If you are one of those people who finds political tit-for-tat “childish” or “annoying” please don’t read any further. The trouble, as ever, is that if I do not respond to the spin, falsehoods, deception and outright lies then they go unchallenged and people believe them. Sure, people believe them anyway, particularly when they have the backing of the local newspaper. I can’t fix all of this, I can only do my bit to tell the actual truth as best I know it.
Recently, in the aftermath of their pretty hefty defeat in a local by-election, the Usual Suspects (opposition, and generic haters of all sorts) have been in a real froth looking for something to hang their hat on. As usual, I am a popular target. The local Editor of the
Bucknor Standard Wisbech Standard (sorry, easy mistake to make) is fully on-side with the attacks. Lead attacker is, as is often the case, political activist David Prestidge, who has written a whole blog post about how terrible the by-election was and who he blames. I’m going to analyse it piece by piece to show why its spin, deception, lies, or just plain wrong.
This article will be, by necessity, long. Many will not read it, and that’s fine. I will provide a summary at the end. It wont change the minds of anybody who has already made up their minds, because those people hate who they hate and that wont change. Nor, I expect, will it change the mind of any journalist who thinks that personal animosity matters more than actual facts. Which sadly, seems to be quite a few of them. But we live in hope.
Dave Prestidge’s blog can be found here: http://wisbechcommunityforum.blogspot.gr/
I’m sorry, but I can’t put a link to the specific post, since his blog doesn’t seem to be organised that way. So if you read this in a few months time, the link will probably go to some other post he has written. But i’ll quote the specific parts in full as we go for clarity.
TRULY, WISBECH IS A PIECE OF WORK. I am approaching the biblical allowance of threescore and ten. I have lived and worked all over Britain, and in France and Australia too. I don’t think I have ever been in a community where political malice and ill-will to all men has been so prevalent. We have just been through an excruciatingly bitter by-election. For the Town Council. Yes, that’s it – the Town Council. Last time I looked, Wisbech Town Council were responsible for some of the things that go on in the Market Place, public toilets, and ……well, that’s about it, really. Maybe I have forgotten allotments, or some other major issue. I will stand to be corrected if that is the case.
David Prestidge (henceforth DP for brevity) is entitled to his opinion. But if he thinks the by-election we just had was “excruciatingly bitter” and that nowhere he has ever been can compete then he must have led a very sheltered life. In fact, although it did get a bit nasty at times, it was pretty tame compared to very many places. There are local politicians around the UK who would look at that claim and laugh their pants off. But for the moment, let’s take his exaggeration at face value and presume its true.
BACK IN MAY Wisbech, like many other areas in the country, held local elections, for Town and District councils. Two Eastern European residents stood for election. Ms Irina Kumalane stood for Staithe Ward and was elected. Mr Aigars Balsevics also stood in a different ward, but was not elected. Shortly after assuming her duties as Town Councillor, Ms Kumalane resigned. Her reasons for resigning are not known, at least officially and publicly. So, a by election was called for Staithe Ward. The three candidates were Mr Balsevics (Con), Mrs Caroline Smith (UKIP), and Mr Reg Mee (Lab).
NOW BEAR IN MIND both Mr Balsevics and Mr Mee had both offered themselves as candidates in the May election. Both had failed. A Conservative party flyer soon condemned the Labour Party as “arrogant”, because the electorate had said “NO!” to Mr Mee in May. The electorate had also said “NO!” to Mr Balsevics in May, but that was not mentioned.
Why this is incorrect / spin: DP is angry that the Conservatives pointed out that Reg did recently lose the election for the Ward that he had been the Councillor for during the last four years. He contends that this was “the same” as the fact that Aigars recently lost an election too. What he conveniently forgets and which is pertinent is that only Reg Mee lost an election with THIS electorate. Aigars stood in Waterlees Ward, Reg Mee stood in Staithe Ward. It is therefore perfectly accurate to say that for this by-election, in Staithe Ward, Reg Mee was recently rejected by the electorate by Aigars Balsevics was not. I’m sorry if they don’t like it, but it is absolutely true. I understand that one or two of them are unhappy because they say that you vote “for” somebody, you don’t “reject” somebody. I put it to them that it is pretty standard parlance in political discussion to say that the loser was “rejected” by the electorate. Many of them said the same about me, in years gone by, if I recall. :) What goes around comes around, I guess.
DP also suggests that it was the Conservatives who began the “negative campaigning.” Not true. For those who don’t know, positive campaigning is where you stick to what you are going to do and how you are going to make a difference. Negative campaigning is where you bash others as part of your literature. Both have their uses but broadly we local Conservatives steer clear of negative campaigning at the outset and only ever use it sparingly, in response to something else. Our first leaflet was a positive leaflet and made no mention of Reg Mee or Labour. Then Labour brought out a leaflet with a whole side of damning claims (most of which I would suggest were wrong, though we’d obviously debate that.) In response, we took off the gloves and ran a very small (by comparison to theirs) piece about UKIP and Labour which stuck to the facts.
I personally think its a bad idea to select the same candidate to fight an election for the same area they just lost – from a campaign point of view. If you do so, the opposition will invariably point out the fact. It’s the same with selecting a candidate who lives outside the ward boundaries. There are perfectly good arguments for why a good candidate from outside is better than a bad candidate from inside, but whether you like it or not people do like candidates to live in the area they will represent and if yours doesn’t, it will be used against you. This happens up and down the country. Though this latter was not the case this time since ALL the candidates lived outside the ward.
THEN CAME another Conservative party flyer extolling the virtues of Mr Balsevics, and making several claims. The first was that Wisbech Town Council has been instrumental in the restoration of the fire-damaged Constantine House. In fact, WTC has absolutely no part to play in the restoration of damaged buildings in the town. That responsibility lies with Fenland District Council. Perhaps the claim meant that the WTC councillors who were also FDC councillors had been fighting tooth and nail to get the building restored? With the exception of Mr and Mrs Bucknor, no WTC councillor had shewn the least interest in the Constantine House saga. In fact, one or two of those people had gone out of their way to mock the efforts of local people who were fed up with the derelict building. Suffice to say, the building is not yet fully restored and, despite an apparent deadline being imposed by FDC, the building remains open to the elements – and flying rats.
Why this is incorrect/spin: Wisbech Town Council are a town/parish level Council and so their powers are limited, but one of their key roles is as a consultee to other Councils. In regards to Constantine House and the wider restoration goals around Wisbech, Wisbech Town Council have had the issue on their agenda many times and have been supportive. In fact, in regards to the lottery bid, a large sum of money was given from Wisbech Town Council. DP names Mr and Mrs Bucknor because they are his friends who he always supports, but it simply is not true that they are the only ones who have “shown an interest” in Constantine House. Indeed, I cannot think of a single Councillor of any party on Town Council who haven’t pushed and pressed for it to be done. Trusting that the Council Officers are doing the right thing is not the same as “not showing an interest” and I would argue that the sort of sabre rattling and petitioning that the Bucknors are well-known for and which give them so many great photo opportunities aren’t actually helpful at all. Just noisy. But that is neither here nor there. The key point is that the Labour Party also included Constantine House on their leaflets and talked about how Reg would make a big difference. Now I like Reg Mee, but he was a Town Councillor for four years and I do not recall him ever speaking at a full council meeting about Constantine House. He certainly has not been Last Action Hero on the subject. And I notice that David Prestidge goes to great lengths to say that Constantine House is an FDC issue and not WTC, while failing to make that point about the pledges Reg Mee was making. Exactly the same sort of partial omission that he accuses others of.
NEXT ON THE LIST OF CLAIMS was the boast that Mr Balsevics was a responsible and public-minded landlord – of his three pubs. When someone pointed out that he had earlier lost his late licence at one of the pubs for serving drunks and inciting violence, this was seen as a gross slur on Mr B’s probity.
Why this is incorrect/spin: Because it’s a lie. Aigars Balsevics has not “lost a license.” He had the terms of his license adjusted many years ago and this was NOT “for serving drinks and inciting violence.” In fact, checking the minutes of the licensing meeting where the issue was considered the Police went out of their way to say they did NOT hold Aigars Balsevics responsible. I suspect that Prestidge (and UKIP) got this from an old Cambs Times article, which was also incorrect.
ANOTHER CLAIM was that Mr Balsevics was a member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers – part of the Credit Union movement – and a photo of him at the inception of this group was included in the election flyer. Now, for reasons that no-one seems clear of, it transpires that Mr B is not an active member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers.
Why this is incorrect/spin: Because it’s incorrect in what it says. Aigars Balsevics was an early volunteer with the Credit Union scheme and gave up many hours volunteering at the Oasis Centre. Now where they are sneaky is that they must know all this, so the final sentence “Mr B is not an active member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers” is clearly aimed to suggest something. Except that they have even made a mistake here. He IS still a member of Wisbech Rainbow Savers. He may not volunteer the hours to sign up new accounts etc anymore, but he is still a Member of the scheme.
THERE HAS BEEN A PHOTOGRAPH doing the rounds on social media. It shows a Transit-style van, parked with its wheels obstructing the pavement, on double yellow lines, a few metres short of The Angel pub – landlord Mr Aigars Balsevics. The van has Latvian plates. Clearly visible in the back windows are election posters exhorting us to vote for Aigars Balsevics and Brenda Barber. Both Conservative candidates in the May 2015 local elections.
Why this is incorrect/spin: For a load of reasons. Because it’s not illegal to park a van on double yellow lines for loading an unloading. Because the van doesn’t belong to Aigars Balsevics and so he is not responsible for it. And because this is the same picture that they tried to use back in May, which reappeared with the tacit suggestion that it was a new picture in August. And most of the people who have tried to pretend this is Aigar’s vehicle know full well it is not, but keep on trying to smear his name anyway. There is a name for these sort of people. You know what it is.
At this point DP turns his attack on me. No surprise there, it’s his usual tactic. He says:
NOW, because the van is not UK registered, no-one can find out who is the owner of the vehicle. Or who drives it. All that can be inferred from the photograph is that the owner is a Conservative supporter who us, in some way, connected to The Angel inn. There was a certain amount of discussion over this photograph on social media, but no-one expected this bizarre response.
SO, a fair number of Wisbech townsfolk were condemned as “scumbags”. By a town and district councillor. The crime? Commenting on a photograph on social media, and drawing a conclusion which didn’t fit the prevailing orthodoxy.
Why this is incorrect/spin: I really enjoyed his “there was a certain amount of discussion.” On his nasty little forum Aigars was accused of all sorts of things, including (repeatedly) illegal parking. In a vehicle he DOES NOT OWN. He was attacked by the same little group of people including political activists for both the opposition parties during an election campaign. But apparently accusing an man of all manner of crimes he didn’t commit is fine, but my Facebook post is pure evil? This is a position that was agreed by Wisbech Standard Editor John Elworthy, who also felt that my post above was some kind of dark act. Well let’s look at that.
The post was published on my personal Facebook feed, not on any forum. It featured my step by step guide on “how to spot a scumbag.” It named NOBODY. And it goes to some lengths to be quite specific about who I am calling a scumbag. To whit: somebody who publishes a photo they know full well does not belong to an individual but who tries to suggest it does belong to that individual during an election campaign to try and dirty their name.
DP goes on to say that I have called a “fair number of Wisbech townsfolk” scumbags. This is a strange comment. If he believes this is true then he must self-identify with the points I made. He must accept that he knows full well that the van does not belong to Aigars Balsevics and that he has deliberately suggested it did for political gain during an election campaign. It’s not me saying this, it is him, if he is suggesting that I have called him a “scumbag.” The definition of a scumbag could not have been clearer, could it?
Worse still, he then goes on to identify “a fair number of Wisbech townsfolk” in the same way. On his “Wisbech Political Scene” forum he suggested they were all called Scumbags (and he even performed a song about it.) Again, since I named nobody and simply specified the criteria for a scumbag, I can only assume he is admitting to all the points I made on behalf of himself and many others? Well, that’s him saying that, not me. Though I don’t expect to see the Wisbech Standard feature a headline “UKIP and Independent Activist admits to lying about candidate for political advantage” any time soon, even though that would appear to be where his blog declaration leads.
WELL, THE ACTUAL ELECTION happened, but not before one of the High Priest’s acoylites burst onto Facebook announcing that the latest UKIP flyer was “vile” and that it had been reported to the police and the Electoral Commission. At the time of writing, no-one associated with that leaflet has been either arrested or sent to The Tower for sedition.
Notice the use of terms like “high priest” and “acolyte.” This from the guy who claims everybody is nasty and spiteful. This is the normal run of things. The people who perpetrate try to accuse others of their tactics. It is a form of deflection. Nevertheless, the UKIP leaflet broke Electoral Law in a number of key ways. His laughing and joking about “The Tower” avoids the fact that breaching the Representation of the Peoples Act is an offence for a reason and the usual run of things is that Police will look into the issue after the electoral dust has settled. I hope action is taken, as I BELIEVE the law has been broken and these guys need to learn that there are lines you can’t cross. Lying about a candidate to damage their reputation and reduce their votes is one of them. Luckily, the people of Staithe saw through it and elected him anyway. But that doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.
THE ELECTION ITSELF? Well Mr Balsevics was duly elected, with more votes than his two opponents put together. I have no beef with him, and have never met him, but he sounds a pretty decent sort of bloke, but someone who clearly allows his election literature to be written by someone else.
I don’t speak for other parties, but Conservative candidates in our area are always part of the team designing their leaflets and they always approve the final copy even if somebody lays it out. But leaflets tend to be written by the candidate and some helpers, then designed by somebody with design skills who lays the information out, then approved by the candidate, Campaign Manager, and Election Agent.
AS A DISPIRITING FOOTNOTE to a sorry couple of weeks, the Great High Priest still had another shot in his magazine. Clearly recognising that the Labour party campaign did not meet with his approval, he issued this statement. Bear in mind that the young man who had worked his socks off for the Labour campaign is a mere 17 years old, and has not had time to plumb the grisly depths of Wisbech politics, this was sent in his direction.
DP’s view of my “motives” ( name-calling aside) are incorrect. I did think and still do think that the local Labour party had a choice to take and took the wrong one. By which I mean they could have steered clear of the Bucknor/Prestidge/Patrick gloomfest and done their own thing. Reg Mee has never been like that and I would be very surprised if he was happy with the things said in his literature, or the things said by his supporters and activists.
Notice DP also suggests I “sent this in his direction” (meaning the Labour Party campaign manager.) More spin. In fact, I wrote it on my personal Facebook feed. The fact somebody chose to forward it to him in one way or another was not my doing. I didn’t “send it in his direction” at all. Though I have no problem with him reading it. He clearly chose not to listen to my advice, which is his prerogative.
DP focuses on one sentence in my piece, the one that says “get a better Campaign Manager” and ignores all the rest. Now James Lowery – who was apparently their Campaign Manager – seems a bright guy. I’m not sure what him being seventeen has to do with it. I have no doubt there are excellent seventeen year old Campaign Managers, and terrible ones. I’m sure he did work his socks off. But my opinion, and I am entitled to an opinion, is that he ran a poor campaign which lost them votes. Remember, Reg Mee WAS the Councillor for this ward up until three months ago and had been for four years. This was a Labour Ward, previously. I don’t think this is his fault, per se. He simply doesn’t have the experience to run a full campaign. Normally, you would put a keen newcomer into a support role under a more experienced person until they learnt all the skills. Labour chose not to do so. Up to them, I guess. But to suggest that this one line in a paragraph was some awful attack is incorrect.
David Prestidge finishes up with this lovely conclusion:
UNBELIEVABLE. Beyond parody. Arrogant. So totally and unredeemably unaware that you have to doubt the man’s mental state. Hubris, patronising, smug, vain…? Words don’t usually fail me – they are my stock in trade – but on this occasion I will shrink into the corner and hope that someone out there can summon up the verbal energy to add words to this…
Unbelievable? Beyond Parody? Why? Because I expressed a pretty simple view in the form of advice for Labour? “So totally and unredeemably unaware that you have to doubt the man’s mental state?” Really? Then he “hopes somebody out there can summon up the verbal energy to add words to this…” Well of course he does. Because that is his intention. The whole piece is just another attack, like all his attacks, aimed at encouraging his little band to continue their abuse.
DP and his fellow travellers will often tell you Conservatives, particularly me, are so mean to them and their mates. When you follow their tracks back and check you will invariably see that either (a) what was said is not what they say was said or (b) what was said is a response to something worse they have said. It’s a clever game they play, but broadly it doesn’t work, because most people aren’t stupid enough to fall for it. Sadly, the local newspaper is always right there with them and this gives their lies, spin and deception a credibility it does not deserve.
This year alone I have been sent several hate letters and a death threat. I have been accused of being a criminal, of being corrupt, of being lazy, of being a liar. I have been called a c*nt, a *fuc*ing wa*ker and an as*hole. My wife has also been criticised, even though she has nothing to do with local politics at all. Just this week I have (falsely) been accused of illegal parking by somebody who appears to spend half their time filming me and my property. DP and his merry band have a Facebook Forum where more than half the content seems to be attacks on me in one form or another … they appear to be obsessed. I have had the things I say misrepresented, spun, cherry picked and taken out of context. I have been called a “bully”, “mentally ill” (several times), compared to serial killers and to mass murderers and to evil dictators. I am accused of having some sort of “dominance” on Facebook,despite that fact that there are dozens of them and (most of the time) only one of me. It is an ongoing coordinated campaign and has been for some time. It has begun to affect my wider family because their tactic – tell enough lies and people will start to believe some of them – is effective. But John Elworthy and the Wisbech Standard don’t give a stuff about any of that.
Meanwhile, it’s absolutely fine to accuse Aigars Balsevics of crimes he is nothing to do with, to attack his reputation (falsely) and to suggest that he is using violence of aggression to make people vote? And that’s without even touching on the lies that have been spread quietly from May onwards about Aigars, of which I have had residents phone me up and tell me what was said. These people are despicable, relentless and just plain bad. But the local press are with them one hundred percent anyway.
Frankly, I am not going anywhere. You can tell lies about me, make nasty cartoons of me, call me whatever you like, get your mates in the press to run nasty headlines about me. But I’ll still be right here, doing what I can for the Town and the People in it. And yes, for my political party too, where appropriate. And in time, one by one, all your lies will be exposed.
“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”
? John Milton,