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February 13, 2015 8:45 PM
By Wokingham Liberal Democrats

Local Lib Dems have reacted with fury to Philip Mirfin's claims in the press that all political parties will be distributing

Cllr Prue Bray & Cllr Lindsay Ferris with the postcards ()

Cllr Prue Bray & Cllr Lindsay Ferris with the postcards

postcards about the Wokingham town centre regeneration in the run up to the local elections.

Cllr Prue Bray leader of the Lib Dems said "Neither the Lib Dems nor the other political parties had agreed to give out postcards, so how could Philip Mirfin make a claim to the press that this was going to happen? The only way that this is cross party is that now all the parties are cross."

Prue has written to Philip Mirfin to express her disgust at his behaviour and this is the text of the letter:

13th February 2015

Dear Philip

On Monday, Lindsay Ferris, my deputy, and I had a meeting with you, Mark Ashwell, your deputy, and a council officer. The meeting was to brief us about the current consultation on potential redevelopment of the area around Carnival Pool. Lindsay and I were surprised when at the end of the meeting you produced a stack of pre-printed post cards, designed for people to sign up to receive information about the Wokingham town centre regeneration. You announced that the Conservatives would be handing out these post cards to residents as part of campaigning in the run-up to the election, that all political parties had been asked to do the same, and that it had been ruled that there was no problem with carrying out this activity.

Being rather surprised, Lindsay and I said nothing in response. We did not agree to distribute the post cards. We were therefore taken aback the following day to read a press article http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/local-news/wokingham-regeneration-message-cut-through-8605762 which includes the lines "Election candidates and canvassers from all parties out door-knocking across the town will give the postcards to anyone who asks about the progress of the town centre regeneration."

This letter is in response to your request that we distribute the post cards - and also covers our reaction to the press article.

In principle, we have no objection to the council printing and distributing post cards to the public to try and promote engagement with the regeneration process. However, we do have a very serious objection to this happening during the run-up to elections. We find it hard to believe that council officers have agreed to the post cards being used by anyone, let alone a political party, during the period which is known as "election purdah", as The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity says in paragraph 33 that "Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections and referendums". This particularly applies to controversial issues.

There may be broad consensus on the need for some form of regeneration to take place in Wokingham town, but, as you well know, there is no agreement on what form that regeneration should take. The Liberal Democrats disagree profoundly with the Conservative plans to build on green space at Elms Field, to remove the car parks at The Paddocks, Shute End and Rose Street, and the failure to address online shopping. Many residents also disagree with some aspects of the plans. The regeneration is most definitely controversial. The council should not be promoting it in the pre-election period. What you told us on Monday is even worse: that the council - which is supposed to be politically neutral at election time - will be providing materials directly to the Conservatives to allow the Conservatives to promote their own party policy during an election! Can you not see how objectionable that is?

The council should not be giving post cards to any political party to hand out during the run-up to the election, and we will be asking council officers to make sure that election purdah is properly observed.

The Liberal Democrats did not agree to hand out the post cards and we will not being doing it. Nor, we understand, will Labour, the Green party or UKIP. How dare you tell the press that any of us would, when none of us had agreed to it? It is absolutely outrageous behaviour! Our communication with Labour, the Greens and UKIP has raised concerns about whether you had even asked them!

Your conduct over this has been arrogant, presumptuous and downright disgraceful. We expect an apology to us, to Labour, the Green party and to UKIP for your behaviour and a public apology to the press for misleading them. We also expect the immediate withdrawal of any plans to distribute any post cards after March 30th, which is when the election purdah period starts.

Your failure to properly manage an issue as simple as public consultation leaves us with little confidence in your ability to run a project as complex as regeneration. Perhaps you should consider your position.

Yours sincerely

Prue Bray