David Townsend’s campaign for the OUSU presidency became mired in controversy this week after his slate was found guilty of “disseminating false statements”.
Team Townsend was fined 5% of its election expenditure allowance after sending an email advertising a survey claiming to be administered by The Oxford Student.
In an email to MCR presidents, Townsend said: “In advance of the elections ‘The Oxford Student’ newspaper is administering a survey to assess your knowledge and interest in the upcoming elections.” In his ruling on the newspaper’s ensuing complaint, however, OUSU Returning Officer Jonathan Edwards said there was “nothing to indicate it had been so much as touched by them”.
In their complaint to the RO, the OxStu editors said that Alex Harvey, an activist for Team Townsend, attempted to gain agreement for a survey to be circulated under the paper’s name, but “no such agreement was forthcoming,” hence Townsend’s email breached rules on candidates disseminating “unlawful, false or misleading material.”
They added: “we would like to register our severe disappointment that a candidate for the OUSU Presidency, a role which sees the incumbent interact not infrequently with the paper’s editors, should take such apparently brazen liberties with what is an editorially independent publication.”
Alex Harvey said: “obviously I’m very disappointed. It was based on an honest mistake of communication, and I think it’s a real shame.”
A supplementary complaint alleged that the offer to respondents of entering into a prize draw for a free bottle of wine further contravened OUSU rules. This complaint was dismissed by the Returning officer, although he did note that “Team Townsend are bound to make good on their promise” and pay for the promised wine out of their election expenditure should anyone seek to claim it.
Edwards’ ruling said: “I confess myself mystified as to why Alex Harvey went about this the way he did…I cannot even begin to fathom why he thought it a good idea to commit The Oxford Student to a prize draw for the winner’s choice of a bottle of wine.”
David Townsend said: “As is clear from the Returning Officer’s judgment, the content of the survey itself is in no way partisan and gives no advantage to any candidate…at the time when I disseminated the survey I myself had an honest and reasonable belief that the survey was being administered by your paper, and had no intention at all to mislead anybody.
“It is clear that Mr Harvey had an honest belief that it was being administered by your paper… At the end of the day, the Returning Officer’s judgment confirms that no candidate on Team Townsend has conducted himself or herself with anything less than full honesty and reason, and that any infractions under the Standing Orders were unintentional and derived from honest miscommunication… As they say, I guess that’s just life in the big city – or in our case, the medium-sized county town.”
The latest ruling is one of a number made already in the election campaign, which only began last Thursday. At time of press 11 official complaints had already been received, with another pending, including ‘Join Jacob’ being fined 5% of their election expenditure for emailing presidents of numerous clubs and societies, and James Weinberg being fined the cost of 40 posters after an email promoting him was sent to the Hertford College JCR.