New Forest East



By David Hencke, Westminster correspondent

Guardian – 20 September 2005

Members of Labour's national executive committee will today call for the expulsion from the party of the head of one of the country's best known tactical voting websites for his conduct as a parliamentary candidate at the last general election.

Steve Roberts of is accused of breaking party rules when he "threw the election" in New Forest East in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat rightwing Tory MP Julian Lewis and replace him with a Liberal Democrat.

Mr Roberts' organisation provided his Lib Dem rival, [Brian] Dash, with flyposters and leaflets; local Labour party members worked for the Lib Dems at their headquarters; and Mr Roberts pulped all his own election addresses and declined to appear at some hustings or give interviews to local newspapers.

One of the people who nominated him, Jon Francis, who headed New Forest Tactical Voting, provided £465 of posters and election material to the Liberal Democrat campaign.

Mr Roberts also appeared on Channel 4 News and urged voters to support the candidate most likely to defeat Mr Lewis.

"That wouldn't be you?"

he was asked.

"No, it wouldn't,"

he said.

Patrick Davies, who chairs Hampshire Labour party and was parliamentary candidate for Winchester, has written to Labour's regional organiser, Mike Creighton, who was also Mr Roberts' agent, asking for an inquiry.

"Members believe this will damage our prospects in neighbouring constituencies and will eventually threaten our support in Southampton if yet another nearby seat falls to the Lib Dems as a result of Labour collusion,"

he wrote.

"Personally I am appalled that anyone active in the Labour party in this region can fail to appreciate that the Lib Dems are the real enemy who threaten our long-term survival. I ask for a formal inquiry into this scandalous state of affairs."

Mr Roberts yesterday defended his stance and confirmed that Labour members had helped the Lib Dems.

"I am proudly a member of the board of and a director of its trading style, Howards End Ltd. I stand with the overwhelming majority of Labour, Liberal and Green voters in recognising that the return of an unreconstructed Thatcherite Tory government would be the worst catastrophe which could be inflicted on the British people."

He blamed the pulping of his election address on a last-minute decision by his local agent, Phillip Annette, to stand down, which led to his replacement by Mr Creighton. "This rendered the leaflet useless for the campaign" because it contained the former agent's name. But Pete Sopowski, the former constituency chairman, said it would still have been possible to use the election address.

Mr Roberts also accused local Labour members, including Mr Sopowski, of colluding with the Tory, Mr Lewis. Mr Lewis and Mr Sopowski yesterday dismissed this as "preposterous".

Mark Seddon, who along with NEC colleague Pete Willsman plans to demand the expulsion today, said:

"It is difficult to envisage a more stark example of reprehensible practice, which resulted in the Labour vote being deliberately collapsed by the official candidate in order to encourage tactical voting against the Tories.

"In fact, Steve Roberts and his supporters had the opposite effect - helping to increase the Tory majority and destroy the good name of the Labour party locally."