As long-term readers of this blog know, nothing ever surprises me about the antics of the Bedfordshire-based Liberal Democrat blogger Mike Smithson, but this latest incident takes the biscuit. Clearly with his full blessing, the Lib Dems have sent out a letter from Smithson, featuring his signature and photo, to voters in the East Dunbartonshire constituency. The letter is presented as if it's just a piece of helpful information from an impartial expert, rather than the party political propaganda that it actually is. (Indeed, recipients of the letter would be forgiven for genuinely believing that it comes from Smithson's Political Betting blog, aka Stormfront Lite, rather than from the Lib Dems.)
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Voters are informed that, for Smithson, politics is a "serious business", and that making the right calls based on hard data is how he makes his living. They are then told that his "work" on the East Dunbartonshire data leads him to conclude that the constituency is going to be a straight fight between the SNP and the Lib Dems, that the Conservatives will be far behind, and that if Tory and Labour voters want to stop the SNP they should vote Lib Dem. He's not in any way trying to actually influence people's votes (perish the thought!) but he just thinks the "information" will be useful to them as they make their own choices.
All of this raises a number of important questions -
1) Wouldn't a voter receiving this letter be interested to know that Smithson, whatever his claimed expertise, is not in any sense impartial but rather a long-standing member of the Liberal Democrat party, a former Liberal Democrat county councillor, and a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate?
2) Why has a self-styled expert in electoral data chosen to discount the results of the local elections only a few weeks ago, when the Conservatives outpolled the Liberal Democrats in East Dunbartonshire to finish second in the popular vote behind the SNP? How can any serious analyst look at that result and claim virtual certainty that the Conservatives are out of the running in the constituency?
3) Would potential Scottish Liberal Democrat voters not be interested to know that this man, who is using deceptive means to influence their voting choice, loathed Charles Kennedy and made several cruel and highly personal comments about one of Scotland's most liked and respected political leaders?
4) Wouldn't voters be interested to know about the track record of this 'expert' and his previous predictions in individual constituencies? Wouldn't they be somewhat bemused if, for example, they were to learn that Smithson branded Alex Salmond as yesterday's man in the run-up to the 2015 general election, and claimed the former First Minister didn't have a hope in hell of defeating the mighty Lib Dems in the Gordon constituency? (Salmond actually defeated the Lib Dems by a whopping margin of 8687 votes.)
5) Why is Smithson interfering in a Scottish election, and specifically offering 'advice' with the purported aim of preventing a pro-independence candidate from being elected, when he has publicly claimed in the past to be a supporter of Scottish independence?
6) Doesn't the deliberate deception that this letter represents constitute a breach of electoral regulations?
7) If Smithson takes politics so "seriously", why has he for the last few years employed a Deputy Editor on his blog who is a known fantasist (he invented two dreadful family tragedies to avoid settling a bet for several months), and who routinely uses deeply embarrassing and puerile language in his articles for the site? Witness this effort on Saturday : "Winning general elections, it is said, are a lot like orgies, you’re never quite sure who to thank afterwards."
8) What hope has Smithson got of passing off the analysis on his own site as non-partisan and trustworthy in future, now that he's used that site's name and reputation (such as it is) to lend credibility to a deliberate deception on behalf of his own political party?