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The following letter was sent to the General Election candidates of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties following our pre-election meeting of the 24th April.  This was instigated by a proposal from the floor of the meeting, carried almost unanimously with only seven votes against.

2nd May, 2010.

 

Michael Jones,

xxxxxxxxxx,

Southgate,

Crawley,

West Sussex.

RH10 6AS

(Also sent to Nick Gibb (Conservative) and Simon McDougall (Liberal Democrat))

 

Dear Mr. Jones,

 

Re: Election Meeting, Alexandra Theatre, Saturday 24th April 2010

The intention at our recently held pre-election meeting was to allow the public to question all six parliamentary candidates of the Bognor Regis and Littlehampton constituency on local issues affected by government policy as well as hearing debate on these issues between the candidates themselves.

You will recall that you agreed to attend this meeting and that you were well aware that all six candidates were to be invited.  You will also recall that you asked if the BNP would be attending and were told that they probably would, but at no point initially did you indicate that if the BNP candidate attended, you would not.

It is now a matter of record that on the day of the meeting you withdrew and failed to attend, thus depriving the public of their opportunity to question you and hear debate between you and the other five candidates.

Some 270 people attended the meeting, and they were informed of the reason  for your non-attendance before the debate went ahead with the three candidates that agreed to attend.   During this debate there were a number of expressions of disapproval of the candidates that had failed to show up from the audience.  This was followed by a proposal from the floor that a “letter of rebuke” should be sent to the three absent candidates, which was voted on by a show of hands and resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour, with only seven votes against.

Accordingly, you may therefore consider this to be the letter of rebuke from a large body of the public who considered your non-attendance at the meeting, and your reasons for this, to be unacceptable.

In addition you may consider this to be a letter of rebuke from ourselves.  We went to an immense amount of trouble and expense to put on this meeting, not only for the public but also for yourselves to be able to communicate directly with them. We are a voluntary organisation who take particular care not to involve ourselves in political bias but, equally, in a democracy, we attach the highest importance to providing a platform for freedom of speech.   One would have thought that you would consider yourselves fortunate that an organisation such as ours exists in the town to take the trouble to involve ourselves in such matters.

We and our audience therefore find it wholly unacceptable for you to initially lead us to believe that you would take part, in full knowledge of who would be attending and without any mention that if any particular candidate attended you would not.  To withdraw in this manner at all is not remotely in the interests of free speech and open debate; to leave it until the very day of the meeting cannot be considered in any other way than as treating your potential audience and us with total disregard. 

Furthermore, we found the suggestion from some of you non participating candidates that we could resolve the matter by excluding one of the candidates as being quite remarkable and completely unacceptable. Not only would this have compromised our position of strict political impartiality but it would have compromised the principle of freedom of speech which is the bedrock of democracy and which this country, as the Mother of all Parliaments, has gone to war to defend.

It is scarcely surprising that the audience took such exception to your actions, some of them voicing their view that you do not deserve their vote.

Whatever the outcome of the election, from our perception of our audience’s responses, there will be many in Bognor Regis who will not forget this lightly.  We can confidently predict that, had we asked them, our audience would have overwhelmingly supported our view that you should attempt to ameliorate this situation by holding a further meeting with all six candidates present, rather than the one with just yourselves that you have planned.  In this way the democratic rights of Bognor Regis electors to simultaneously hear the views and witness the debate of all their six candidates will be upheld.

Freedom of speech and informed debate is not remotely served by two separate groups of candidates addressing different questions at different meetings with no possibility of interplay between them.

Yours sincerely,

 

NOTE: It is only fair to add that an apology for what happened was received from Nick Gibb.  No apology has been received from Michael Jones or Simon McDougall.