Updated: Friday, 3rd April 2020 @ 6:26pm

Cheshire council leader issues apology over 'illegal' message of 'don't vote UKIP' using Manchester housing threat

Cheshire council leader issues apology over 'illegal' message of 'don't vote UKIP' using Manchester housing threat

| By Hannah Marshall

A council leader has issued an apology over a controversial Easter message which urged constituents not to vote UKIP or Labour – or risk having to take on some of Manchester’s housing quota.

Councillor Michael Jones, leader of East Cheshire Council, issued his Easter message on April 17 which opened with talk of flowers and chocolate, but quickly took on a political bias.

Rivals say the message breaks pre-election rules which have been in place for decades.

In his message, Cllr Jones said: “Voting UKIP is a vote for Labour, a party that would like to see an extra 200,000 homes in our communities built each year- yes! Each year!

“That would mean Cheshire East Council taking on some of Manchester’s housing quota which would be a disaster.

“So, voting UKIP or Labour means you are voting for unprecedented concrete across our countryside.”

Whilst there is nothing unusual about Cllr Jones comments, the complaints from political opponents centre on the timing of the message which was released three days after the start of a period known as purdah.

Purdah, or the pre-election period as it’s often known, is the period of time before and during an election in which councils not allowed to engage in political activity.

Cllr Jones and Cheshire East Council were reported to the authority’s monitoring officer by UKIP Cllr Brian Silvester, who later took to Twitter to vent his anger.

In his complaint, he said: “Firstly it is clearly wrong for a council officer and council facilities to be used to issue a press release calling on residents to keep faith with the Conservatives and giving reasons why they should not vote for UKIP or Labour.

“Secondly we are now in the purdah period for the European Elections and in that period the law prohibits the Council from publishing or assisting others to publish “any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party

“It is clear that from the content of the press release that the Council Leader and the Council have broken the law.”

 

 

MM spoke to the Cllr Silvester who said he was 'disturbed' that it has taken so long for action to be taken, and found Cllr Jones' apology to be 'entirely inappropriate'.

In the apology released by the Monitoring Officer, Cllr Jones admitted responsibility and apologised for issuing a political statement through the council, but there was no mention of violating the pre-election period.

Cllr Jones said: “ On 17 April 2014 as Leader of the Council I issued an Easter Message which by mistake contained political statements and which I fully acknowledge should not have been issued by or linked to the Council.

“The words in question were only ever intended to be issued by me personally and I apologise to the public, the Council and all elected members for any harm that this error may have caused. 

“I accept full responsibility for the issue of this statement and as Leader I have taken steps to tighten up the processes to ensure that a similar error could not be repeated in the future.”

However Cllr Silvester believes that there is an issue with the apology too.

“The Monitoring Officer is the person that polices the council, she's the one investigating Jones and she sent out his apology- she shouldn't be doing that,” he said.

“It's entirely inappropriate and the apology doesn't even touch on the purdah at all.”

Twitter user @cheshireeastexposed whose account claims to expose what Cheshire East Council and Cllr Jones don't want made public, said: “The statement should never have been put out, purdah or nor purdah, as Cllr Jones involved Council staff in a very political statement using Council taxpayers money.

“You have to ask whether staff feel able to challenge the Leader over what he wants?”

 

 

Cllr Silvester added: “I can sympathise with them but having said that they are professional officers and they know what's right and wrong.

“They shouldn’t have allowed that to be published”

Cllr Silvester plans to take his complaint further and has enquired about what sanctions are available to Cheshire East and Cllr Jones for breaking the purdah law.

Image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.