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Press

Thursday 2 June 2016

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Press release:

'Bristol council has form' says TUSC, as it joins biased EU postal vote guidance protest

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which is supporting an exit vote in the EU referendum, today added its voice to the protest over the voting pack issued by Bristol city council for postal voters in June's ballot.

The council has been distributing a how-to-vote guide to postal voters with pictorial instructions that show a pencil hovering over the Remain box on the ballot paper (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36411509). At the very least the graphic is not a neutral depiction of the mechanics of voting.

But this is not the first instance of political bias by Bristol's election officials, argues TUSC's National Election Agent, Clive Heemskerk. "Bristol council, unfortunately, has form in making political interventions into the democratic process", he said, "which TUSC had first-hand experience of in the city's mayoral election this May".

Don't mention the Tories...

TUSC's candidate for the Bristol mayor, Tom Baldwin, had his submission for the Mayoral Election Booklet, distributed to every elector in the city, politically censured by the council's returning officer.

The election address submitted by Tom included the following passages which never made it to the final version:

'Over £100m has been cut from Bristol City Council by the mayor and his cross-party cabinet that includes Labour and the Greens'.

'Some say there's no choice but to implement council cuts. But Jeremy Corbyn was right when he said austerity is a political choice. The Tories were forced into a U-turn on disability benefits. By getting organised we can push them back on council cuts too, but we also need representatives who will take them on'.

'If elected I will... Propose a budget based on Bristol's needs, not the Tory government's demands for cuts'.

Clive Heemskerk explains what happened next:

"Incredibly the council's election staff 'advised' Tom that, because legally mayoral booklet addresses must not contain 'material referring to any other candidate', no mention could be made of the Tories and the phrase, 'Jeremy Corbyn was right when he said austerity is a political choice', should also be removed.

...but a 'vote Remain' graphic is OK

"The first passage of Tom's original text had to be re-worded so it now read, 'over £100m has been cut from Bristol City Council', with no reference allowed to the fact these cuts were being implemented by a cross-party cabinet that had included Labour and Green party councillors.

"And the reference to 'the Tory government's demands for cuts' had to go as well.

"The council's spokespeople have denied that this was censorship, in the same tendentious way a council spokesperson has explained this time, in relation to the EU ballot, that 'the placement of the pen graphic [over the Remain box] was entirely incidental' and that anyway nobody 'could reasonably be influenced by such a graphic'.

"But if the intervention in the content of the mayoral booklet address wasn't a case of exercising political influence, favouring establishment politicians against rebel voices, then what would be?

"And now it seems the same is happening with the EU referendum ballot".


Information

1. The original drafts of Tom Baldwin's election address (a one-page and a two-page version as legally required) are available at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/376.pdf

The final version as printed in the Bristol Mayoral Election booklet is available on the council website at https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/477936/lBristol+Mayoral+candidates+booket+MASTER/1c3c51d0-4af9-42ff-96fb-d5d7ada3942f

2. TUSC was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, the RMT transport workers' union leader who was well known for his opposition to the EU as an agency of anti-worker and pro-austerity policies. Along with the RMT it involves leading trade unionists from the PCS civil servants union, the National Union of Teachers, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Prison Officers Association, together with the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and independent socialists.

TUSC stood over 300 council candidates in the local elections on May 5th, including two mayoral candidates. The TUSC mayoral candidate in Liverpool, the UNISON trade union national executive committee member Roger Bannister, came in fourth, over 1,400 votes ahead of the Tories, Britain's governing party, in the country's eighth biggest city.

3. TUSC is campaigning for a leave vote in the EU referendum and was one of three applicants to be the 'official' Leave campaign, arguing that allowing Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to dominate the exit campaign would "add five percent to the Remain vote" (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/17217/19-04-2016/press-release). TUSC is currently organising a 'twenty-city tour' of meetings on 'The Socialist Case Against the EU' to provide a left-wing alternative to the establishment media narrative that only reactionaries support a leave vote (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/events).

For information and video clips about TUSC see: www.tusc.org.uk

For interviews and any other information requests, please email: info@tusc.org.uk or call Clive Heemskerk, the TUSC National Election Agent on 020-8988-8773.

The TUSC national chairperson, the former Labour MP Dave Nellist, can also be contacted on 07970-294237