Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Complaints start going in to the Electoral Commission

Anyone wishing to raise a complaint to the Electoral Commission can see the points raised by Gillian Swanson below. It is important that this decision is fully questioned and examined because of the implications for the European Constitution referendum.

19 September, 2004

Mr Sam Younger, Chairman,
The Electoral Commission,
Trevelyan House, Great Peter Street,

Dear Mr Younger,

Designation of the Official No Campaign in the North-East Referendum

As a north-east voter who is against regional government and has been well-served by Neil Herron’s No campaign over the past two years, I would be grateful if you would let me have in writing your reasons for selecting NESNO as official opposition to the Yes Campaign in the run-up to November’s referendum.

I have racked my brains to think why you should have preferred this recently concocted group to Mr Herron’s well-established campaign, which has both a proven track record and wide-ranging grass-roots support.

Please enlighten me.

In addition, I understand that your officers’ original recommendation went against NESNO. What caused your change of heart?

I further wish to draw your attention to damage already inflicted by your unaccountable decision.

On 15 September, within minutes of being designated the official No Campaign and awarded £100,000 of taxpayers’ money, a representative of your chosen people, NESNO, should have appeared before a House of Commons Select Committee to give evidence. NESNO said sorry, none of them could make it. Neil Herron has since stated in the Newcastle Journal that he was fully briefed and ready to go to Westminster to argue the No case. Your decision made this impossible, thus depriving many north-east voters of fair representation before the committee.

What have NESNO done to deserve selection? Any undecided member of the electorate consulting their website would find nothing at all in the section entitled “Our Case”. They have issued no press releases since the initial one in July. They have no plans for public meetings. How did all this lack of activity qualify them for government funding?

Intriguingly, NESNO were listed by name as the chosen opposition to the Yes Campaign in an ODPM Committee Press Release issued on 9 September, a whole five days before you made your decision. How was this possible? Is the Deputy Prime Minister clairvoyant? Was he given prior information regarding your choice? Or did he lead, and you follow? The implications are disturbing.

It is also disturbing to hear Graham Robb, NESNO’s spokesman, state that they aren’t against an assembly as such: they would merely wish it to have greater powers. We now have a Yes and a No campaign, each of which favours regional government in principle. So who will speak for the many people who argue, quite reasonably, against the very idea of it? No funding is being made available for those attempting to put the full range of No arguments to a wider public. Meanwhile, because of your decision, £200,000 has been lavished on two groups which differ only in how much power they would wish an assembly to have before giving it their support.

Another point: I find it extraordinary that you did not take traditional party loyalties in the north-east into account when making your decision. Typical of attitudes among many people up here is this comment on the Newcastle Journal’s website: “ … if the Conservative party, that did so much damage to this area, and their large land-owning friends are against the idea of an assembly, then it must have some merit”.

To hand financial control of the No Campaign to a group led by Conservative supporters and backed by the Conservative Party at once reduces debate, in this overwhelmingly Labour part of the country, from the rational to the emotive level, and significantly increases the chance of a Yes vote. This may well be crucial when taken in conjunction with misleading leaflets put out by the ODPM which do not accurately state the expense involved in reorganising local and district councils, the cost of running an assembly or the degree of power to be retained by central government (see letter attached).

What were your reasons, when presented with a straight choice between a non-party-political, grass-roots campaign and a group headed by prominent Tory supporters, for picking the one most likely to alienate a significant portion of the north-east electorate?

I await your reply with interest,

Gillian Swanson

Cc Sir Neil McIntosh CBE The Newcastle Journal
Ms Pamela Gordon The Sunderland Echo
Mr Glyn Mathias The Northern Echo
Mr Karamjit Singh CBE warmwell.com

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