By Mike Speakman, For Britain Nominations Officer.
Now that the dust has mostly settled on this by election, I thought I would pen a few thoughts….
The party has a declared policy of not fighting parliamentary by elections (for now) and this determined the decision not to fight Hartlepool. Then out of the blue we heard that there would be a by election in Batley and Spen, but we didn’t know when. There was a lot of consideration about what we should do. The factors were numerous. From my point of view, I thought the party needed a cause to rally round. There were some long faces after the local elections and some people were feeling a bit despondent. We had not won anything despite some heroic efforts in Hartlepool and significant campaigns in other areas. I was not as depressed as some, and it taught me that we do not control the wider political scene and there are more factors involved than just leafleting. Much of the public have never heard of us and know nothing of our policies. This is because we have effectively been de platformed by all the media. The mainstream TV and the press will never allow us a platform. I think they learned from the way they treated Nigel Farage. They used to have him on TV to attack him and it spectacularly backfired for them. A couple of months ago I was booked to do a Talk Radio show and had agreed and was waiting the call when they suddenly dropped me. I also now suspect OFCOM had a role. I suspect there may be a blacklist of people who they tell the media not to allow, but I can’t prove that.
I saw Batley and Spen as an opportunity to at least some extent, get round the media block. It was an opportunity to promote the party and our policies, the same reasons George Galloway gave for standing. Given the nature of the constituency, the teacher issue, and it being a hotbed of Islamic extremism there was only one choice for candidate: Anne Marie.
On the against side, there was the fact that we didn’t have a membership based in that particular constituency and so had no local base for a campaign. We did have the nearby Leeds branch and in the end they proved crucial to what we did. Thank you, Leeds.
In typical fashion the Labour party called the election at the shortest possible notice and over a bank holiday weekend which meant that we and all the other parties had to scramble to get organised. As the Yorkshire RO, I became Anne Marie’s election agent. Because I don’t live in the area, I had to hire an office to satisfy the electoral law. This was quickly done and the next step was to collect signatures on the nomination papers. I had a copy of the electoral register, so I was able to avoid obviously Muslim areas. This was the first time I had set foot on the ground in the area. It was soon apparent that a lot of the white population were living in fear and some didn’t want to put their names to the nomination papers. Some complained about intimidation by “Asian” youths. Some refused to sign for fear of retaliation, but together with my wife we got the necessary signatures over three days. I explained on the doorstep who we were and who Anne Marie was. Interestingly after giving my “sales talk”, one gentleman declined to sign and told us he was a Labour party activist working with Kim Leadbeater.
Anne Marie approached Tommy to ask him to support her campaign, he agreed and made a video with her. He also said that he would come and speak at a rally. We agreed a date for this rally which was subsequently made public. Unexpectedly, Tommy cancelled for (completely understandable) personal reasons, but by that time the left had organised to oppose Tommy and threatened to stop us leafleting. The police were worried and indeed committed to bringing in some 400 officers on mutual aid from other forces to police the event. We told them Tommy wasn’t coming but I don’t think they believed us. As it was, on the day in question, the left and the police stayed in the centre of Batley which gave the party supporters who travelled to the area, free reign in the surrounding towns and villages. We had no opposition and almost no abuse. We were however shadowed the whole time by the police. Given the attitude and threats from the left I had not expected that we would be able to target more than the one venue of the three I had identified as suitable for campaigning. However, that weekend and a separate day of leafleting meant we were able to make contact with a lot of the electorate, although it seems Royal Mail failed to deliver most of the leaflets we gave them. This is not the first time Royal Mail have not delivered election leaflets. I met with their central management in London some years ago over the problem. They were in denial and bury their heads in the sand over the bias of their employees. Local management certify that all leaflets are delivered, and London believes them. I believe they are frightened of the post office unions.
The count was held in Huddersfield. To be fair to Kirklees council the arrangements were pretty good. It was easy to see ballot boxes being unsealed and there was a good view of the counting tables. As ever with counts, what you cant see is what happens before the ballot boxes arrive at the centre and some observers outside the centre say they saw votes being delivered in black bin bags and indeed there was some video to back up this claim. I would mention that in my early days as a young policeman, it was standard practice for ballot boxes to be accompanied by a police officer when in transit from polling stations to counting centres. I have never understood why this was stopped and it does lead to suspicions about the integrity of the process, particularly when in some other elections ballot boxes have allegedly taken several hours to complete a 20 minute journey.
There was quite good communication amongst some of the agents at the count and several were of the view that it was neck and neck between Labour and George Galloway with Galloway slightly ahead. It was apparent that amongst the most rational and sensible people were the Monster Raving Loony Party representatives.
When the provisional results were given to the agents, there was a lot of surprise at the size of the Labour vote. It did not reflect what people expected. I don’t think anyone expected Labour to win. The Tory campaign had been fairly lack-lustre and to be honest they were not vociferous when Galloway wanted a “bundle check”. This is a check of the piles of votes allocated to each candidate. The check resulted in one bundle being transferred from Galloway to the Lib Dems. When this was announced it was at this point that Galloway demanded a recount. The Tories were again quite meek and I actually suspect they did not want to win this seat. It would have put them in the spotlight over the teacher issue and I believe they didn’t want to risk a confrontation with the Islamic community. Appeasement has been their policy for years and it continues.
As for our results, well it would have been nice to have more votes, but this was never about the votes, it was about the party profile and in that sense it worked, we gained new members and a lot more exposure. We also beat the likes of the SDP, Jayden Fransen and others. I believe we should take any further opportunities to raise our profile in the future, not necessarily by fighting by elections but there may be similar high profile events at which the party can be represented. We all need to do our bit in this respect. We will not increase our voter base if people have never heard of us, and we cannot rely on the media that’s for sure.
The sting in the tail is that this by election is not over. As he threatened to do, George Galloway has gone to court. He claims there were several dirty tricks, like the council taking down his posters because the font size on the imprint was too small, something I have never heard of happening before. He also claims he was lied about by other candidates which is potentially a criminal offence. If it goes in his favour the court could order a rerun of the election.
Now there’s food for thought.