18 Nov The Corby Experience

Last Thursday was the long awaited and much talked about Corby By-election. The election had come about due to the resignation of one of the Conservative party’s loony wing, MP Louise Mensch. Now some had argued that because Corby had elected her in the first place, it wasn’t likely to be the most receptive of locations for CLEAR, while others had argued it would be, for precisely the same reason. What made it unusual though was that we got plenty of warning it was going to happen, by-elections are usually called quite quickly but this one had been on the cards for months.

As always, money was tight but we got the £500 deposit together and put CLEAR’s candidate – Peter Reynolds – name forward. We owe Naomi and our local members a vote of thanks for helping us get the nomination papers in on time.

Getting the leaflet printed and sent out involved jumping through a whole set of hoops to keep the Royal mail happy, made somewhat more complicated by the printers failing to deliver all of the print run on time. A series of urgent phone calls and last minute arrangements saved the day. We were quite proud of the leaflet, if you haven’t seen it it’s here. Because it was our chance to tell everyone about our message, getting the leaflet out was perhaps the main point in standing.

Needless to say the amount of media coverage we got was close to zero, despite the votes legalising cannabis in the USA which really should have made cannabis law reform something of an issue. Peter did get a couple of local radio interviews, BBC News24 interviewed him and the local press both mentioned his existence. But not one of our daily press releases was picked up. Worse, when the BBC radio 4 World this Weekend reported from the town the reporter and his sound guy happened across us as we were having a coffee and stopped for a long chat. They told us they were there to get voters comments, but the report that went out featured just one such comment and interviews with all the mainstream parties and the BNP.

The reception we got from the people of Corby was positive on the whole, just about everyone was friendly and receptive to the points we made. There was one exception, a lady who insisted the idea of getting the dealers off the street by licencing and controlling them was outrageous as they were making her life hell. It’s hard to reason with people like that and she came back for a second go as well. Most of the people we spoke to understood the points we were making though.

However, we did run up against a small problem

Corby town centre, where everyone gathers on a Saturday, is all privately owned. It looks like public streets (albeit traffic free), but it’s not. A guard working for the private company who owns it (not the one shown in the clip) first objected to my video camera “because it was against the terrorism act”, and called the manager who informed us us the company refused to allow any canvassing by parties “in the interests of neutrality”and we e were told to “leave the town”! The issue of private ownership of pubic spaces has been a growing problem for some time, but if it starts to be used to prevent the operation of the democratic process we have a very real problem. Canvassing voters is central to our democratic process has a long tradition, it’s something that should be a right, but apparently it’s not. In Corby, the town centre is the only place where large numbers of people gather – it is, literally, the centre of the community.

This did severely limit what we were able to do in terms of meeting the people of Corby and getting our message out. Add to this that we werren’t allowed to tie posters on lampposts – something I’ve done before at election times and it’s always been tolerated providing they were taken down within a couple of weeks of the election. In Corby we were told “No”.

We also paid the surrounding towns of Thrapstone and Oudle a visit. These are very different places to Corby, politically conservative and very pretty little towns. Again. we were generally quite well received, people stopped and talked to us, took our leaflets and gave us positive feedback. Interestingly there was no problem with canvassing in these places.

On a positive note talking to other candidates at the count we were given the impression they all accepted things were probably going to change with the cannabis laws – even the BNP seem to accept it now.

In the event we polled 137 (0.38%) which wasn’t a great result, but we never expected to win and getting votes wasn’t the reason for standing. The full results were

Andy Sawford (Lab) 17,267 (48.41%, +9.71%)
Christine Emmett (C) 9,476 (26.57%, -15.63%)
Margot Parker (UKIP) 5,108 (14.32%)
Jill Hope (LD) 1,770 (4.96%, -9.48%) – lost deposit
Gordon Riddell (BNP) 614 (1.72%, -2.93%)
David Wickham (Eng Dem) 432 (1.21%)
Jonathan Hornett (Green) 378 (1.06%)
Ian Gillman (Ind) 212 (0.59%)
Peter Reynolds (Cannabis) 137 (0.38%)
David Bishop (Elvis) 99 (0.28%)
Mr Mozzarella (Ind) 73 (0.20%)
Dr Rohen Kapur (Young) 39 (0.11%)
Adam Lotun (Dem 2015) 35 (0.10%)
Chris Scotton (UPP) 25 (0.07%)

It’s not easy to run an election campaign in Corby for an independent group like us and the attention of the media was very much on the Labour/Conservative battle. The person to really feel sorry for was Adam Lotun, who was campaigning on a platform that should have been well received in Corby, given it’s high rates of unemployment. He worked really hard and came up against the same problems we did of simply not being able to get his message out.

We did our best to get the issue of cannabis law reform on the agenda and we managed to do that to some extent, overall it was a valuable experience and over the next week or so we’ll decide on how to engage in future elections.