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Alan Bown and Michael Brown - spot the difference(s)

Michael Crick | 18:55 UK time, Monday, 19 October 2009

Spot the difference(s)

Case A: Alan Bown gave a political party £363,697

1) It was his money
2) He had a business trading in this country, making him eligible to donate money
3) He was not on the electoral register when he donated although he was the year before, and also the year afterwards.

Case B: Michael Brown gave a political party £2.4m
1) It was not his money, he had defrauded it
2) His business was not trading in the UK, so therefore he was ineligible to donate money
3) He was not on the electoral register; neither was he the year afterwards, nor the year before.

Do you see the difference(s)?
Well the main difference is that the Electoral Commission has doggedly pursued the Alan Bown donation, and today won an appeal forcing the party to give up the money, despite a judge previously ruling that the political party that received it had acted in good faith.

In the Michael Brown case the Electoral Commission has always maintained the political party acted in good faith and need not repay money. Although following the criminal proceedings against Mr Brown they have re-opened an investigation, it has not had yet had any result and they have not managed to say when, if ever, it will.

Oh yes there is one other difference:

This year the Political Parties and Elections Act went through Parliament, and among other things it restructured the Electoral Commission and gave it new funding and powers.

The political party in Case A, UKIP, has no MPs and only three representatives in the House of Lords (where the government has no majority and is particularly vulnerable to amendments).

The political party in Case B, the Liberal Democrats, has 63 MPs and 71 members of the House of Lords (where the Government has no majority and is particularly vulnerable to amendments).

At least those are the difference that I can see. Perhaps you can you suggest others?


  • Comment number 1.

    the justice system is about exacting fees or protecting the inner circle. any justice or reason that comes out of the court system is accidental.

  • Comment number 2.

    Is it an 'r'?

  • Comment number 3.



    RedRedRobin, for another 2 points what's: √UKIP÷LibDem+X ?

    (Where X = Custard and Bananas)

    Sorry Michael, I give up.

  • Comment number 4.

    Our Ref: FOI 80 09

    Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) dated 20 September 2009, which the Commission received 21 September 2009.

    The Commission aims to respond to requests for information promptly and has done so within the statutory timeframe of twenty working days.

    Please see your request in bold below followed by our response.

    1) What is the anticipated date for the conclusion of Electoral Commission inquiries into the permissibility donations from 5th Avenue Partners to the Liberal Democrats?

    2) Why are your investigations held up? Is it for lack of resources, litigation, political considerations or other reasons?

    The Commission holds some information relevant to your request. In relation to both of your questions, it is the Commission's policy not to comment upon ongoing investigations. However, we hope that the following information is of assistance to you.

    The Commission does not consider it appropriate or practical to give an anticipated date for the conclusion of our investigations into the permissibility of donations from 5th Avenue Partners Limited to the Liberal Democrats. The time taken to complete a case review or an investigation varies on a case by case basis. We aim to complete 90% of cases within six months. Where there is a great deal of evidence to collect and assess, or where the allegation relates to a particularly complex area of the law, the investigation may take longer.
    We recognise that it is important to conclude case reviews and investigations as quickly as possible, in the public interest and in the interests of natural justice for those involved. However, our first priority is always to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, and this will always take priority over speed where the two conflict.

    I trust that this information satisfies your request. If you are not satisfied with this response, please note that the Commission operates a review procedure, details of which can be found on the Commission website at: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Please also note that if you have exhausted all internal Commission review procedures and you are still not satisfied you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner. Details of this procedure can be found on the ICO website:

    Yours sincerely,

    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

    Democracy matters

    P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

  • Comment number 5.

    The answer is easy - UKIP are willing to stand up to the anti-democratic EU, the Lib Dems are willing to have their tummies tickled by it.

    The ruling elite would not have it any other way..

  • Comment number 6.


    They have heard we are going to install democracy - like wot we've got.

  • Comment number 7.


    But I think I might have spotted where they went wrong:

    VERBATIM FROM WEBSITE "Welcome to the National Black Police Association
    The NBPA is open to all in policing on application, there is no bar to membership based on colour."

    Only in Britain . . .

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    One has to laugh at the sheer audacity of the establishment crying about this very honest and up-front donation to the UKIP.

    Labour relies on donations from Communist and Marxist-dominated trades unions, whose political philosophies elsewhere in the world led to the murder of 100 million people during the 20th century.

    They are not on the Electoral Register either.

  • Comment number 10.

    Is, perchance, the EU funding the prosecution of UKIP? It certainly seems a disgraceful example bias and partisanship. Is there anything stopping Mr Bown 'receiving' the £363,697 back from UKIP and immediately giving it back as a legal donation by someone now on the electoral register?

  • Comment number 11.

    Are you seriously suggesting someone called Brown could possibly fall foul of the law? Are we to believe that Brown is corrupt and willing to thieve money for his own gains? Astonishing that!

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    This is a quite extraordinary business. By all accounts, Mr Alan Brown was not responsible for his name being removed from the electoral register, and as soon as he realised that this had been done, he re-registered. Further, if this case does finally go against UKIP, then the money will not be returned to Alan Brown, but will be taken by the Treasury. What is going on!? What is troubling is that not only does this appear have nothing to do with any sense of 'fair play' or natural justice, but that it isn't really a surprise. Not only do we live under a government that will primarily be remembered for war and its support of what can only be called imperialism, but it also resorts to dirty tricks as a first point of call. One might suspect that this attack on UKIP is an attempt to break that party prior to the next general election, when even the small parties might take away valuable votes from the main parties. And while on the subject - where is the campaign against the coming anointing (as opposed to electing) of a de facto EU President and Secretary of State? But then, we have an anoited Prime Minister, so why not extend the principle to the whole of Europe - bring on the Mad Mullah himself, His Holiness Tony Blair.

  • Comment number 14.

    The difference is very simple, if legalistic. Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Acts 2000, a donation must come from a "permissible donor". Possible "permissible donors" include an individual registered in an electoral register (section 54(2)(a)) and a United Kingdom company (section 54(2)(b)).

    Mr Bown's donation was a donation under section 54(2)(a) and it was illegal because he wasn't on the register.

    Mr Brown's donation was a donation under section 54(2)(b) and so it was irrelevant whether he was on the register or not: all that mattered was the fact that the donation came from a UK company (in his case, "5th Avenue Partners").

    Whether the legal rules that apply here are good ones are a matter for debate (it would be fair enough if UKIP were forced simply to give Mr Bown his money back - in which case he could re-donate it assuming he's now on the register - but it seems absurd that the Treasury should get it), but the difference between the two cases is a straightforward matter of law.

  • Comment number 15.

    As a postscript to the comment I just made, I note the claim in the original post that Mr Brown's "business was not trading in the UK, so therefore he was ineligible to donate money". That would make his company - not him - ineligible to donate, but as I understand it, the Electoral Commission isn't clear that this was actually the case (see Unfortunately for Mr Bown, the question of whether he was on the electoral register is a simple one.

  • Comment number 16.


    I think you have your facts wrong this time.

    The Electoral Commission said that the Liberal Democrats investigated the eligibility of their donor and the investigations showed the donating company was eligible.

    The EC quote is " The Electoral Commission has previously made clear its view that it was reasonable for the Liberal Democrats - based on the information available to them at the time - to regard the donations they received from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd in 2005, totaling just over £2.4m, as permissible.

    It remains the Commissions view that the Liberal Democrats acted in good faith at that time, and the Commission is not re-opening the question of whether the party or its officers failed to carry out sufficient checks into the permissibility of the donations."

    In the case of the UKIP donor UKIP did not check his eligibility and if they had he would have been shown to be ineligible.

    The Law says that parties must check the eligibility and that is what the Lib Dems did but UKIP did not. The Law has been written this way to incentivise parties to do the checks - which is surely what we want them to do.

  • Comment number 17.

    Michael, your argument seems to be based on a moral principle that a huge donation from illegal fraud is worse than a smaller donation with a slight irregularity due to a muddle over the electoral register. I would agree with you. However, in Britain today moral principles and what may seem fair to the ordinary person are irrelevant because we are ruled by a rats' nest of legislation, and the big guys with the better lawyers are always going to win. (E.g. you can dump your toxic waste where you like if you have the lawyers to gag the press!)

    What I found particularly disturbing was that a court had already looked at the UKIP donation and made a ruling. Since the Electoral Commission had handed it over to the courts for an expert opinion, you would think they would accept the judgement. But no. They have to go and appeal because the court rules the "wrong" way. Politically motivated? It stinks like so many other things in this country!

  • Comment number 18.


    Much said above is apposite in the extreme. Perhaps Magic Obama, who owed so much of his war chest to 'small donations from ordinary people, solicited on the internet' will advise Farrage on recouping the money from ordinary Brits who have begun to awaken to skulduggery in high places?

    I wonder which way Brown's Moral Compass is pointing today? Straight down??

  • Comment number 19.

    Hopefully this time my post will not break the rules. Any organisation which has pages & pages of detailed rules in small print can find something to make anybody guilty. Is there one of us who could not be arrested/fined for not having filled in some form in accordance with all the rules or possible interpretations? This is one way in which our freedom under the rule of law is being degraded. Nonetheless the state normally does not try to enforce the silliest of the rules.

    It is clear & has been demonstrated legally that the UKIP infringement was very technical inadvertent & did not affect the oficial purpose of that rule to prevent foreign donations. The Lib Dem infringement was also technical, probably not that deliberate & very seriously breached the intent - not to allow parties to get stolen money. I am sure that if the Electoral Commission had wished to find tiny breaches in Labour or Conservative rukles they could have found them.

    I regret the BBC deleted my previous post either because it drew the obvious conclusion about the impartiality of the body running elections or because I expressed praise mingled with surprise for allowing Mr Crick to publish this post & expressed the wish it was not a one off.

    Democracy depends both on the state media reporting the facts impartially & the state election counting body performing their job impartially. If the former censor full & proper reporting of any partiality of the latter we have a problem.

  • Comment number 20.

    In Singapore, a city state I had occasion to live and work in for many years, I paid passing heed to the politics there.

    One thing that struck me was that you needed to be a certifiable nutter to entertain being an opposition party MP to the ever incumbent PAP.

    Any daring to run against them would almost inevitably find their finances, security status or sexual proclivities thoroughly investigated and, surprise, inevitably found wanting.

    All by some bloke in a wig and red robes if I recall, as the UK system of 'justice' was embraced and enhanced post independence.

    I now rue noting at my departure that I was at least passing from a benign dictatorship back to a cradle of democracy.

    Any organisation which has pages & pages of detailed rules in small print can find something to make anybody guilty

    Indeed. And the worry is which ones are using and abusing the spirit of the law by juggling its letters to suit their very personal, and petty needs.

    Though I do find it ironic that many MPs are unimpressed that they are being held to account under retrospective instruments, when many of those they have patently misrepresented over previous years have suffered from just such iniquitous laws.

    'First they came...'

  • Comment number 21.

    There's at least one fairly substantial difference: Whether or not either one of them stick to them - in B, the party's constitution goes on at length about how they want to enhance the rights of citizens, and improve things. In A, the party's constitution goes on at length about how they want to strip British citizens of our rights, regarding travel, work, free movement, input into international processes, etc.

    That seems a good reason to me to want to fine them.

  • Comment number 22.

    The purpose of the relevant Act of Parliament was to prevent donations to political parties in the UK from foreign or anonymous donors. Mr Bown is not and never has been other than a British subject/citizen; he pays British taxes. His donations were not anonymous as they were reported to the Electoral Commission on time.

    At the time of the hearing of the first case against UKIP the Electoral Commission databases showed the Liberal Democrats had been 18 quarters late in reporting a donation - yes, four and a half years. Nothing happened!

  • Comment number 23.

    Mr Crick,

    At a time when the BBC is having a crackdown on executive salaries and those of 'celebrities' such as Jonothan Ross, I think it would be timely and appropriate to make the following comment:
    Whatever the BBC are paying you, it isn't enough. You are the epitome of a good journalist and a rare BBC hero of mine.
    That's it. Nothing more to see here. Just thanks.

  • Comment number 24.

    The Electoral Commission today (Fri 20 November) confirmed what I said in my earlier comment (number 16 above).

    The Liberal Democrats checked that the donation was permissible and after a thorough investigation the Electoral Commission say it was permissible.

    UKIP did not check if the donation was permissible and the Electoral Commission investigation found that it was not permissible.


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