I’m pleased to be receiving responses, by email and telephone, to my campaign to be Preston’s next MP. I had had several, mostly supportive and some asking for help with local problems, which help I’m trying to give. But I have also had one, polite, letter of criticism from a voter who thought my campaign team should not have been delivering leaflets on Tuesday, the day after the Manchester terrorist attack. He deserved a full reply, which I take the opportunity of posting here, anonymised:
Thank you for your email. I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but I’m glad you got in touch. I know it can be tricky to write a letter of complaint, and you deserve a proper answer.
There are two leaflets that have been delivered on my behalf this week.
One is an election communication being delivered by Royal Mail. Every house in Preston constituency will have received one by early next week. That delivery is not under my control. Some will have been delivered on Tuesday.
But I think you probably mean the other leaflet, which is my letter to postal voters. That is being delivered by a team of volunteers working on my behalf. Here is what happened.
I am currently away on business, in China. It’s unfortunate that this comes during the election campaign, but I had a professional commitment here which I needed to keep. I arrived here on Tuesday evening (Chinese time, Tuesday morning in England) to hear about the terrorist attack in Manchester. When I checked my email later I learned, via an email from the UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, that campaigning had been suspended for the day.
In the meantime, my volunteers had responded differently to the call for campaigning to be suspended. Even though delivery of the letter to postal voters was urgent, some had decided that they must not deliver any on Tuesday, because they considered that to be “campaigning”. That’s obviously your view, too. Others took a different view, taking “campaigning” to mean something more narrowly defined. On Tuesday I asked my agent to find out, and in the meantime I sent this message to my leafletters by email:
“Thank you for delivering letters to postal voters on my behalf.
As you know our target was to complete this by the end of tomorrow, Wednesday, so that my message to postal voters reaches them before their postal votes packs arrive on Thursday. I know that deliveries to some wards had been completed by yesterday and that good progress has been made elsewhere. Thank you.
And then, overnight, there was this massacre in Manchester. I’m on business overseas as I write and so I don’t have easy access to British news, but I know that the election campaign has been suspended for today, Tuesday, by UKIP and I think by other parties, too. I also understand that there is some uncertainty about what is meant by “campaigning” – whether or not it includes delivering leaflets, or whether it is limited to things like TV appearances, set-piece speeches, etc. Kieran, as my agent, is finding out about that. And, so, some of you tell me that you have stopped delivering; others that you are carrying on.
This email is to let you know that I am happy and will support you in whatever decision you have made. I know you’ll try your best to complete your delivery rounds by the end of tomorrow; please don’t feel bad if you have to finish the job on Thursday.”
The advice given to my leafletters later on Tuesday was as follows:
“In reference to campaigning, please do continue to deliver leaflets. But refrain from any social media campaigning, and please do not door knock. Engage with the public if necessary but don’t wear your rosettes out on the streets.”
I’m still not sure what is the right thing to have done, but that is the advice that was given to my leafletters and I am happy to stand by their individual decisions because I think they were all made in good faith. There certainly should not have been any canvassing and I don’t think there will have been – we were not planning to do any canvassing this week because our priority was to deliver letters to postal voters.
I understand that campaigning has resumed in earnest now, although I also heard that there was a minutes’ silence today.
Once again I’m sorry that you were unhappy with the approach taken by the deliverers in your area. I’m willing to be held responsible for that but I can assure you that my leafletters and I take this business of the Manchester bombing very seriously indeed.
It’s useful to have feedback, and your email has prompted me to put an anonymised version of my reply on my blog, Standing Up (ukippreston.wordpress.com).