Ben Locker reports that Lib Dem MP for Colchester Sir Bob Russell seems to think that those with jobs should not be councillors

“Now retired, Councillor Offen is able to devote the time to the role of Councillor which the Tory candidate simply cannot because of his employment situation.”

That’s a letter by Sir Bob Russell MP, urging residents in Colchester’s Shrub End not to vote for dynamic Conservative candidate Darius Laws — because he works for a living.

A third of Colchester’s seats are up for grabs and we’re two seats away from being the council’s largest party — and because the Lib Dems’ shaky hold on power is propped up by a small number of Labour and independent councillors, every ward and vote counts more than ever.

And as anyone who has campaigned against sitting Lib Dems knows, when the going gets tough, the Lib Dems resort to smear campaigns.

But this time every other party in Colchester has said ‘no’. And the Liberals don’t like it.

In a letter to Colchester’s Daily Gazette, an unprecedented 24 signatories from the local Conservative, Labour, UKIP and Green parties — plus the Independent group — have said that Sir Bob’s comments are:

“a slap in the face for employed, self-employed and business-owning candidates of all parties — including many hard working Liberal Democrats”

They finish by asking Russell, who used to combine his role as a councillor with a career as a press officer, to retract his statement immediately.

He won’t, of course. But that hasn’t stopped his party from trying to pull his letter from the public domain.

I attacked the letter in a blog post on my campaign site for Colchester’s Mile End Ward, taking care to publish a scanned copy in its entirety. After all, what’s public in one ward should be public in another, right?

But now our election agent has received a sharply worded email from the agent named on Bob Russell’s letter. The relevant part read:

“…the posting of this leaflet by Mr Locker is a clear infringement of election law as it is (in that case) not being published or promoted by those stated on the leaflet's imprint (i.e. myself and the Lib Dems).”

I decided to replace the scans of the images with blacked out images, with the word ‘CENSORED’ imposed on them.

And since then, the original copies of the letter have ricocheted across Twitter, allowing hundreds more people to see Lib Dem campaigning at its worst.

It’s a local election sideshow, yes, but there are two serious points to it.

1) When parties unite against nasty or duplicitous campaign tactics, there’s a glimmer of hope we can put a stop to them. At last.

2) Please write to Owen Howell, who published and promoted the letter on behalf of Bob Russell and Nigel Offen at Magdalen Hall, Wimpole Road, Colchester CO1 2DE and tell him — on behalf of all candidates who work for a living — Sir Bob’s letter has no place in modern politics.