Stolen Signs

When I was canvassing for Charlie Maynard, the Lib Dem candidate in Witney and West Oxfordshire, I asked a lady who has traditionally voted Conservative but is voting Lib Dem if she’d put a sign in front of her house.

“I’d rather not,” she said. “There’s a man across the street who takes down signs he doesn’t like, and I don’t want to get into a fight with him.”

“How about a small sign that you can stick to the inside of your front window?” I asked. “Surely he wouldn’t put a rock through it?”

She declined, looking like she thought he just might. A couple of days later, the Lib Dem sign in front of my house disappeared. Her neighbour is getting ambitious! I thought, and What’sApped the canvassing group to request two replacement signs to make a point. It’s happened at my house and all over, the newly elected Lib Dem local councillor replied, and brought two signs right away. He showed me CCTV footage of a person in a white shirt on a bike pulling away from his house with his sign. Does that lady’s neighbour ride a bike? I thought. Does he have a white shirt?

But who the person in a white shirt on the bike is, and if he or she is acting alone – based on the number of signs disappearing, she or he would have to have a very fast bike – isn’t really what matters, although it would of course be good if she or he or they are caught for attacking the right to express one’s views.

What matters is fighting the oldest of enemies – the person in a white shirt on a bike whose beliefs justify stealing your sign, which is one step away from putting a rock through your window, which is one step away from condemning your beliefs, which is one step away from taking you out of your house at three in the morning to question you about your beliefs, which is one step away from punishing you for your beliefs, which is one step away from killing you for your beliefs.

Going from stealing signs to killing might seem like a melodramatic leap by a panicking liberal, but history teaches us otherwise. Just as the UK is moving away from the far right except for Reform poaching some Tory votes, France, Germany and the States are in a fight to the knife, as Steve Bannon, Trump’s former Chief Strategist, said on his way to prison.

That’s why Liberal Democrats with signs in front of their houses are holding their breath to see if people in white shirts on bikes can be stopped. That’s why it’s important that a centrist party without extremists on either side does well enough to have a voice that politely but firmly says: Please get off your bike and stop stealing signs, or you will be held to account.

* Danny Brainin is a Lib Dem activist in Oxfordshire

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16 Comments

  • Mark Smulian 23rd Jun '24 - 12:08pm

    Many years ago a Tory councillor in Southend was caught pulling down a Liberal poster board then jumping up and down on it.
    We composed a letter to the Tory agent noting his candidate had been caught causing irreparable damage to a board and poster valued at 29.5p, asking for compensation and expecting he would in future “ensure your candidate conducts himself in a manner befitting the representative of one of our great national parties”.
    Back came a cheque for 29.5p from the Tories, the entry of which as a donation on our election expenses must at least have given the returning officer a laugh.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jun '24 - 4:58pm

    I’d be posting up the footage on the local Facebook page!

    There may, at times, be a little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me to burn Tory placards and signs but I do manage to keep him under control 🙂

  • David Blake 23rd Jun '24 - 7:27pm

    Many years ago, my girlfriend at the time was living in a flat owned by the local Conservatives. One weekend all the power went out. The fusebox was in the basement so we went down to sort it out. To our surprise the basement room was stacked out with Liberal poster boards, which had no doubt been pinched by the Tories.

  • Attach an Apple Air Tag to your sign, whilst it won’t stop the sign being removed, you stand a good chance of locating where it’s been taken to…

  • Brian Evans 24th Jun '24 - 9:38am

    One evening last week, while out for a walk, I found myself passing between three Reform posters, two on the same fence and a third on a gate opposite. I was aware of real hatred and a desire to remove at least one of them, but wasn’t possessed (thankfully) of the where-with-all to do so. Apart from the problem of disposal, I thought it was an offence to remove an opponent’s poster … is this not the case?

  • I admit it. Many years ago, after a visit to one of the only drinking establishments in Letchworth, my brothers in law and I did purloin a Conservative sign from somebody’s garden. A constable caught up with us and advised us to return it. Sheepishly, we did.

  • Robin Stafford 24th Jun '24 - 10:08am

    I’m in Hunt’s constituency where we have multiple Tory boards on random bits of public land, ignoring the rules. However one prominent board by a main road has been modified with a ‘C’!

  • William Wallace 24th Jun '24 - 10:40am

    Years ago, when the Conservatives still had activists who could deliver their own leaflets for them, I was skilled at extracting Tory leaflets half-hanging out of letter boxes before ensuring that I had pushed ours all the way through. I hope that does not count as the first step towards a violent and anti-democratic streak…

  • Nigel Quinton 24th Jun '24 - 10:41am

    Isn’t stealing signs a criminal offence? Why are people not reporting them to the police?

  • Joseph Bourke 24th Jun '24 - 11:58am

    I was in Dorking, Surrey yesterday. One of the blue wall seats in play. There is a banner across the high street that reads elections coming soon. In the area of the town I was driving through I saw several LibDem poster boards and not a single Conservative one in this Conservative seat.
    The Yougov poll projections of June 12 put Conservatives on 108 seats and Libdms on 67. With an estimated 20% of voters still undecided and reform continuing to erode the Conservative vote there is a real prospect that LibDems could form the official opposition in the next parliament. Now that would be appropriate payback for stealing signs amongst other high crimes and misdemeanors definition.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Jun '24 - 3:23pm

    Mole Valley ( where is Dorking) already has a LibDem council. Here’s hoping!

  • Catherine Royce 24th Jun '24 - 3:57pm

    I’ve had 6 signs removed, so far from my front garden, the last two actually screwed to the stakes were ripped off, which must have taken quite some effort, the stakes remain being rather large to carry away!
    The most important one facing the main road remains, it’s out of arm’s reach.
    Across our constituency Romsey and Southampton North we have had 50-100 removed, often the same sites repeatedly, at quite a cost! I guess they are touching a raw nerve with our opponents.

  • I have to repeat Nigel Quinton’s question. Seriously, Why aren’t you all reporting these incidents to the police?
    And, in the case of Jeremy Hunt putting up posters on public land, why aren’t you reporting it to the local newspaper as well?? It fits perfectly into the Downing Street parties/election betting narrative of Tories acting like there’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. Seriously – get your candidate to write a letter to Hunt about this and send it to the paper.

  • Cctv on doorbells is a bit of a game changer. Even William Wallace could be in trouble if he tried to remove opposition leaflets now – me too!

  • Neil Hickman 27th Jun '24 - 11:28am

    Mary Reid is so right about doorbell CCTV being a game-changer. When the dust has settled, if you want a mildly jaw-dropping read, have a look at the report of Afzal v Khan.
    It’s on line at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/KB/2023/376.html .
    In the 2022 local elections in the Aston ward of Birmingham, which has a large Muslim population, the Labour candidate went round bribing voters with the provision of packs of dates. The election took place during Ramadan and that the consumption of dates is a traditional way in which Muslims end their fast at sundown.
    The Lib Dems justifiably complained about this.
    The defeated Labour candidate had the brass neck to bring an election petition accusing the Lib Dems of illegal practices in “falsely” accusing him of bribery. Fortunately, doorbell footage turned up of him and his colleagues doing precisely what the Lib Dems had accused them of doing.
    There’s an excellent piece by Simon McGrath about this in the LDV archive at https://www.libdemvoice.org/the-lord-mayor-the-packets-of-dates-and-the-lie-72805.html.
    As I observed at the time, the Labour Party in Aston has form. It was in Aston and the neighbouring ward of Bordesley Green that Labour in 2005 committed postal vote fraud on an industrial scale, the judge at the resulting election court remarking that he had heard “evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic”.

  • I have had 3 attacks on the stakeboard in my front garden in Wimbledon. The first was vanalised and destroyed, the second they broke the pole and the third one they took off the posters. They have all been replaced immediately!

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