OPINION: Fib Dems? A compliment!

It was well over 10 days into the Sedgefield By-election. Things seemed to be going well and it was clear that the Conservatives were in 3rd place. Then again – Sedgefield is further North than Watford so it was no surprise!

One thing was missing and the campaign team knew it.

High quality literature was being produced and delivered. Canvassing showed a move towards Greg Stone and the Lib Dems. Even the Northern media were on board. Then it came… Fib Dems – the headline screamed in Labour’s latest leaflet.

Underneath that a picture of a hypodermic needle and a claim that our candidate supports 16 year olds in hardcore porn with the usual drugs rant! I am used to this Labour tactic. Here in Rochdale, Labour’s negative campaigning has seen them lose seat after seat. This is especially true in the last few years. I see it in Manchester, Oldham, Bury and throughout Greater Manchester. The term – “Fib Dems” is at best a compliment and shows Labour’s desperation. At worst it is an immature broadside at a party that has them on the run in many areas, especially urban across the UK.

In Sedgefield, Labour’s negative campaigning showed us we had momentum. I’d go as far as saying that given another 2 weeks and more bodies we’d have won the seat. 3 weeks was never going to be enough and Labour knew it. Or did they? “The Battle of Trimdon Green”, so termed because of Labour’s shambolic behaviour showed their real side. A campaign launch on the famous
green that Blair used to call his own was a bold move on reflection. As our Candidate eventually told the waiting media – “This shows we are taking Labour on in their heartlands.” Last year, our leader Sir Menzies Campbell came to Rochdale and announced that there was – “No glass ceiling to our ambition.” he was right. Indeed, in the very ward he said this – our victory in May tipped the scales and we won outright control of the Council for the first time ever.

Labour’s reaction to this ‘offensive gesture on Trimdon Green’ was to try and ruin it. To try and stop free speech and pour personal attacks on our candidate. Many people are disillusioned with politics. The football shirts Labour wore on that day with the slogans – ‘Greg Stoned’ is one of the reasons why. I doubt that Labour will ever try and pull this type of stunt again. Andrew Stunell had it right when he said, “This type of behaviour shows that even with his own party members the Respect Agenda has
gone out of the window.” They were attacked in the local media and Jonathon Wallace was there to film it all – I was delighted to hear Hilary Stephenson say that ‘the Lib Dems would never stoop so low’ and quite right.

David Robinson was on the money when he said that one of the things he learnt from the By-election was to ‘film everything and then expose it’. This is exactly what we did and Labour would be stupid to repeat such antics as seen on Tyne Tees TV and lambasted by the media.

The Fib Dems remark and the rest of Labour’s tactics have backfired across the country. I have Councillors and activists ringing me all the time about Labour’s latest scare tactics. I say they are a compliment. Why would they launch such stinging, negative nonsense unless they were genuinely threatened. My thoughts on this are – Continue to expose Labour’s failings locally, nationally and internationally. Be positive too and show that we are different and can make a difference.

Next time a leaflet with Fib Dems lands on your doorstep. Smile, you are doing a good job and use it to rally up the troops. It will lead to success!

David Hennigan is organiser for Rochdale and was Press Officer for the Sedgefield by-election.
Apologies for the temporary disappearance of this post earlier. The computer ate it briefly.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Yasmin Zalzala 18th Aug '07 - 9:52am

    False claims should be reported to the police as they can be in contradiction to the people representation act.

    If you have such strong evidence then your case should be easy to prove.

    Also, the Electoral Commission should be taking a closer look at this.

  • “[Apologies for the temporary disappearance of this post. The computer seems to have eaten it. It will be back shortly!]”

    Another one for Grant Shapps to file away for possible future use.

  • When I was in the Labour Party I was told that telling lies to get elected wasn’t wrong, because “there is no morality in the class struggle” – V I Lenin.

    Mandelson told plenty during the Littleborough & Saddleworth byelection. (That’s when “New” Labour was rebranding itself as socially authoritarian, for those with short memories.)

  • Rob Blackie 18th Aug '07 - 4:16pm

    Can I suggest that we should me making the character of Labour yobs one of the issues in elections? We should be willing to launch private actions to have ASBOs and dispersal orders put on them and should continue to do this until they are embarassed into stopping. I think our habit of nobly ignoring them does us no favours.

    In Cheadle where we did exactly this it worked well.

  • I’ve had Labour here in London lying and saying we want to abolish the Freedom Pass (free public transport for old people). It’s total rubbish. In fact, plain & simple, it’s a lie. It did them no good they lost support in a council by-election and were pushed into 3rd place.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 19th Aug '07 - 8:12am

    I must admit that I have difficulty taking seriously claims from people who complain that their opponents lied etc etc in their leaflets, yet are not taking these allegations to the relevant authority to deal with them.

    As active citizens in a free and democratic society, we should hold our politicians to account.

  • Lib Dem member 19th Aug '07 - 10:04am

    Ms Zalzala:- there is no “relevant authority”. It is not the job of the Electoral Commission, Returning Officer or Advertising Standards Authority to judge different political claims.

    Libel law is a very expensive lottery, and still allows you plenty of room for freedom of speech.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 19th Aug '07 - 9:12pm

    Fair point Lib Dem Member. However if we are to have clean politics then some authority should be responsible. By persistently complaining something will be done eventually.

    What about the people representation act?

  • Yasmin (9): at the end of the day any response comes down to the effect it will have on the voter. Being seen to ‘run to teacher’ appears a little weak.

  • Hywel Morgan 19th Aug '07 - 10:02pm

    There is no authority which governs false allegations about a political party. The RPA only covers allegations about the candidate.

  • Someone told me that you cannot slander/libel a political party (something to do with its legal status, I think). Is that true?

  • No 12:

    Goldsmith v Bhoyrul [1998] 2 WLR 435, a straight application of Derbyshire CC v Times Newspapers (1993) to political parties.

    The House of Lords, in the latter case, felt that the public interest in free political speech trumped the right of a LA to protect its governing reputation.

    However, natural persons can still sue in respect of the same allegations made against the LA if they are named or alluded to expressly or by necessary implication.

    In the Derbyshire case, David Bookbinder, the council leader, sued Norman Tebbit (who had accused him of wasting public money) and obtained judgment.

    Lord Keith, who gave the leading opinion in Derbyshire, is certainly no liberal. Cynics (such as Professor Griffith) would say he was motivated, not by love of free political debate, but by hatred of a Labour council. But he made the right decision, whatever his motive.

    The RPA makes it an offence to defame a candidate in an election. One of the rare instances in our jurisprudence where libel is a crime.

  • Stuart, I think you are referring to the fact that a political party that is an unincorporated association cannot sue, because it is not a legal person. But you can get round that quite simply by making it a limited company.

    The House of Lords in Derbyshire took quite a serious leap forward, they took the bull by the horns, in fact (I’ll run out of clichés if I’m not careful), and acknowledged that the public interest can sometimes be more important that some rich person’s private rights (Lord Denning would have turned in his grave if he’d actually been dead at the time).

  • Thanks Angus. Appreciated.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 20th Aug '07 - 12:23am

    Stuart 10

    I do not agree. Political Parties should be made to behave responsibly and cannot simply tell lies in their leaflets.

    We should aim for clean politics as much as we can.

    No one is going to do it for us.

  • Yasmin (16): I just think that if we all start suing each other then political campaigning would fast become a very undesirable activity to participate in.

    Plus: most of us responsible for editing Focus or issuing news releases don’t have a single ounce of legal knowhow in us. Some of us may therefore easily be silenced by the mere threat or suggestion of legal action.

    I just don’t think that politics is best served by pursuing the legal avenue.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 20th Aug '07 - 10:03am

    Thanks Stuard.

    Legal action may not be necessarily the avenue that one should take.

    May be party leaders could get together and agree a pact?

    It worked for racism in the GE where all 3 party leaders signed a pledge. In my experience that was followed.

    May be that is something that could be explored?

  • Reminds me of another leaflet in a similar vein circulated by Labour at Sedgefield.

    Monday July 16th – Labour start delivering leaflet aggresively attacking Lib Dem candidate in the by-election for having smoked cannabis. Same day – new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith visits Sedgefield in support of Labour campaign.

    Thursday July 19th – Jacqui Smith and six other cabinet members admit having smoked cannabis.


  • Yasmin Zalzala 20th Aug '07 - 5:24pm

    Could you please clarify something for me:

    Did the Lib Dems in the election down south not claim that the labour candidate was 80+ or something like that when he was much younger?

    I heard this in passing but would appreciate the facts please.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 22nd Aug '07 - 9:26am

    I note that there is no response to my question.

    Does that mean that it is true and the Lib Dems did use the age fib in the south by-election?

  • Yasmin Zalzala 26th Aug '07 - 10:07pm

    I have just been advised that

    ‘They claimed Vivendra was 72. He is 60. They also claimed he missed most council meetings – and they sent John “Two Jobs” Leech to back Nigel up in claiming he would be a full time MP.’

    The untruthful claim about the Labour candidate’s age is a discrace and the Liberal Democrats should be ashamed of it.

  • Just for clarity, is this the same Yasmin who posts here?


  • The Observer said he was 72 – http://politics.guardian.co.uk/conservatives/story/0,,2126798,00.html

    If the party innocently repeated that, it can hardly be blamed for it.

  • Hywel Morgan 27th Aug '07 - 1:18pm

    “If the party innocently repeated that, it can hardly be blamed for it.”

    It could be if libellous – Chris Walmsley in 1992 suffered in that way after repeating a story in a (reputable) national newspaper that turned out to be a mistake.

    (not relevant to this discussion but I’ve found it to be a commonly held view)

    60 or 72 why did we decide to mention the candidates age at all?

  • Yasmin Zalzala 28th Aug '07 - 2:31pm

    Brutus, Yes it is me.

    I saw the leaflet posted on the chris paul labour of love website and it clearly says that the labour candidate is 72

    Please see the leaflet before you attack me.

    It made the Labour candidte look awful and I found the commentary close to a personal attack.

    I thought it was disgusting.

    I am advocating clean politics – I am not siding with anyone.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 28th Aug '07 - 5:45pm

    Hywell, you are asking the essential question.

    If memory serves correct, I saw Hilary Stephenson on election night standing next to the candidate.

    Mrs Stephenson is now a national campaign co-ordinator, isn’t she?

    She was a member of the NW regional executive the last time I attended a meeting.

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