Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dear Returning Officer: Check Leech John Bull Set

UPDATE Fri PM: Leech's weasely response has now come to light. No answers as such. More anon.

Dear Sir Howard

It has come my attention at home, as I was campaigning and/or working in other wards and constituencies, and through email reports from other areas that WPS Limited of 8, Gawsworth Avenue M20 5NF is taking credit for the printing of a vast amount of Liberal Democrat franchise campaign material.

Some believe that more material bears the imprint of this printer than for example Labour material produced by a professional printing works with a number of high volume four colour offset litho printing machines plus folding and finishing machines and so on, in a works stretching over some 3,000 square feet and staffed by a hard working team of professional and craft operatives.

That impression may or may not be correct. But it is certainly a very considerable volume of print.

WPS Limited, unlike Labour's supplier described above, appears to work out of a small back room at John Leech MP's offices near the borders of Stockport.

Perhaps the MP has allocated almost all the space and overheads and staffing to political printing operations and perhaps that is reflected in his expenses claims to Westminister? But that need not concern us now. We'll find out in due course when Mr Leech goes open book on all his financial arrangements.

While it increasingly common for political parties to have their own Riso machines and these have been a stalwart of Lib Dem campaigning for their smudgy and blurry Focus leaflets for a good long time Mr Leech's operation appears to be taking credit for material that could not be produced on such a set up.

I also don't believe it could be produced at all or at any rate economically on modern high volume laser printers. The material is four-colour, high volume, full bleed, with strong solids and screened images printed over 95% of the paper, is produced on fine gloss or blade coated papers, and in some cases has several folds.

It does not seem credible that it could be produced on a back room Riso set up or without experienced, time-served operatives.

Clearly WPS Limited could have another works and design studio somewhere else and merely use Gawsworth Avenue as an administrative address. If so I don't suppose, strictly speaking, they'd be breaking any election law with the current imprint. Even if they are being economical with the verité. You will know that better than I.

But would it not be the case that if it is sourced from another company or companies, even from another country, it really ought to carry an accurate imprint stating this?

Why am I concerned?

In General Terms:

1. The use of WPS Limited on imprints if these are not in fact the honest to goodness printers is dishonest and obscures the provenance of the material used by Leech's franchise, some of which is it seems tax payer funded and claims to be apolitical "parliamentary reports";

In Specific Terms:

2. The use of WPS Limited on imprints in such a way would insulate Mr John Leech MP and his franchise from criticism they have had in the past for using printers from very many miles from their constituency;

3. The use of WPS Limited on imprints in such a way could in fact even obscure the use of printers in different countries or even on different continents where printing can be extremely cheap.

"Print miles" however would be a huge issue for members of the electorate, particularly where Leech's franchise is appealing to Green supporters to switch, already risible given their staggering waste of paper and ink;

4. The use of WPS Limited on imprints in such a way could also fudge the question of how many leaflets of how many designs are produced in a particular campaign.

You may recall that there was some controversy in 2005 about the huge number of different leaflets delivered by Mr Leech and his franchise. Some voters recalled that the volume of leaflets was a key factor in their decision.

As I recall four or five printers from all parts of the UK appeared in the declaration of expenses though one activist counted 27 different pieces of print and Leech's campaign was I believe reported to the Electoral Commission on suspicion of over spending and mis-declaration, including believe it or not the fib that only £17 was spent on 'phones during the election period! They may still be pondering that one;

5. The use of WPS Limited on imprints in such a way would also allow a simplification of invoices with WPS able to "buy in" print and sell it on. This is becoming more and more common in the commercial world as print is out sourced from Germany or the Czech Republic or China.

But it seems to fly in the face of the transparency we seek from our candidates, parties and elected representatives. More so now than ever before. Making it surprising that any MP or franchise is moving in reverse on expenses transparency.

In fact in 2005 a Mr Qassim Afzal who was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Manchester Gorton used this model, submitting a single invoice from his own company for virtually all his expenses as I recall. Unlike Mr Leech, who was just a smidge inside the limit and had a very generous benefactor, Mr Afzal declared well inside the expenditure limit and was self funding. However this model appears to deliberately restrict transparency of expenditures;

I have received information that the WPS imprint has appeared on material delivered by local Lib Dem franchises in all five Manchester constituencies, in all three Salford constituencies, and also throughout Stockport. It may be that coverage is wider still.

Could you please respond to me at the address above on these concerns? In particular to reassure me that expenditure declarations including this printer will receive close scrutiny with any and all invoices for third party printers sought and produced and placed on the public record as the law requires.

I hope you will agree that if third party printers have been used their invoices should be appended to WPS summaries to support those vouchers?

It is now almost two weeks since I sent a fairly polite request to Mr Leech and his franchise for some answers on this matter but although he sent a receipt at 11:44 am that day I cannot seem to find any response.

Although I am a member and activist with the Labour Party I was not a candidate or agent in the most recent campaign and and writing as a concerned citizen and in a personal capacity.

I will copy this letter immediately by email to John Leech MP, to Cllr Simon Ashley leader of the Lib Dem franchise in the Town Hall, and later by post to the Electoral Commission. I have also published it on my web log.

Yours sincerely

Chris Paul
Manchester Resident


Anonymous said...

Are the Lib Dem "franchise" (like it!) having a leadership contest here as they are in Liverpool?? After years of underperforming..

lorenzo23 said...

Good on you Chris. I hope you get a reply, and it can be followed up. Clearly there are implications for the next General Election when Mr. Leech will be fighting for his job - another 5 more wasted years as MP for pot-holes. He can easily out spend the Labour Party, over the legal limit and get back in.

Anonymous said...

That should end:

Yours sincerely

Chris Paul
Manchester Resident
Failed Labour Party Candidate and all round, no good shit stirer.

Chris, there is still the issue of Tony Lloyd.

Anonymous said...

What did Tony Lloyd do? And wouldn't it just be easier to refer it directly to the police?

Anonymous said...

The police? If you believe the Lib Dems we actually don't have any of them. In fact we have more than under any previous government.

Chris Paul said...

Anon 17:39:

Does Tony Lloyd MP personally print four colour leaflets for half the county?

All that is required here is for John Leech to be open an honest about where this printing is being done and how much it costs.

And if he does in fact have design studios and offset litho printing tucked away somewhere that this is not in anyway funded by MP allowances.

There is also the question of his "donation" of his MCC councillor expenses to his party. Something Cllr Simon Ashley claimed would happen in a letter to the South Manchester Reporter but for which there is still no paper trail.

The point on the police is silly at this stage. Mr Leech may have a perfectly sensible explanation for his devious dishonesty and subtefuge. If not the CRO will be the one to ask the police for assistance.

Steve Cooke said...

Interesting. I have a full-colour glossy leaflet published by failed Labour candidate and member of Labour's NEC Peter Wheeler. It went out across the whole to the ward this May. The imprint says that it was printed at his house.

I wonder if Peter has a lithographic printing press in his bedroom?

Chris Paul said...

Ahhh, Steve. There is a difference I feel between an occasional mistake in an imprint, and even the odd one that is left off and the systematic burying of the real printing location, and hence potentially cost and "print miles" and that appears to be what John Leech and the organisation "WPS Limited" to which he tells me he is completely unconnected.

This "failed candidate" stuff really is wearing thin. With an average of four parties standing in every one seat election in the county 3/4s of us have to be losers by definition.

It is bloody typical of the franchising Lib Dems to disrespect those who also stand in this way. Thanksfully - apart from in the CoC up city that is Liverpool this means you are disrespecting more of your own colleagues than most.

This is a team game and if you're winning more than you're losing you get the chance to implement your manifesto - something that Lib Dems don't actually tend to bother with as it may frighten the horses.

PS Didn't Peter also have a second LP candidate in his ward?

PPS If Peter declares that this leaflet was produced in his backroom for 50p you will have more of a point. But what will Leech's franchise do re WPS and stuff they didn't physically print?

PPPS Is it the case that LDP Limited (the predecessor of the blurry Focus) is to be struck off by Companies House??

Steve Cooke said...

"PS Didn't Peter also have a second LP candidate in his ward?"


"PPS If Peter declares that this leaflet was produced in his backroom for 50p you will have more of a point. But what will Leech's franchise do re WPS and stuff they didn't physically print?"

My word - you're awfully quick to lay in to anyone you think might have got an imprint wrong. Unless of course they're from the Labour Party. In Salford that means you'd be ignoring the vast majority of imprint crimes in the city year after year.

As for John Leech's office - are you expecting some kind of revelatory comment from me on that? I ask them to print leaflets, the leaflets arrive, they send me an invoice, I report the details on my election expenses - seems perfectly in order to me.

"PPPS Is it the case that LDP Limited (the predecessor of the blurry Focus) is to be struck off by Companies House??"

How on earth should I know - I've never even heard of them!

Anonymous said...

any update chris?