by Martin Odoni

Laura Kuenssberg, political correspondent at the BBC, seems to enjoy being part of the story instead of merely reporting it. This has frequently led to, frankly irrefutable, accusations of pro-Conservative bias on her part, and one sometimes wonders whether she even realises that she is doing something unacceptable, or how close to ‘the line’ she keeps treading.

Today, it would seem, Kuenssberg finally barrelled her way onto the line, and then beyond it. Past obvious displays of bias on her part have undermined the BBC Charter. But today, she may very well have broken the Law of the Land itself. Electoral law, to be precise. Reporting in to Politics Live (oh, the imagination, BBC! Oh, the catchy titles!), Kuenssberg stated,

“The forecast is that it’s going to be wet and cold tomorrow… The postal votes have already arrived… The parties are not meant to look at it but they do get a hint and on both sides people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country.”

There are numerous disturbing elements to this. Firstly, as an experienced broadcaster, Kuenssberg should be well aware that revealing anything about the contents of postal ballots to the general public before 10pm on the night of the General Election is strictly forbidden. The Representation of the People Act, 1983 makes this very clear; –

No person shall, in the case of an election to which this section applies, publish before the poll is closed […] any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted. {Emphasis added.}

And yet this is exactly what Kuenssberg has done.

Kuenssberg breaks the law

Laura Kuenssberg reveals details of postal ballots ahead of the polls, breaking electoral laws.

Now Kuenssberg appears likely to get away with her false reporting from Leeds General Infirmary earlier this week, but before the dust has even settled on her peddling of Tory lies, she now trumps herself by breaking the law!

The law is in place to make sure that no insights revealed can sway the public into not voting e.g. by implying that one side is so far ahead that all further votes cast are superfluous. But Kuenssberg appears to be trying to give just that impression, which could have a demoralising effect on Labour activists, or lull Tory voters into undue complacency.  Again, it seems unlikely that the BBC will take action, but this really should lead to Kuenssberg’s immediate suspension, and from there probably her outright dismissal.

Another disturbing aspect however goes beyond Kuenssberg; how exactly did she get hold of this information at all? The only way appears to be that vote counters are seeing which way people are voting, and then passing that news on, which is also completely illegal – an outright corruption of the electoral process in fact. To quote the Electoral Commision; –

“Ballot papers will be kept face down throughout a postal vote opening session. Anyone attending an opening session must not attempt to see how individual ballot papers have been marked and must not keep a tally of how ballot papers have been marked.

So if the vote counters are seeing how the ballots are being marked, they are breaking the law too.

Why also are the parties and media people apparently being fed this information? And how confident can we be that none of the vote counters is manipulating this information to ‘massage’ results e.g. spotting a vote for a party they would rather see lose and disposing of the ballot paper?

Is Kuenssberg getting this from another of her ‘sources who cannot be named’? Given what happened earlier this week, she should know better than to trust any source who demands to keep their name a secret.

Or did Kuenssberg not get any such information at all? Did she just make it up? Surely that is also grounds-for-dismissal?

There are a number of possibilities, in short, and none of them is very good.

Oh, Kuenssberg, you really have got yourself into hot water this time.