Over the weekend, 6,000 Conservative-leaning voters in the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency got a bit of a surprise. Through their doors came a letter from Justin Hinchcliffe, the Chairman of the Conservative Association in Tottenham, the neighbouring constituency. But he wasn’t exhorting them to campaign for the Conservative candidate, to donate to the campaign or even to vote Tory.
Far from it – he was, in fact, urging them to vote Lib Dem. The letter, signed by Hinchcliffe, headed with his credentials as Tottenham Tory Chairman, and bearing the Liberal Democrat election imprint in tiny text at the bottom, told Conservatives that they ought to back Lynne Featherstone in order to “stop Labour picking up an extra MP here.”
Worse, it explicitly talked down the Tory candidate, Suhail Rahuja, saying:
“As a national party, Conservatives will always field a candidate here, but no-one expects him to win, least of all the Conservative candidate himself.”
A full transcript of the letter is enclosed below.
This is outrageous, for a number of reasons.
First, Conservatives ought not to campaign for other parties or to discourage voters from backing fellow Conservatives. As Paul Goodman explained recently, even using one’s own vote tactically is counterproductive, though that is each individual’s decision to make. Using an official position within the party to urge others to do so is utterly beyond the pale. The 6,000 recipients of this letter are those judged by the Lib Dems’ strategists to be Tory-leaning swing voters – Hinchcliffe has acted as a cog in our opponents’ campaign machine.
Second, for one Association Chairman to intervene against the campaign of another Association is not only disloyal, it is hugely damaging and unforgivably disrespectful. I understand that not only did he fail to ask permission from the Hornsey and Wood Green Association (it would not have been given had he done so), he did not even give them any warning that this blow was about to fall. Given that they are working hard to build their vote, they are understandably aggrieved.
Third, Hinchcliffe appears to have made this intervention without even securing the agreement of his own candidate in Tottenham, Stefan Mrozinski, who told the Telegraph he doesn’t agree with it. I can only begin to imagine how Mrozinski must feel, knowing that the person who is meant to be a trustworthy ally in his campaign is willing to harm other Tories in a nearby seat.
Fourth, he seems to have given no consideration whatsoever to the impact this could have in other seats where other parties might be seeking to tempt Tory voters away, and hard-working, loyal Conservative activists are putting in long hours fighting back.
Fifth and finally, there is the remarkable hypocrisy involved. For anyone to write such a letter would be wrong. For Hinchcliffe to do so is jaw-dropping – he has in the past called for this site to be closed down, claiming that our constructive criticism of the Conservative Party is disloyal.
We hope that CCHQ will act swiftly and decisively to show that this letter is unacceptable – I’m told that the letter has raised more than a few eyebrows at very senior levels. The Hornsey and Wood Green Association Chairman has filed a formal complaint to the Party Chairman, and we hope Grant Shapps acts on it.
I’m not aware of anyone taking such an extraordinary step before, but there is some precedent of strict handling of lesser offences. Conservative members have been expelled from the party for telling people they would vote UKIP at European elections, for example, and MPs who have mulled the possibility of accepting an endorsement from UKIP – a step far less damaging that endorsing another party themselves – have been left in no doubt that they would face disciplinary action if they did so.
Hinchcliffe’s actions are far more disloyal and far more damaging than any of those examples. Hopefully the Disciplinary Board will treat them as such.
Here is the full text of the letter, which bears a Lib Dem election imprint (all emphases are Hinchcliffe’s, not my own):
“Justin Hinchcliffe – (Conservative Chairman, Tottenham Conservatives)
Why do I, as a leading Haringey Conservative for many years, urge you to vote for Lynne Featherstone at this General Election?
Conservatives in the Hornsey & Wood Green constituency have a tough choice at this general election: do we stick with narrow party loyalties or do what is best for Britain?
As Conservatives, we naturally want our party to remain the largest party in Parliament after Election Day, and to lead whatever government is then formed. But the worst possible outcome is Ed Miliband in Number 10 Downing Street. And the people around him are no better.
To put it bluntly: If Lynne loses in Hornsey & Wood Green, Ed Miliband is another step closer to being Britain’s next Prime Minister. Because in this constituency, if Lynne doesn’t win, Labour will.
As a national party, Conservatives will always field a candidate here, but no-one expects him to win, least of all the Conservative candidate himself. And, I can assure you that you can vote for Lynne with a good conscience for these reasons:
- She didn’t refuse a government post to sit on the sidelines as part of the awkward squad.
- She took on serious and challenging ministerial roles and performed effectively.
- She has been the victim of relentless and vicious attacks from Labour for being part of the Coalition government, but has never given up.
Don’t let a deeply dysfunctional Labour party wreck Britain’s recovery. Vote Lynne Featherstone this time to help keep Labour out of power for another 5 years. If you agree, and you are willing to back Lynne on May 7, then please make your voice heard.
Tottenham Constituency Chairman, council candidate and member of the Conservative Party
P.S. A recent constituency poll shows that it really is neck and neck in Hornsey and Wood Green, between Lynne Featherstone and Labour. Please vote for Lynne, as this will stop Labour picking up an extra MP here.”