9 May 2010

How UKIP's dodgy dealings helped to defeat horse manure expenses MP

The Wells Journal, like most local newspapers, tends not to get involved in political controversy.

But it published a most extraordinary editorial on Election day, revealing an attempt by UKIP to get their members to vote Conservative in three local constituencies (all of which have now returned Liberal Democrat MPs).

By way of background, you need to know that David Heathcote-Amory, who lost his seat on Thursday after 27 years as Tory MP for Wells, is about as anti-European as it's possible to be. However, the local UKIP candidate had refused to stand down, as he'd been asked to do by the party's leadership.

Mr Heathcote-Amory was defending a majority of 3,000, and faced the additional pressure as a result of having had to pay back £30,000 (including £388.80 for horse manure) following the expenses scandal.

By its normal non-partisan standards, the lead editorial in the Wells Journal on 6th May not only expressed extreme displeasure at the way UKIP had treated the newspaper, but also came very close to recommending its readers not to follow UKIP's advice:

'Embargo respected
Lord Pearson of Rannoch left me in a difficult position last week.

'He phoned me on the Tuesday in his role as leader of the UK Independence Party to offer the Mid Somerset Series an exclusive statement asking the electorate in the Wells, Somerton & Frome and Taunton Deane constituencies to vote Conservative rather than for his own party, on the basis that we would not publish it in the paper or on our websites before the Thursday.

'I agreed and Lord Pearson emailed me the statement in letter form on the Tuesday afternoon.

'So I was surprised the next morning to see a BBC reporter revealing Lord Pearson's extraordinary position in a broadcast from Wells Cathedral Green on their nationwide BBC1 Breakfast programme.

'His report featured interviews with four of the Wells candidates, including the Conservative who has taken considerable flak over his expenses and was delighted by Lord Pearson's support.

'UKIP's candidates and supporters felt angry and betrayed.

'So we watched our exclusive on BBC television. Then saw it copied by BBC radio and ITV, all two days before our newspapers were published.

'But we could do nothing. We could have had the story on our website within minutes of the BBC broadcast on the Tuesday morning but we had agreed to the Thursday embargo.

'Anyway, the Mid Somerset Series does not presume to advise anyone on how to vote but I do think it is a valuable right not to be wasted.

'Philip Welch'

ELECTION RESULT: UKIP votes could have saved another seat for the Tories

Jake Baynes, the local UKIP candidate, received 1,711 votes. Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt's majority of 800 over Mr Heathcote-Amory (Con) was less than half the number of UKIP votes.

What's more, if the Conservatives hadn't demanded a recount, the winning margin would have been half the final figure, as Ms Munt's majority after the first count was only 400.


John said...

How can you `find` 400 votes!

David said...

I would guess that two bundles of 100 had been labelled with a blue wrapper when they should have been yellow. Hence Cons -200 and Lib Dem +200.