Following contact with a Tory chair, Wandsworth officer threatens CJAG/Green candidate during campaign!

4 mins read

Less than 3 months ago, we took the decision use the election campaign to raise awareness on the local community group and matters that have been at the heart of the past Clapham Junction Action Group’s campaigns.

We got the endorsement of the Green party and the help of many CJAG members and volunteers to focus on Lavender ward. Jacqui, Jane, Paul, Matt, Adrian, Liz, Roy, Di, Scott, Etienne, Ann, Isa, Houda, Fanfan, Benedicte, Noemie, Rob, Alex, Jake, Eloise, etc… I particularly want to thank all those who distributed leaflet as it wouldn’t have been possible without their hard work!

In the different leaflets that we have been distributing, we concentrated on 3 areas:

  1. Planning Reform: Giving a better voice to the local community
  2. Safer Streets and Environment: Promote Cycling and Pedestrianisation
  3. Better Services: Work with community groups and stakeholders to improve services.

To be honest, the result is not as great as expected in term of votes. Lavender was a new ward, with only 2 councillors to elect. The closest comparison was Shaftesbury ward in 2018 local elections, which saw Labour and Conservatives head to head, with one elected Tory getting just 35 more votes than the Labour candidate (1,934 / 1,899)

No campaign from Labour in Clapham Junction

However, for some mysterious reason, the Labour party decided that Clapham Junction and Lavender ward were not worth the effort and decided not to campaign. A one sided A4 letter presenting their two candidates a few days before the election was the only thing they did. A long way behind the 5 leaflets produced by the Conservatives and the 4 leaflets that CJAG distributed to inform residents.

Leaflets from the Conservatives in Lavender ward

It’s possible however that they thought that they could get elected without making any effort in the ward. And indeed, they missed it by less than 100 votes.

Results for Lavender Ward

Jonathan Peter Cook (Con) – 1495 ELECTED
Tom Francesco Pridham (Con) – 1391 ELECTED
Martin Linton (Lab) – 1298
Rebecca Claire Tate (Lab) – 1206
Cyril Xavier Richert (Green) – 445 >>>CJAG
Mike Radcliffe (Lib Dem) – 268
Jenny Voyce (Lib Dem) – 294

Local elections are difficult to compare, due to the electoral system: each voter has got 2 or 3 votes, they can match between candidates, and they can also decide to vote for less candidates than authorised.

In order to try to represent the swing between the 2018 and 2022 elections in the area of Clapham Junction, we decided to compare with Shaftesbury 2018 results, but also to measure the result for each party compared to the number of ballots* (each ballot having 3 votes in 2018 or 2 votes in 2022).

Shaftesbury 2018 vs Lavender 2022

(*estimated for 2022 as we do not have the data yet).

For comparison, we display below the global results in share of votes for the whole borough.

Wandsworth borough

Wandsworth officers: One rule for the Conservatives, another rule for others

Politics is a dirty game” we were told. However, it is always surprising when nasty tactics come directly from an officer employed by the Council.

As a civil servant working for a Conservatives Council, what do you do when a high profile member of the Conservatives party ask you to threaten other candidates during a local election? And what do you do when a candidate from another party is signalling misleading practices and potential breach of electoral code from the Conservatives candidates?

Apparently Andrew Smith, Head of Electoral Services and Deputy Returning Officer in charge of the elections at Wandsworth Council made his personal choice.

On April 5th, after receiving an email from Zair Berry, Wandsworth & Wimbledon Conservative Group treasurer, who had subscribed to CJAG WordPress list to be alerted on all new posts, the Head of Electoral Services sent this message to the Green party agent (underlines are our own):

“I have had this sent to me – your candidate should not be using an email list from CJAG or his role as Chair to promote his candidacy and any literature also needs to include the imprint. There could potentially be GDPR implications depending on what conditions people signed up – I presume to hear about Clapham Junction matters and not necessarily its Chairs electoral ambitions.”

There are several issues with this Mr Smith’s message.

First of all, the Clapham Junction Action Group is an informal group which was spontaneously set up in 2008. There is not membership, no legal status, no dedicated funding. And therefore, there is no more obligation than for a personal Twitter account where people subscribe to be alerted of the latest publications of the author. There is no breach of any rule regarding the information of campaign, political support and candidacy.

People who chose to subscribe to the WordPress post alert or to the mailing list can unsubscribe at any time and the reason to subscribe is clearly because they want to be made aware of any event and news in the area that CJAG might have an interest in (or otherwise, what’s their purpose?). No GDPR breach whatsoever.

That is exactly the role of the CJAG website to let everyone know that it was decided to use the election to raise awareness on what CJAG supporters have been campaigning on for a decade, and that it was supported by the Green Party with a co-branded campaign. Not doing so would have been misleading and dishonest, therefore it was our duty to inform all subscribers and readers.

In a nutshell, following a message from a high profile Conservatives member, Mr Smith is using his official role to undermine a candidate that is competing against Tory opponents, based on no substantial argument and personal made up reasons.

But then Mr Smith does not stop here.

Following a second message sent by the same Zair Berry on May 4th (after we released our newsletter), the officer wrote again to the Green Party agent a final threat:

“can you ensure nothing else goes out from this guy

NB: “This guy” has a name, and this is very rude indeed, but I was told that “this is his normal way of expressing himself“!

In the meantime, he was contacted by the Green Party regarding misleading literature and breach of electoral code from the Conservatives party. In that case, Andrew Smith could have sent a message to the Conservatives party saying for example: “can you ensure your guys are stopping such communication“, but he decided not to do anything.

Wandsworth Conservatives leaflet branded as “Wandsworth Council” Conservatives!

The Conservatives even used public money to fund their low Council tax message, with a letter paid by Council services, in a breach of electoral code. It could actually be a very important legal issue.

In that instance, Mr Smith responded that there was nothing to do, and if the Green party wanted to pursue, it was a matter for the police.

It seems a different approach depending whether Andrew Smith thinks you might have influence in the Council or not, and that seems to be incompatible with his role as electoral officer.

PS: Andrew Smith on May 5th was contacted but has not responded yet at the time of this article.

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