign team sending a response 18 hours before the original question had been asked.

The Lib Dems eventually retracted the legal action and said an employee had been suspended pending an investigation into the provision of false information.

In addition, at the start of last month the Lib Dem’s were accused of similar tactics after a number of candidates published leaflets featuring data from an obscure company that is not a member of the British Polling Council to suggest they are ahead of other parties in various constituencies.

The election material citing data from Flavible was criticised for using national polls and localising them to project the voting intention for certain constituencies. At the time a Full Fact spokesman said that for politicians to describe these results as ‘polling’ is misleading.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Andrew Gwynne has said the Lib Dems have no credibility and should apologise for trying to mislead voters.

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