This year’s City of London elections have been the hardest fought in living memory with 21 out of the 25 Wards being contested by over 150 candidates. The polls took place on March 21st and the results are now in. In my own Ward, I and two of my One Farringdon team colleagues – Wendy Mead and Greg Jones QC – were returned along with seven of the opposing slate.
Unfortunately, these elections have been marred by accusations of bullying and dirty tricks, almost all emanating from one source. A group of candidates, all of whom were under the ‘Standing Up for the City/ward name’ branding stood in various wards across the City.
As it happens I knew a number of the ‘Standing Up’ candidates, some are even good friends and a number would have made excellent members of the City Corporation. It is unfortunate though that some of the tactics used by them – or more often on their behalf by their supporters – became massively counterproductive to the extent that they lost, in many cases by significant margins.
The idea of using a common brand and common policies across a number of wards is of course a regular occurrence in many local authority elections, especially from the world of party politics from which most of the ‘Standing Up’ crowd were derived. But in the City it is an alien concept and one not appreciated by electors who are happy with our non-partisan way of doing things. Similarly, bombarding voters with literature and often with emails again was too much and clearly turned people off.
But there was a much darker side to this election. One where the leaders of the ‘Standing Up’ group were frequently being mentioned as having threatened or intimidated other candidates or potential candidates. Sometimes they were trying to get them to stand with them, sometimes they were trying to stop them from standing at all. Sometimes they were trying to muscle in on existing teams of councillors with threats that they would put a full slate up against them unless they put a couple of ‘Standers’ on their team.
The nearer to the election, the worse it got. In one ward a private email from a senior councillor was taken out of context, re-printed as a letter with his signature forged and sent to all electors in an attempt to discredit a candidate. In another, a candidate’s personal website was hacked to point it towards an unfavourable story about him in the press.
The question that has been in many people’s minds was what did they hope to achieve by all this and why they were standing in the first place. The truth is I don’t know either, but I am certain that it came as a result of an arrogant belief that they were infallible and that could dominate City politics through a mixture of bullying and wily campaign techniques.
They were wrong. They failed. Thank goodness.