Sarah Jones, Labour’s MP for Croydon Central, has been accused of breaking parliamentary rules over the use of the Commons logo and her Westminster email address on constituency “updates” which feature her party’s candidate for election as the borough’s first executive Mayor, Val Shawcross.
A complaint has been lodged by a senior Conservative councillor to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for an offence similar to one which, in 2014, saw Jones’s predecessor as Croydon Central MP, gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell, given… well nothing much more than a firm telling-off.
It led to him being warned by a senior parliamentary official “that Members of Parliament are wise to maintain a clear separation between the parliamentary and the political sides of their correspondence”.
In his time as MP, Barwell quickly developed a reputation for bending the rules to breaking point, leading to his election spending being criticised by a judge and the Information Commissioner ruling against him for misusing his constituents’ personal data.
Jones, by contrast, has had a relatively blemish-free time as MP since she defeated Barwell at the 2017 General Election.
Until, that is, now.
The officials who run the Palace of Westminster try to guard its reputation and integrity fiercely. The use of the portcullis emblem is recognised as an important symbol of the state, and it is forbidden to try to subvert its use by political parties or candidates to somehow enhance their stature.
Jones’s leaflets had a faint, shadowy version of the portcullis logo in the masthead, just behind the letters “MP”.
The Labour election leaflet also apes the Tories, with a data-scraping “survey” included, while using Jones’s @parliament.uk email address as one of the ways in which to contact her.
The complaint against Jones’s misuse of the portcullis and email was lodged last week by Jason Cummings, the Shirley South councillor and shadow cabinet member. Cummings is also a former aide to Barwell.
Cummings copied in Jones to his email.
“As a constituent of Croydon Central I would like to complain about my MP, Sarah Jones,” he wrote.
“She is distributing political literature featuring the portcullis symbol (which appears in Parliamentary green) and using her parliamentary email address. My understanding is that this is not permitted activity. I am also concerned as to whether the website and address used on the leaflet are funded in any way by public money.”
Cummings called on Jones to cease distributing her literature immediately. “I will check to see if the distribution continues after this breach has been notified to her and her team.”
In what may be an admission of fault by Jones and her office, more recent artwork issued since the complaint was submitted has seen the portcullis logo removed from the front page of her leaflet.
Jones had not responded to Inside Croydon’s invitation to comment by the time of publication (but then her constituency office is only open three days per week).
Some suggest that the misuse of the logo, and particularly the parliamentary email address, may be an error by Croydon Labour’s new “borough organiser”, Anthony Ellis. Ellis previously worked for Progress MP Steve Reed OBE.
Others are less charitable. “It’s a deliberate ploy to imprint a parliamentary seal of approval on Val. It’s not the worst crime in the world, but it is naughty,” one local Labour official told Inside Croydon.
“It’s a classic piece of poor graphic design work – you have to look really hard to see it. You’d think if they were going to use it, they might as well make it more visible. But the portcullis is definitely there, and that’s against the rules.
“Sarah will get off with a stern word from the powers that be. But her leaflets are out there now – it’s what happens when the political parties try to get their literature out before the election period, when they have to account more carefully for every penny that they spend.”
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