But why is it left to me to do it, instead of one of those well-funded democratic institutions that populate London?
I am motivated by specific facts on the ground, not by general wishy-washy democratic ideals. The Public Whip was caused by the Iraq War vote. It was quickly obvious that after a few years had passed, there would be no accessible record of which MPs voted for the war. Only a comprehensive website that contained all the Parliamentary votes would keep this record alive.
TheStraightChoice.org has a similar genesis, of needing to preserve and publicize a series of remarkable LibDem leaflets I was seeing after I joined the local Green Party. This group has been gradually chipping away at the decade old majority control of the corrupt council of Liverpool City where I live, and by participating in their campaign I was able to learn about how the electoral process actually works.
But only if there is comprehensive common website for all election leaflets, will there be a proper home for them. Had there already been a good election leaflet website, I’d have submitted them to that and been very happy. But there wasn’t one, and so I had help get one built.
This is not, repeat not, a partisan project where I secretly lose opposition leaflets and pass on private details to my favourite party for campaign purposes. There wouldn’t be any value in this, and it would be a breach of trust. There needs to be an on-line election leaflet project. And there is not one run by the Electoral Commission, a think tank, a regulated media organization, or a university, so it’s left to me and my friends to do it.
And the following leaflet which showed up in St Michael’s Ward at the weekend is the proof of my point:
Even the Green Party admits your vote is wasted here…
Local People are today feeling humiliated after the Green Party has officially given up in Liverpool.
Paul Steedman, the Green Party’s Election Campaign Director, has told activists that Liverpool is not important… as they’re not going to win.
In a leaked email sent to Green Party members, Mr Steedman said that all resources are to be targeted in Brighton, Lewisham and Norwich. But what about Liverpool?
He even has the cheek to ask people to help in his own area… “We’d love you to help in all 3 seats, but especially in Brighton (where I am based),” adding, “People from across the country join others from Brighton.”
Is this where our Green Party councillors are? Why are they in Brighton when they should be in St Michael’s!
In reality, the Green Party councillors, and the candidate for this local election, were in St Michael’s at the weekend delivering the following leaflet:
Now, I’d say that this Green Party leaflet (on slightly lighter shade of green paper), is more substantive on the local council election — in that it tells you who the candidate is, and it covers recent events of concern within the ward, while also addressing the administration of the council.
It does not contain random incoherent repeated smears of the opposition that have never been party policy.
Now, you can call me partisan if you like, as I have been absolutely clear about my relationship to this particular election battle (I am not involved in any of the others and don’t know anyone in the national party).
But what other kind of person is going to take the slightest interest in a minor election leaflet in some corner of the country?
Anyone who thinks they have a modicum of intelligence will sling these bits of paper straight in the bin — and then they will be outvoted by the bewildered masses who do read them and are fooled by their falsehoods. That’s not a very good habit.
Every vote counts. And only the votes count.
It is of a small note that the current Libdem councillor for the ward, Peter Allen, has been hastily deselected in favour of someone with the name “S. Green”, according to the microscopic imprint on the leaflet.
There will be two Greens on the ballot. People will make mistakes by reading the name of the candidate for the name of the party. A similar thing happened years ago when someone got thousands of votes standing as Literal Democrat. This is one of the reasons the names of political parties are now regulated.
Every vote counts. And only the votes count. Even the mistakes.
Also, in the imprint, as required by Section 110 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, is the name and address of the publisher and printer, a one Paul Twigger, who is the Executive Member for Corporate Performance in the Council.
Paul knows it is very important to follow this law, because in 2007 his fellow LibDem councillor on the Executive Committee, Steve Hurst was caught red handed for delivering leaflets falsely attributed to the United Socialist Party smearing his opponent.
Hurst was defended in court with character references from fellow politicians, including council leader Warren Bradley and deputy Lord Mayor Mike Storey, but Judge Richard Clancy found him guilty as charged and fined him a whole £500 for the offence.
Wow, that’s quite a deterrent for probably the worst possible infringement of the law you can imagine, when what’s at stake is a 46 to 43 absolute majority control of the city that makes it possible for power to be totally removed from the council chamber and into the closed hierarchy of the local party. Democracy is boring. Power is worth fighting for.
This is the context that makes it matter. It is something that transcends all the democratic ideals people might have in terms of policy and political process and debate.
When winning the game has this much as stake, the play gets dirty. You’ve got to have a referee. There is no referee. The Electoral Commission has decided this is not their concern.
This particular leaflet clearly breaches Section 106(5) of the Representation of the People Act 1983:
(5) Any person who, before or during an election, knowingly publishes a false statement of a candidate’s withdrawal at the election for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of another candidate shall be guilty of an illegal practice.
because it leads with a false statement of the candidate’s withdrawal from this local election for the purpose of promoting the election of another candidate.
The defence will say, “Well, we have evidence you’re not seriously fighting the Parliamentary election, and that’s true.”
But this is a leaflet about the local election, and the statement is false. How widely to interpret the words “withdraw at the election” is a matter for a judge, but the intent and effect of the false statements in this leaflet are absolutely unambiguous.
There’s no point in getting angry. TheStraightChoice.org isn’t going to go away just because you ignore it. Instead I’d like to hear that party leaders are finally smelling the coffee and are putting out the word that they’d like a clean campaign this time. And to prove it, they’d make it the duty of party volunteers to upload leaflets from all parties to TheStraightChoice.org website.
But they didn’t act like this before the Parliamentary expenses scandal broke when they knew it was coming and could have easily diffused it. We can expect systematic myopia and small-mindedness. After all, they didn’t get where they are by far-sighted force of wisdom and character. They got there by back-stabbing and naked ambition. Only the votes count.