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Thursday 2 June 2016

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TUSC joins protest over council's 'how to vote Remain guide' for EU postal voters

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 below). At the very least the graphic is not a neutral depiction of the mechanics of voting.

Bristol council's voters guide

Bristol council's voters guide   (Click to enlarge)

A council spokesperson has dismissed the complaints, stating that "the placement of the pen graphic was entirely incidental". But this is not the first instance of political bias by Bristol's election officials, argued 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 who made the cuts...

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".

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.

Clive Heemskerk comments: "The council's representatives have denied that their rulings on what was allowed in the mayoral election booklet were 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".

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

Postscript (June 4th)

The Bristol council voting guide made it into the June 3rd episode of the satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You.

The form with the biased placement of the pen graphic was shown on screen and HIGNFY host, Martin Clunes, said: "The council admitted they had made a mistake and promised to issue a new form, this time without the controversial 'Vote Leave' box".

It's good to see that at least someone at the BBC isn't sticking to the pro-Remain establishment script.