Telling a deliberate lie in an election campaign is an offence in both New Zealand and the UK. S199A of the Electoral Act 1993 states:
Every person is guilty of a corrupt practice who, with the intention of influencing the vote of any elector, at any time on polling day before the close of the poll, or at any time on any of the 2 days immediately preceding polling day, publishes, distributes, broadcasts, or exhibits, or causes to be published, distributed, broadcast, or exhibited, in or in view of any public place a statement of fact that the person knows is false in a material particular.
If the person found guilty of a corrupt practice is an MP, then they can lose their seat – as has just happened in the UK:
Former immigration minister Phil Woolas lost his seat as an MP today after an election court ruled that he knowingly made false statements about an opponent in May’s general election.
The Labour MP could be barred from the Commons for three years, with the election contest for his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat set to be re-run.
But Mr Woolas said he would fight the ruling – the first of its kind in 99 years – and was seeking a judicial review.
“The court has decided that an election should be overturned and an MP should lose his seat and be incapable of being elected to the House of Commons for three years because statements which attacked a candidate’s ‘political conduct’ were also attacks on his ‘honour’ and ‘purity’.”
The court decided that the Oldham election should be be re-run, and that Mr Woolas should lose his seat and be barred from being elected to the House of Commons for three years.
And what did he do:
Mr Woolas, who won May’s general election with a majority of just 103 votes, is the first MP for 99 years to face a successful challenge to his election victory on the basis of publishing false statements about an opponent.
The specially convened election court had heard that the Labour MP stirred up racial tensions in a desperate bid to retain his seat in Oldham East and Saddleworth.
Giving their judgment, Mr Justice Nigel Teare and Mr Justice Griffith Williams said Mr Woolas was guilty of illegal practices under election law.
Mr Woolas was also found to have knowingly made a false statement that Mr Watkins had reneged on a promise to live within the constituency prior to the election.
That suggested Mr Watkins was “untrustworthy”.
Effectively he claimed his opponent was a liar, and in doing so lied himsefl.
Many an MP in New Zealand might shudder at the thought of losing their seat for lying. But it is only if you lie in the two days before an election.
His team allegedly hoped that by exploiting the racial divide in Oldham, the scene of race riots in 2001, they would “bring out the white Sun-reading vote”.
The incendiary remark was made in an email which said: “We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him [Woolas] out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.”
Mr Woolas was accused of fighting a “dirty and dishonest” campaign full of “lies, smears and totally false allegations”. Mr Watkins’s lawyers argued that: “Mr Woolas, believing that he was going to lose the election, resorted to terrifying white voters into believing that there was an extremist militant Muslim element in Oldham, who were in cahoots with Mr Watkins. He wished to convey the message that a vote for Mr Watkins was a vote for extremists.”
Emails between members of Mr Woolas’s campaign team, obtained by Mr Watkins’s lawyers, detail their alleged plans to claim falsely that Mr Watkins supported Islamic extremists and was “prepared to condone death threats” against Mr Woolas to secure their vote.
And this is from a Labour MP!
What is interesting is that the UK law specifically refers to lies about your opponents:
makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice
And the timeframe is:
before or during an election
which suggests the entire campaign period. Think of the number of MPs who over the last couple of elections may have lost their seats as they lied about their opponent’s character or conduct.
Would it stretch to calling your opponent cancerous and corrosive? How about claiming they will evict people from state houses?