Friday, June 30, 2006


My Dirty Tricks Exposed – the Memoirs

Seeing the depths Labour plunged to and hearing opponents bleating that Liberal Democrats were doing work and it’s not fair reminded me of my own favourite ‘Lib Dem dirty trick’. Back in May 1993, the Lib Dems had spectacularly good county council and by-election results, when the Tories took a drubbing and we took Newbury with numerically the largest Liberal majority since, well, in fact ever to that point. I was at university at the time, with students’ union elections coming up and close of nominations at five pm on the Friday, almost exactly twelve hours after the Newbury declaration.

The significance of this was that any leaflets delivered after five o’clock on Friday afternoon would be counted as election publicity, while any before then would not.

I’d taken the precaution of printing up the B-side of a stack of bright yellow leaflets a couple of days earlier. With Labour our main opponents, these featured a large logo of a wilting Labour rose sticking out of a Tory torch, my favourite graphic I’ve ever drawn, and a big, friendly bullet-point set of policies on which Labour and the Tories were then identical (how times change…). Underneath, of course, were the excitingly different Lib Dem alternatives.

I handed in the A-side of the leaflet for printing at nine o’clock sharp that morning (no, I didn’t have much sleep that night; I was younger and fitter then. A far cry from Richard telling me this morning how when he peeled my prone form from where I lay insensibly in front of the results there were five red circles on my face from where I’d gone to sleep on my fingers).

Headlines and other large, easy-to-read details included that it was the worst fall in the Tory vote since the Second World War (one of those records broken almost on a monthly basis at the time), and the worst Labour vote in any seat since the First World War. My particular favourite line, however, was that “17 fringe party candidates polled under 2% and lost their deposits. One of these was the Labour Party.”

Every single piece of university accommodation had been completely delivered well before five that afternoon, and though Labour put in furious complaints, it was held that leaflets not mentioning any candidates by name, not saying ‘Vote Liberal Democrat’, and not delivered after close of nominations could not in any way be counted as election publicity. Funnily enough, the words ‘Liberal Democrat’ and the bright yellow paper coincidentally appeared during the election, too, but what really upset Labour was the claim that they were just like the Tories, and what made them apoplectic was the “fringe party candidates”. They howled about Lib Dem dirty tricks, but, actually, that was just bollocks, and what they meant was “we know it’s all true, but they shouldn’t be allowed to have this much fun at our expense.” That’s exactly what this morning’s sour grapes boil down to, too.

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