'DIRTY TRICKS CLAIMS AS TEMPERS RISE'

By Chris Yandell

Southern Daily Echo – 6 May 2005

Victorious Tory Dr Julian Lewis launched a scathing attack on his political opponents after retaining New Forest East with a massively increased majority. In a bitter finale to the campaign, Dr Lewis accused Labour and the Liberal Democrats of joining forces in an attempt to prevent a Conservative victory.

He traded insults with the Liberal Democrats as both parties accused each other of dirty tricks. Dr Lewis said:

"There was no Labour campaign - but there was a Labour campaign to elect the Liberal Democrats. Labour Party members rang up other Labour Party members from inside the Liberal Democrat offices and told them to vote Lib Dem.

"Fortunately the people of New Forest East have now sent a message to the manipulators."

Later he said:

"Labour formed an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, who purported to be the real alternative to Tony Blair, to try to turf the Conservative candidate out.

"I'm glad they were given a good kicking by the electorate."

Dr Lewis lashed out at statements made in some of the election leaflets published by the Lib Dems and added:

"Their candidate sold his soul to the Liberal Democrat spin machine." ...

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'LIGHTING THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER?'

By Ian Drury

Southern Daily Echo – 7 May 2005

In the early 1940s, Winston Churchill's Conservative Government amassed Allied troops on the south coast of England as part of his plan to win the Second World War. Hampshire and Dorset were used as training grounds and, eventually, departure points for soldiers taking part in the D-Day landings. The largest military invasion in history eventually led to the liberation of continental Europe from Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Sixty years on, Hampshire is once again significant for the Tory Party. Michael Howard was not looking across the English Channel to the beaches of France. However it is a fair analogy to say that Hampshire could now be the springboard for a Conservative revival. Have we just seen the start of a credible challenge to Labour's decade-long stranglehold on British politics? …

Nationally, the swing was 3.1 percent from Labour to the Tories. However in Hampshire there was a significant swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories.

Perhaps most surprising was Julian Lewis' triumph in New Forest East. In the run-up to polling day Tory activists, disheartened by a shameless "dirty tricks" campaign by Labour and the Lib Dems, admitted privately that they feared he could not hold the seat.

However Dr Lewis saw his majority increase from about 4,000 votes to 6,551. His share of the votes increased by 6.2 percent. The Lib Dem vote flat-lined.

Dr Lewis said the voters were "appalled" by his opponents' tactics. [Labour candidate Stephen] Roberts had appeared on TV to tell people he could not win – and that Labour supporters should vote Lib Dem.

Dr Lewis said:

"Labour thought they could stitch up the vote by tying their support up in a pretty little parcel with a red bow on top and hand it over lock, stock and barrel to the Lib Dems.

"But the straight-talking and decent Labour people in the constituency saw through these rascals' shameful and disgraceful attempt to hijack the election and, luckily, it blew up in their faces." …

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'GOING TO THE POLES ... '

Romsey Advertiser  – May 13, 2005

An Election Day poster war erupted in South West Hampshire last week as the Conservatives accused the Lib­eral Democrats of fly-posting. The worst trouble spots were in and around the Netley Marsh and Calmore area and trouble flared early on Thursday morning when New Forest East Conservative workers noticed a mass of Lib Democrat posters on poles and on stakes by the roadsides.

There were more along the A326 southwards to the Blackfield and Fawley areas and Beverley Thorne, agent to re-elected New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis (Con), said:

"We woke up to orange diamonds all over the poles in Salisbury Road and Ringwood Road and we contacted the Hampshire Highways Department and BT. Both said they would send some­one to look at the situation and BT said we had permission to remove them".

A Hampshire County Council spokesperson said it was illegal to place posters by the roadside.

"It is not a question of politics. The same action would be taken whatever the organisation was. They were deemed a highways hazard in terms of distract­ing people. We sent officers out to remove them".

A spokesman for BT said:

"At the very start of the General Election campaign we wrote to the major par­ties and told them unauthorised attach­ments would not be tolerated. There is also a health and safety issue as our engineers need to have unhindered access to all our poles at all times." ...

* * *

'MPs TIGHTEN GRIP ON LOCAL SEATS'

Lymington Times – 14 May 2005

The Liberal Democrat breakthrough in the New Forest failed to materialise during last week's election night, with the Conservative hold over the parliamentary seats in the dis­trict and neighbouring Christchurch stronger than ever.

The pair of Tory MPs representing the Forest were even more firmly em­bedded after they both increased their majorities by thousands of votes. Victory came even after Dr Julian Lewis's New Forest East win­ning margin of 3,829 in 2001 had ex­posed it as the Lib Dems' top priority in Hampshire and their 20th Tory target seat in the country.

But battling a visit from Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy MP, an ac­tive Lib Dem campaign, and a low profile Labour effort, Dr Lewis suc­ceeded in extending his majority over challenger Brian Dash to 6,551. Significantly, he took more than the combined Lib Dem and Labour vote which – as reported in the A&T last year – had been encouraged by the emergence of the New Forest East Tactical Voting Group to sup­port Mr Dash.

Despite his victory Dr Lewis bit­terly accused his two main oppo­nents of dirty tricks, and told the A&T: "I will never forgive them for this" as he branded Lib Dem and Labour tactics "a declaration of war". He claimed illegitimate fly-posting, "collusion" between his opponents to unseat him, and the failure of La­bour's Stephen Roberts to mount a high profile campaign amounted to "dishonourable" and "atrocious" behaviour from both parties.

"Before the votes were counted, I went into the count fully expecting that I might not be successful,"

he said.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that despite the nature of the campaign that was waged my share of the vote went up by 6% and the Lib Dem's only went up by 1%." …

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'FOREST MP CHALLENGES RIVAL OVER TACTICAL VOTING'

Romsey Advertiser – 20 May 2005

Victorious New Forest East MP Doctor Julian Lewis has challenged his Liberal Democrat opponents to reveal how much they spent on co-operating with the Labour-led Tactical Voting Group during the General Election campaign.

Despite almost doubling his majority, he has taken issue with the Lib Dems over the cost of literature distributed by the group and over a Channel 4 television news broadcast showing telephone lines at Lib Dem offices which were made available to Labour activists.

In a letter to Brenda Smith, agent for Lib Dem candidate Brian Dash, he has also questioned the cost of the large number of Liberal Democrat 'Diamond' posters which appeared on the roadsides of the Totton and Waterside area on election morning.

"I need hardly add that it served both the Liberal Democrats and their Parliamentary candidate Brian Dash quite right that the vot­ers of New Forest East refused to be manipu­lated in this devious way and that most of the reduction in the Labour vote seems to have transferred directly to the Conservatives,"

he said in his letter to Mrs Smith. …

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'RE-ELECTED MP ASKS COST OF LIB DEMS' TACTICAL CAMPAIGN'

Lymington Times – 21 May 2005

Ill feeling between New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and rival Liberal Democrats following election victory continues to simmer with him calling on them to provide a full account of their financial support for the tactical voting campaign. They in turn have accused Dr Lewis of being "a sore winner".

In a letter to Brenda Smith, who acted as agent for Brian Dash, who stood against Dr Lewis, he states that it had been an "unprecedented" campaign, with the Lib Dems also producing literature for the New Forest East Tactical Voting Campaign which he describes as

"an organisation of Labour activists openly urging Labour supporters to vote Liberal Democrat in order to defeat him.

The MP adds that he has a video tape of a Channel 4 News broadcast which he says shows Labour activ­ists using Lib Dem facilities to ring Labour voters urging them to vote for Mr Dash.

As well as demanding to know how much was spent by the Lib Dems on the tactical voting group's campaign, he also wants figures on the cost of fly-posting public highway verges and British Telecom poles. Commenting on the campaign, Dr Lewis declared:

"These blatantly dis­honest and devious tactics should nail forever the myth that the Lib­erals are the 'nice' people in British party politics. Even I was shocked at the cynicism and collusion with the Labour candidate and his support­ers – collusion which also shocked traditional Labour Party activists and supporters here in the Forest. Fortunately it blew up in the Lib­erals' faces when the voters refused to play ball."

* * *

'TACTICAL VOTES ROW CONTINUES'

Lymington Times – 2 July 2005

Liberal Democrats have angrily denied their General Election campaign was given hundreds of pounds worth of favourable leaflets by a company under the directorship of the Labour candidate, after winning Tory MP Julian Lewis accused the two parties of “unethical” collusion.

After investigating their expenses records, Dr Lewis claimed £465 worth of pro Lib Dem pamphlets was given to their New Forest East campaign in April by a national tactical voting company partially run by Labour candidate Stephen Roberts. Tacticalvoter.net is a website run by Howard’s End Ltd – a not-for-profit setup whose registered director is Mr Roberts. It is dedicated to twin aims of keeping the Tories out of power and reforming the electoral system.

The Lib Dem’s expenses form did indeed register the £465 sum as “goods in kind” from “New Forest Tactical Voting”. But their candidate Brian Dash maintained that the group was not linked to the larger UK-wide organisation – a claim echoed by leader of the local tactical effort, Jon Francis, who said he had never heard of it until after the election.

But Dr Lewis said:

“If (Mr Roberts) was campaigning for the Liberal Democrats, he should not have put himself forward as the Labour candidate. They denied Labour supporters a genuine choice”.

He added:

“The Labour candidate was directly responsible for a substantial contribution to the Liberal candidate’s election campaign, as we suspected all along”.

The http://www.tacticalvoter.net website declared:

“In New Forest East… the heroic inactivity of the Labour candidate, Steve Roberts, and the efforts of the local, cross-party tactical voting campaign shifted 4,000 votes across to the Lib Dems, but this was not enough in the face of the local surge by the Tories”.

In the May election Dr Lewis managed to increase his majority over closest challenger Lib Dem Brian Dash from 3,829 to 6,551 (49% of the vote). Mr Roberts came third with 5,492.

Dr Lewis also pointed out a Tacticalvoter.net letter campaigning for tactical voting in favour of Mr Dash had been printed and published by Lib Dem election agent Brenda Smith – with both their names in small print at the bottom. She confirmed to the A&T her party had funded the single-sided note, but neither she nor Mr Dash had any idea Mr Roberts was involved in the organisation.

Despite the Lib Dem denials, Dr Lewis continued his suspicions:

“This does not get them off the hook, even if true”.

He insisted Lib Dem posters had Tacticalvoter.net stickers on them, while Mr Francis had been one of the nominators for Mr Roberts’ candidacy. He concluded:

“Finally, how does the Labour Party explain a £1,200 bill (with no receipt) for printing an election address which never appeared?”

As reported in the A&T last year, a number of Labour members were suspended after they were found to be working for the New Forest Tactical Voting Group encouraging Labour voters to switch their support to Mr Dash to defeat Dr Lewis. Mr Roberts was widely acknowledged to have run a low profile election campaign in May, and he was unavailable for comment this week ...

[NOTE: The claim by the Tacticalvoter.net website that 4,000 votes moved from Labour to the Liberal Democrats is baseless:  whilst Labour's share of the vote was drastically reduced, that of the Liberal Democrats increased by only 0.7%. The UKIP's share of the vote increased by 2.5% whilst Julian's share went up by more than 6%. On the face of it, therefore, much of the Labour vote seems simply to have transferred to the Conservatives.]