By Niall McCrae:
Leafleting for the scheduled mayoral and local elections in May is more dangerous than the usual hazards of loose paving slabs, rusty gates, fierce dogs (and some of their owners). According to Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith, it is not an essential activity during lockdown, and therefore a crime.
Writing to the Parliamentary Parties Panel, Smith said that the government is discussing how the elections can be ‘successfully delivered in a Covid-secure way’. She stated the government’s view that ‘the restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by party activists’. Instead, voters should be contacted online.
Yesterday Anne Marie Waters, leader of For Britain Movement, wrote to Smith complaining that this decision would benefit the major parties and stifle democracy. She asked why letters may be put through letter boxes but not political leaflets, and why the person-to-person exchange in food deliveries is permitted but not socially-distanced canvassing at the doorstep. Waters remarked: –
‘These restrictions are an unnecessary impediment on independent candidates, as well as new and upcoming parties, but more importantly, they deny voters a chance to make a genuine and informed choice about who they wish to represent them in elected chambers across the country.’
Smith also received a letter from William Powell, Lib-Dem candidate for the Welsh Assembly seat of Brecon & Radnorshire. He urged postponement of the 2021 national census, arguing that the pursuit of missing forms by thousands of workers is considerably more risky and intrusive than canvassing calls: –
‘The Minister needs to be consistent. If political campaigning is a health risk then the Census must also be delayed.’
In Northamptonshire, the Conservatives condemned the Lib-Dems for campaigning. They were backed by Lucy Wightman, director of public health for the county, who described activity such as leafleting as ‘not in the spirit of lockdown’.
Anyone doubting enforcement of this ‘spirit’ should watch what happened to London mayoral candidate Brian Rose. Having got permits from local councils to produce campaign videos on city streets, Rose was interrupted during a recorded speech by Metropolitan Police officers. The opening line of ‘can I have a chat with you, sir’ is a dead cert for a penalty notice nowadays. Sure enough, Rose and each member of his crew were fined, despite Rose’s protests that the pesky Li-Dems were doing the same thing.
David Kurten, one of Rose’s rivals, tweeted today: –
‘It is appalling that another London Mayor candidate has been fined for campaigning. Free and fair elections must take place on 6th May – If candidates cannot speak to voters and get nominations, the whole process is illegitimate.’
So this is Britain, 2021. Elections are possible, but not publicising your candidacy.
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