MP backs call for poll fact checking

Reporter: Richard Hooton
Date published: 07 September 2016

OLDHAM East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams has backed a call for action if factually incorrect political claims are made in future referendums.

The shadow secretary of state for work and pensions echoed calls from the Electoral Reform Society for an official public body to be designated as a watchdog to intervene.

The Labour MP said: "The misleading and dishonest claims put forward during the EU referendum campaign undermine the integrity of our democratic system. Following the referendum result, and numerous constituents in Oldham contacting me about the claims made during the campaign period, I undertook to contact the relevant authorities about how the Leave campaign was able to promote multiple misleading and untruthful statements.

"I wrote to raise my concerns to the Electoral Commission, the Metropolitan Police and the minister responsible at the cabinet office.

"In their response to me, the Electoral Commission has stated that the regulation of published campaign material in the UK is limited and there are no powers for the Commission to regulate the content of campaign material.

"The Metropolitan Police in correspondence with me has stated that the 'Breaking Point' poster and the '£350m a week to be spent on the NHS' claim are currently being investigated to determine if any criminal offences have been committed.

"Unfortunately, despite writing to him six weeks ago, the minister at the cabinet office has yet to respond to my letter asking how he will ensure that future elections and referendums are contested on the basis of accurate and verifiable facts.

"All political parties must ensure their campaigns are factually accurate and not deliberately misleading.

"I believe the wild claims that some politicians have used brings politics into disrepute and threatens our democracy.

"The government must take action to address falsehoods in any referendum campaign and should act on the Electoral Reform Society's recommendation that the UK learn from New Zealand, and establish a watchdog to intervene to quash false claims during referendum campaigns."

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