Don’t Believe The Hype

Don’t Believe The Hype

I remember, many years ago, that I heard a rumour about something an acquaintance of mine had said and – being young and impulsive – went immediately to challenge them because of what I thought was an injustice.  Oddly, the perpetrator was completely flummoxed and didn’t understand what I was so upset about.

Once we’d have a calm conversation it quickly become clear that nothing was what it seemed.  For a start, I’d only heard one side of the argument and it had seemed outrageous.  But once I had the blanks filled in it suddenly made a lot more sense.

Also, I had heard the rumour from the mouths of those who already had their own view about it and had their own version to sell for their own reasons, so I was receiving information in a biased way – coloured to suit the prejudices of others.

Finally, I had failed to see that the acquaintance himself had perfectly valid concerns which had to also be considered but which I had blithely failed to recognise in my anger at what had seemed to be a great wrong.

Cut a long story short, the story I’d heard, though factually correct in almost every sense, was wrong.  It was wrong because it was coloured, flavoured and presented in a certain way.  It was wrong because I lacked vital background information which presented it in an entirely different light.  And it was wrong because some of the people involved had sought to manipulate me and denigrate my acquaintance.  They were, in short, not the sort of people you want to put a lot of faith in.

Not that this has any bearing on anything going on at the moment.  Just that the memory surfaced and I felt the need to jot it down.

There was a valuable lesson to me there, which has stayed with me to this day.  Never think you know the whole story until you really do know the whole story.  Never trust something you are told without verifying the background.  Never take anything at first glance – you are almost always being presented at best a partial story, at worst a pack of lies.  There is almost always another perspective on any story, and you won’t know which is the truth until you take the time to find out.  In short, don’t believe the hype.


Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Gorefield And Leverington

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Gorefield And Leverington

Something strange happened to our campaign team today.  It started out quite small, just Samantha Clark, Stevie, Elliot and I.  But then throughout the day people kept appearing and joining us until, by the end, we were eleven strong!

We spent the morning in Gorefield, working our way down the High Street and many of the roads that lead from it.  Then we grabbed what was meant to be a quick lunch – but took nearly an hour due to the Bank Holiday business – and ducked across the A1101 to the bit of Leverington that is closest to Wisbech.  At the same time we had volunteers along Sutton Road and also in the main area of Leverington, completing the leaflet delivering to some of the roads we hadn’t reached yet.

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Signed, sealed, delivered.  She’s your Conservative Candidate.

We were lucky with the weather.  Beautiful and sunny, making the walking a pleasure.  We are close to our first complete circuit now.  All we have left to do is to get to some of the country roads that are very long with few houses on them – these get left because they require a team with a car to realistically do them.  Plus a few roads that have missed our routes so far.  But not many.  We’ll get to those before the end of the week.

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Brenda, Tony, Sam, Steve, Stevie.  In Leverington.

By next week we hope to begin circuit #2.  This means going back to all the areas we’ve already visited, canvassing people who weren’t in the first time and delivering our second leaflet.  That will then take us to the final stages of the campaign where we may or may not put out a third piece of literature, depending on whether we need to respond to anything the opposition are doing.  Frankly, they don’t appear to be doing much.  UKIP have two leaflets out, the one which just goes on about how Alan Lay “always tells the truth” and a generic “29 Million Europeans Want To Steal Your Job” type thingy.  Actually, we bumped into Alan Lay briefly today.  In the absence of custard pies and water pistols, we said: “Hello!” instead. ;)

Peatlings Lane with local friends Alina and Bob.

I have not yet encountered anybody who says they are going to vote Independent.  In fact, the only comment I’ve heard is: “What has Wisbech Town Council got to do with our village?”  It’s a fair point.  Labour and the Lib Dems don’t appear to have put out any leaflet at all yet, nor canvassed anywhere.

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You’ve got to be in it, to win it.  

Still enjoying the campaign immensely.  It’s a great team, with a great candidate.  And these are villages I love.  What’s not to like?

The State, The Nanny.

The State, The Nanny.

I’ve written about the relentless desire for the Nanny State and its allies to ban everything before.  I’ve ranted about slippery slopes regarding minimum pricing on this, plain packaging on that and endless bureaucratic regulation on the other.  But no matter how many times I raise it, I still find myself really creeped out when things I have predicted come true.

So it was today when a friend pointed out this petition to me.  Plain packaging for alcohol.

plain pack alcohol

What you have to understand about these people is that they are in no hurry.  They have all the time in the world.  You think you have a victory when the Government says Plain Packaging wont go ahead, or Minimum Pricing is unworkable, but you do not.  What you have is a (very) brief pause.  Then they start right up again.  Chip, chip, chip.  Talking about it.  Petition for it.  Suggest a policy of it.  Talk about it some more.  Until the unbelievable becomes more believable and the impossible becomes more possible.

In some ways it doesn’t scare me too much because I know that markets, and people, can’t be stopped from doing the things they want to do.  They will always find a way to scupper the State.  The problem is always that perfectly decent people end up criminalised and the State’s bullying and tampering creates so many unseen and unwelcome consequences.

Long-time readers might remember another prediction of mine – that attempts to introduce plain packaging would bring entrepreneurs out of the woodwork to produce custom packs.  One of two commenters thought this ludicrous.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce SmokeScreenz, a company doing precisely that.  I have to admit the packaging designs are pretty cool.  Far cooler than those old cigarette packaging designs were – you know, the ones which were banned in Australia because they were so “enticing.”  Also notice, the new ones don’t have all that “you will die immediately of lung cancer if you smoke one of these or stand within 100 yards of somebody who does” message.  Nor can the Government force them to do so, because you can’t easily pass legislation on an empty box.  There are hundreds of designs available.  Here are just a few of them.

For the glamorous young lady?
For the keen young gambler?
Smoking and driving fast!  What a combo.
Free spirits only, here.
Ooh, pretty.
You da playa, with da cash.
Tough and ready for combat!
More gambling, more hard core.
For the comic book reader.
Cupcakes!  Yum.

Now tell me seriously, are these better that those old cigarette packets?  If kids see these as compared, say, to the old Benson & Hedges, or Silk Cut packet, are they more or less enticing?  This wouldn’t have been necessary, there wouldn’t have been much of a market at all, if the State hadn’t created one by regulation.  The next step will be for the petitions to control these – but goodness that will be difficult.  After all, they are just a box with a picture on it.  Hard to see how you word that law without creating problems for a thousand other packages and boxes.  And even if you manage – markets, which are just billions of people, all of us – will have thought of a thousand ways around the State intervention before the printing ink on the new Act is dry.

You may say: “If you believe Markets can’t be stopped by the Nanny State, why do you care?”  There are two answers. The first is, as mentioned before, there are consequences to these things.  When you interfere with the choices of millions of free-willed adult people, you create immense ripples.  Situations you never considered arise because of what you did.  Then the State must spend massive resources trying to “fix” the problems it created – which makes more problems each time.  It is a destructive spiral.  Many of the problems we face today, perhaps most of them, are simply the result of previous well-intentioned attempts to control people.  But the worst thing is that the State and the proponents of Statism never admit that.  They don’t dare, or they just can’t imagine how that could be the case.  So they just keep spending more time and money painting over the cracks.

The second reason is that this is about fundamental personal liberty.  It took thousands of years for the civilised world to get the levels of Liberty we enjoy today.  Our current freedoms are by no means “normal” over the span of history and by no means irreversible.  Vigilance and challenge are required to protect them.  The only reason people don’t care about “health warnings on McDonalds” and regulations on the size of sugary drinks is because they think it will never affect them.  But this stuff is creeping your way, all of you.  Sooner or later, it will ooze its way into something you do care about.

If you want people to be healthier and live longer, if you want to protect kids from adult vices and problems – great.  Who doesn’t?  But hard-faced controls are seldom the solution.  We already have all the laws we need in these areas.  Education, information and knowledge are the key – not statist regulatory controls and the long arm of the law.

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Tydd St. Giles

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Tydd St. Giles

We made inroads into Tydd & Gorefield today.  A smaller team than previously, probably due to it being Easter and all, but still a very good day.

We started in Tydd St Giles, canvassing all the central area of the village.  Tydd St. Giles is probably the village where I know the most people and so I always enjoy walking around there and saying “Hi” to old friends.  Usually, I know more people than anybody on a campaign team, having worked in the area for so many years.  But not anymore.  Literally, Sam Clark seems to know everybody.  Awash with energy, she zig-zags from one side of the street to another, greeting people by their first name, introducing us to one of her relations, regaling us with tales of how she knows this person and that person.  It’s a lot of fun!

We enjoyed refreshments in Gorefield and then moved on for a couple of hours there – but this wasn’t primarily a Gorefield day.  Those are coming next week.  So we stuck mainly to a few key areas where we know our support is strong.  We’ll be back for a more thorough canvass shortly.

Nobody appears to have seen hide nor hair of the Lib Dems or Labour.  Perhaps they are keeping their powder dry until the campaign has progressed a little?  UKIP have been around somewhat, though I’m not picking up news of much activity and people’s enthusiasm for them appears to have waned.  As one gentleman said to me today: “Every week there’s some new crazy thing they’ve said or done.”  Quite.  But they do maintain some die-hards, as you might imagine.  One man told me he was: “Voting UKIP because there was going to be a mosque in Wisbech.”  It’s rare that I’m stumped for words on the campaign trail, but that was a puzzler.  How do you respond to that?  I mean, as far as I know, Wisbech isn’t inundated with devout Muslims, but I could be wrong.  Maybe they are hiding?  Maybe they’ve got some secret plan to conquer us all.  There is that big empty old Court House after all…. ;)

The Independent Candidate, Erbie Murat, has been seen here and there.  A lady told me a very funny story about his visit to her, but since I have no way of confirming the truth of it, it would be improper for me to relate it.  It did make me chuckle though.

We didn’t quite get a full day in because Sam had a function to attend and I needed to get back to the office and collate the data from the previous week.  Also, my feet were sore.  I’m out of shape!  But by the end of this campaign I’ll be back to normal.  Walking (what seems like) hundreds of miles has a way of sorting out your condition.  Funny how nobody has thought of political campaigning as a new exercise regime.  I think there’s something to be said for it.

There still a lot to do, but I’m pleased with the campaign so far.  People seem very supportive of Sam as the local candidate.  The fact that she is so well-known and -liked is a big help.  People know that with Sam Clark they will be voting for a genuine, caring and compassionate local lady.

The Battle For Leader

The Battle For Leader

One of the interesting things about being a local Conservative, but never having been a District Councillor, is that I can take a view about things going on at Fenland District Council in a detached way that many of my colleagues cannot.  So it is with some fascination that I watch the Local Media and other pundits trying to guess the outcome – and the politics – going on as the Conservative group at Fenland District Council goes about deciding who its new leader will be.

The following piece is nothing more than my personal musing and as such is probably of no interest to anybody.  But I’m putting it down anyway just in case there are other folk out there interested in the ramblings of a local activist with no “skin in the game” as it were.  In other words, the outcome has no political effect on me whatsoever.  My view is therefore completely neutral – well as much as it can be when you are talking about a group of long-time colleagues and friends who you have respect for and know quite well.

So far the candidates that I’ve heard seriously suggested are; John Clark, David Connor, Chris Seaton, Simon King and Jan French.  Maybe there are more that haven’t surfaced yet, but presently that seems to be the possible options.  The Wisbech Standard has John Clark as the favourite, with Chris Seaton and Jan French very close behind.  The odds on David Conner are longer and the odds on Simon King were silly.

In truth, the Wisbech Standard probably isn’t far off on its guesses, though perhaps not for the reasons it suggests.  First we probably need to rule out Simon King and David Connor.  Both thoroughly good eggs and solid Councillors who I have no doubt would be very interesting leaders, but neither likely to be able to command the popular support required from other Councillors to win what is probably going to be a serious battle. At least not right now.

This leaves the players as Jan French, John Clark and Chris Seaton.  It’s unclear if Jan is standing or not – the rumour keeps changing.  One minute she is definitely standing, the next she is supporting Chris Seaton, then she’s standing again.  I don’t know what the truth is.  But I do think Jan French is a very capable, eloquent and intelligent lady and I think Fenland District Council under her leadership would be a dynamic and forthright Council.

But the truth is that most people think this battle is between Seaton & Clark.  They are probably right.  Jan French could potentially be a “kingmaker” here and if her decision to back Chris Seaton is true then that would appear to make him the favourite.  But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Fenland District Council’s Conservative group know one another very well and are a strong team – but as with all teams there are factions, albeit friendly ones.  It’s fair to say that the group splits along the Meltonites and non-Meltonites, if you’ll excuse the term.  Alan Melton has faced a number of crises in his time as Leader and a number of challenges to his Leadership.  This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, by the way.  Leaders often face challenge as newcomers arrive and being able to meet such challenges is part and parcel of the democratic system.  Debate, challenge, scrutiny, competition – these are all healthy indicators in any good Council.

So if the battle is between Chris Seaton and John Clark, then its fair to characterise it as a battle between the Meltonites and the non-Meltonites.  Chris Seaton was Deputy Leader for a long time and very much Alan Melton’s “right hand man.”  He has worked with the current cabinet for a long time and they are a tight-knit and friendly team.   I have no way of knowing what sort of leader Chris Seaton would be – though I have no doubt he’d be a good one.  But I think most would agree that he is considered the “continuity Melton” candidate in that he would keep a lot of the Cabinet the same, not rock too many boats, and strive to be a “safe pair of hands,” a steady guide through a turbulent year.   This means that his support derives from the “steady as she goes” crowd and from the Meltonites, which perhaps includes those existing Cabinet Members who think “If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it.”

John Clark, on the other hand, is definitely the head of the non-Meltonites.  It’s not a secret as John’s bust-up with the Leadership was plastered all over the newspapers last year.  Since then he’s been a quiet but steady rebel voice from the back benches.  This means that most would expect him to make fairly significant changes to the Cabinet and possibly to the structure and goals of the whole Council.  He draws his support from those who think things have gone awry and that significant change is needed, or have joined past challenges to Alan Melton as leader, or who just want to try something completely different.

Frankly – I think this is win win for Fenland.  Both Chris Seaton and John Clark are experienced, intelligent and competent leaders.  They both have track records in senior roles, they are both respected and have strong support.  For that matter, Jan French has all these things also, and is a quiet stalking horse who could still surprise everybody.  I cannot possibly speculate on who the ultimate winner might be.  I think it’s presently too close to call, but a lot will depend on what policies and ideas those two candidates put to the group when they make their pitch to become the new leader.  And a lot depends on what some of the other Fenland District Councillors, particularly those who are influential amongst their peers, are saying to one another.

For most people the whole thing is probably boring and will pass by without interest and everything will continue to tick along nicely much as it always does.  But for political nerds like myself who find the personal dynamics and “small politics” of things like this interesting, this is a time of great anticipation.  I think we have a great raft of candidates and I have every confidence  that my friends and colleagues on the FDC Conservative Group will pick wisely.  But I can’t wait to see who they do pick!

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 2

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 2

When I say “Day 2″ I don’t really mean Day 2, of course.  It’s just the second day I’ve been out with the canvass team.  In fact we’ve been in Campaign Mode for over a week, delivering leaflets, attending functions, knocking on doors, calling people up.  Outside of “Official Campaign Days” the rest of the Campaign is always a frenetic ongoing mass of activity.

Three teams were out today.  My team were in Foul Anchor in the morning while the other two leafleted in Leverington.  Then we all moved to Leverington for canvassing later in the day.  We didn’t have the glorious weather of Day 1, but the rain held off until lunchtime and by then we were inside, drinking tea and eating ham rolls at the day’s HQ in Four Gotes.

Leverington is the largest of the villages in Roman Bank and has a very diverse mix of people who call it home.  I’ve always enjoyed canvassing Leverington because I know a lot of folks there and also because there’s never a dull day – something interesting always happens.

Three things stick out in my mind about today’s Campaign.  The first was that I encountered some UKIP-Con switchers.  This is new for me.  Until their meteoric rise last May UKIP weren’t really “a thing” in most places, but when we did encounter their supporters it was usually because they had switched from the Conservatives over some national issue; gay marriage, our EU membership, spare room subsidy – whatever the angry cause of the day was.  UKIP have enjoyed some electoral success, but that has come with a price – public exposure.  Although the local press are still giving them a mostly easy ride, there has been such a series of gaffs, problems and criminality that even a friendly local media can’t completely protect them.  So it is that we’ve had to create brand new codes for our sheets; the UKIP “waiverer” and the UKIP-CON switcher.  We don’t mind.  We just shake their hands and say: “Welcome home.”

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One of my colleagues encountered that most rare and exciting of creatures; the Campaign Troll.  Most people, even those who don’t support your party, are polite and friendly at the door.  Even the grumpy ones can usually be won around by a polite: “Well thanks for your time, have a great day!”  But there are some who are just perpetually furious with your party and want to tell you – loudly and angrily – about all the things they hate.  The list can include things which have nothing to do with you, things that a different party did, things you have no power over, things that happened decades earlier or even before you were born, and occasionally things that never happened at all and have apparently been invented out of thin air.  I call these people Campaign Trolls, though they do not usually live under a bridge.  Under a cloud, maybe.  We had one of these today.  Initially he told us that he used to vote Conservative, but had switched to Labour and then to UKIP.  After telling us at some great length what he disliked about Margaret Thatcher, Immigration, Tony Blair, Immigration, Young People, North Sea Oil, the NHS and, for some reason, the Royal Jubilee celebrations, he brought his argument to a powerful conclusion:  “I called your candidate six months ago,” he said, “And what did she do?  Nothing.  Useless, she is.  Useless.”  When we pointed out that our candidate is brand new and has never been a District Councillor before he looked a little embarrassed.  We tried to give him an easy out by saying: “I’m sure it was just a mistake, perhaps you meant somebody else,” but he was having none of it.  “She is a Parish Councillor,” he said, hitting triumphantly on the wording in her leaflet.  “That’s why I called her!”
“She’s a Parish Councillor in Newton,” we gently pointed out.  “This is Leverington.  Leverington has its own Parish Council.”
“Well,” He roared, “It doesn’t matter anyway!  You’re all the same.  That’s why I never vote.”
“But you told us you voted Conservative, Labour and UKIP…”

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The final surprise was in a quiet and pleasant little back road in Leverington.  I had just finished a lovely Conservation with an older lady about the new Tesco (she was very keen on it) in Wisbech when a colleague rushed up to me pointing excitedly at his canvass sheets.  “Look, look!” He said.  I stared at the columns and there, amongst the Cs and Us and Ks and Ss (Conservative, Undecided, UKIP, Socialist) there was a single “L”.  My colleague had circled it for emphasis.  “Wow,” I said.  “An L?  What IS that?  How strange.”  So rare now is it to have Ls on our canvass cards that finding one is a little bit like when a trainspotter sees some really obscure engine.  The rest of our team approached muttering “Oohs” and “Ahs” at the strange sigil which adorned the column.  “Who’d have thought?” I said.  “We’ve found the only Liberal Democrat In The Village.”  We considered some sort of protection order.  It’s not that we are particularly big fans of Liberal Democrats, but when something is this rare and endangered we have a duty to protect the last of its kind.  After all, who wants to live in a world where Liberal Democrats are extinct?  Oh.  Wait….   : )

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The Independent Candidate Erbie Murat has chosen to go for the “no frills” approach with his literature and printed a plain piece of white paper on a single side.  That’s cool and kinda “old school”.  I like it.  Colour and design are less important than message, right?  Erbie’s main message is to tell everybody about his “Honesty & Integrity” and also to point out his great and long experience in local government both in Peterborough and Wisbech.  You’d think that with all those years experience he’d know how to write a proper election imprint.   It’s a pretty tiny thing since he did include his name and address and the abbreviation “p&p” which may stand for “printed and promoted by” or may stand for “postage and packing” – but those Election Law folk are sticklers for the rules and his imprint is not formatted correctly.  Clearly he didn’t mean anything by it – and I’m certainly not going to be reporting him to the Electoral Commission for such a small mistake.  But for somebody making their pitch on how experienced they are, it seems a little careless. After all, the correct format is explained in the information pack you get when you become a candidate.

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I found the UKIP leaflets fascinating.  It’s a little scrappy purple thing that has no policy or plan whatsoever and simply says: “We tell the truth” in various ways over and again.  I chuckled at the bit that says: “a trait that is common amongst all UKIP Councillors – the truth” and I wondered – did anybody tell Lagoda?  I mean – he’s Independent now – but he wasn’t over the course of the previous year while he was telling everybody how innocent he was.  Also noticed that Alan Lay seems to think that he is standing for “Roman Bank Wards” – it’s one District ward Alan.  Just one.  Not a whole bunch.  #sigh  God forbid anybody chooses to elect Lay again – can you imagine how many letters to the paper we’d have then?  The Wisbech Standard would need a new section, “Letters From Lay.”  :)

All that aside it was a thoroughly enjoyable day in Leverington talking to local people and just enjoying the the sights and sounds of the village.  Already looking forwards to our return visit next week!

Integrity & Commitment? Don’t Think So.

Integrity & Commitment?  Don’t Think So.

Don’t know who produced this infographic that’s currently doing the rounds, but it’s interesting don’t you think?  Click on it to see it bigger and read it more clearly.

UKIP infographic

The Small Print (necessary at election time):
Promoted by Mrs D N Clark on behalf of Miss S J Clark both of Cromwell House, Wisbech Road, March, Cambs PE15 8EB.

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 1

Roman Bank Campaign 2014 – Day 1

Today was a beautiful day to begin the Roman Bank Campaign on behalf of Samantha Clark, who is the Conservative candidate in the by-election to be held on May 8th.  We had two teams out, one in Newton and the other in Tydd St Giles.  Our aim was to get a good start on the canvassing and try to deliver most of both those villages with the first leaflet.

This was the team I was with in Newton.  (With the exception of the photographer, Elliot Johnson.)

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We’ve been so pleased with the offers of help in this campaign.  To have twelve volunteers out during the day and midweek is a great start and it’s only a small portion of the help that has been offered throughout the month.  We expect to knock on every door, put out three pieces of literature and talk to as many local people as we can.

Sam Clark is a great candidate in so many ways.  She is born and bred in the Ward, lives in the Ward and is exceptionally well-known.  While walking around Newton today she seemed to know every person at every door on first-name terms.  People know that she has a track record of working for the villages and actually putting in the elbow grease to get things done.  They also know that she’s genuine, honest and compassionate.  These things go a long way.

One interesting development was when I knocked on the door of a Socialist i’ve encountered before.  Having canvassed this area many times I know this gentleman is a Labour voter, but I believe that every door should get a knock regardless of whether you know they are opposition.  Plus, he’s a nice chap and we always have some good banter.  So I was surprised when he told me that this time he intended to vote Conservative.  In fact, I was gobsmacked.  He explained: “I don’t like your party nationally at all, but I know Sam and I know she does a lot.  Also, I’m voting tactically to get rid of these UKIP kooks.”  Well, I think he said “kooks.”  He might have said: “Crooks.”  I can’t be sure.  Nevertheless, its the first time I’ve ever encountered a Labour supporter planning to cast a tactical vote for the Conservatives.  What a strange new world we live in.

It was, all in all, a delightful first day of campaigning.  There’s a lot to do and a long way to go – but I have every faith that our  strong local candidate can be victorious.  People have had a year of Cllr. Alan Lay at County Council and he doesn’t appear to have wowed anyone.  In fact, the most common responses on the doorstep are “Never seen him, don’t think he’s done anything.”  Obviously, I’m always keen to point out that he does write to the newspaper a lot and there have been petitions and stuff.  Nobody seems massively impressed.  I can’t think why.

Some folk think that proximity doesn’t matter.  But my experience is that it does matter to voters.  It’s only one of many things to be considered, and sometimes for the right candidate they’ll elect somebody who lives outside the area if they are impressed by other things about them.  But people do care that the Lib Dems are fielding a candidate from March, that Alan Lay lives in Wisbech and that the Independent candidate lives in Guyhirn.  A number of times on the doorstep today people said to me: “If they don’t live here, how can they know what our issues are?”  One lady went as far as to say she thought that standing candidates from elsewhere was disrespectful.  I’m not sure I’d go that far – I’ve stood for places I didn’t live in before myself.  But to think it isn’t an issue to people at all is to misunderstand the nature of the electorate.

Looking forward to more campaigning over the next few weeks!

vote sam clark

The Small Print (necessary at election time):
Promoted by Mrs D N Clark on behalf of Miss S J Clark both of Cromwell House, Wisbech Road, March, Cambs PE15 8EB.

The Police Response

The Police Response

I got the call back from Robin Sissons this morning, re: my previous blog post entitled “Police State?.”  So first let’s cover the things that Mr. Sissons says are inaccurate about the witness statements given to me.

Robin agrees with the number of vehicles and Police officers, but says that they were not “all in riot gear” – only the first couple of Officers to enter the building had protective clothing etc.  Fair enough, you can see how a group of people seeing large Police Officers enter in the gear, followed by another twenty or so uniforms, would perceive the arrival and remember the first couple of the group.

Robin says that he was aware of the raid but that it was not carried out by local Officers but by Officers from HQ – and suggests that this was in order to avoid a breakdown of relations between the local Bobbies and the local community.  I’m not sure that really worked as well as intended given what happened, but I can see that the intention was a good one.  I just think that for most people – the Police are the Police.  Regardless of whether the ones you see all the time are smashing down your doors, or some other Police from HQ, people tend to group them all as one.

Robin Sissons assures me that the operation was “intelligence-led” and that adequate information was in hand to merit a raid.   He says he will question those involved to find out if there is any truth to the accusations of rudeness, aggression and heavy-handed behaviour, though he feels the Police have “nothing to apologise for” at this point.  He also feels that for every person who is unhappy about these powers being used for this sort of raid, there would be others who would cheer about it.

He accepts that nobody was arrested or charged and that nothing was found or seized other than the CCTV, but does point out that the CCTV is “still being reviewed.”  The CCTV, he says, will be returned once it has been reviewed.

He says that the people who were searched and their phones confiscated were not “stop and searched” but were dealt with as part of the warrant – which allows anybody on the premises to be searched, including even innocent customers who were sitting having a pint and customers who arrived after the Police had got there.  He says that the warrant allows search of the vehicles – which is correct, but when I asked about the customers whose vehicles were parked in a completely different car park who were searched I didn’t get a response to that.  Surely a warrant does not cover vehicles owned by private individuals, parked in a completely different location to the premises on which the warrant was served?  I’ll wait for clarification on that one.

Robin Sissons also very strongly denies that the people in the pub were dealt with differently because the owner and most of the customers were foreign.  I very much hope he’s right.  But I wonder if the Police would really have tried the same operation in a pub full of English people?  I can imagine them demanding the car keys of a Wisbech man so they can search his vehicle parked elsewhere.  I can imagine them asking a young Wisbech lady: “Are you a prostitute?”  I can imagine them demanding the mobile phones of every innocent customer in, say, The Case or the old Muppet Inn (when it was the Muppet Inn.)  I can only speculate as to the result of them searching a young lady from Wisbech, down to her underwear and beyond – and the consequent response of her Family.  I don’t think any of it would have ended well.  Robin points out the good work the local Police do on behalf of the Eastern European community and to foster good relations with them – and that is absolutely true.  But I think this operation has set that work back a country mile.

So, to sum up, Robin Sissons says that there was enough intelligence for the raid, that it’s perfectly acceptable for the Police to arrive in these numbers and to search everybody in this way, that asking young ladies: “Are you a prostitute?” is fine, that confiscating mobile phones of everybody there is normal procedure – in case they leak to Social Media and affect the search of the crime scene.  That refusing to allow the staff to phone their boss and bring him to the premises to speak to the Police is no problem.  It sounds like, in the strictest sense of the law, he is probably right.  But I think I’d still have to question the manner and style of this operation and the logic of conducting it in this way.

I do not know if charges for something are forthcoming.  I’m not privy to the details of the investigation and perhaps the Police have something they are not yet revealing?  But my discussion with Robin Sissons did not suggest this was the case.  I said that I thought this was easily fixed.  That if there were not going to be any charges and if the Police accept their “intelligence” was wrong, that they could put this matter right by doing three simple things.

(a)  Issue an official apology to The Angel and its customers for their discomfort and inconvenience.
- No need to apologise for the actual operation, since I can see why the Police might be leery of that, but apologising for inconvenience caused doesn’t open any doors to law suits.

(b)  State clearly that raid on The Angel resulted in nothing and that the Police are satisfied that no crimes were committed there and that the establishment and it’s owners reputation are intact.
-  Given the damage done to the business and its reputation by this raid, it is the least the Police can do to clear the owner and premises of wrongdoing in an unequivocal way.

(c)  Repair the damage.
-  Two doors were broken down and some other minor damage caused.  The Police should pay for that to be repaired promptly.

Robin Sissons says he is perfectly happy to take an official complaint forwards, or for it to go through the Police & Crime Commissioner, which is commendable.  But why go through all that and make a big issue about it when a simply apology and recompense would put an end to the issue right now?  I don’t understand this reluctance to admit a mistake has been made.  It doesn’t represent a weakness by the Police – quite the opposite.  If the Police really have such sweeping and draconian powers when a pub is raided – and apparently they do – the best way to offset them is to be prepared to say: “Sorry about that, our intelligence is often right, but in this instance it was wrong.”   I’m sure people would feel better about it.  I know I would.

All of this is on the proviso that there isn’t some ongoing case to answer.  As you might imagine I still don’t know the answer to that.  Perhaps the Police have discovered some evidence pointing to some dark crime and that this will vindicate them entirely.  Except, (a) I doubt it, and (b) Even were that the case I’m still not sure this would merit the way private individuals say they were treated.  But we’ll see.


This email was received from Robin Sissons, who would like me to pass it on.  So here it is.

I can confirm that a warrant was executed on Thursday evening by a number of uniform officers. They were not dressed in riot gear but normal uniform. The large numbers involved was proportionate considering the overall size of the premises (including the numbers of rooms upstairs) and the unknown numbers of staff / customers that would be there. I can also confirm that two rooms were locked within the premises which needed to be searched and so the officers had no other option but to force entry. Due to the fact that nothing was found in these rooms then it is normal practice for the Constabulary to make good any damage caused. I would therefore urge the owner to make contact with the Constabulary so that we can progress his claim.

This warrant was obtained after the police had gained several independent pieces of intelligence stating that there were illegal practices taking place (sexual exploitation, prostitution and drugs). The Constabulary makes every effort to ensure that these pieces of intelligence are verified and cross referenced so that we can be sure that there is some substance to the claims made. It is also important that we act on intelligence given to us so that the community knows that we are acting on their behalf. It is for this reason that this warrant was executed. On this occasion there wasn’t anything found.

The purpose of this warrant was not to upset the community or make them fear the police. Its purpose was to reassure the community that we will do all that we can to ensure that Wisbech is a safe place in which to live and socialise in.

Regards Robin

T. Chief Inspector 0359 Robin Sissons
District Commander Fenland
Wisbech Police Station, Nene Parade, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

UKIP – The APRIL Omnibus Edition

UKIP – The APRIL Omnibus Edition

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