Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the Bush at the General Election, has been running what I thought was a very effective local campaign by getting over 50 small businesses in Hammersmith & Shepherd's Bush to sign up to a petition against the proposed rise in National Insurance put forward by Labour. His campaign have been updating the list every couple of days and publishing it here.
Now it seems some of those on his list want to come off it - pronto. Rizwana Ali, who'se family owns the H&F newsagent Rose News is 'outraged' that the Tories have 'duped' her family into appearing on a party political list. They are featured in this photo, outside the same newsagent, urging people to vote for his Labour opponent Andy Slaughter.
She says "the person that came round from the Tories was targeting minority owned businesses and asking them to sign something they didn't understand. They didn't identify themselves as Tory Party staff. They didn't even explain what it was the people were signing. It was all done under false pretences. It makes me wonder how many other small businesses have been duped?"
Another small business on Bailey's list has also asked to come off. Peter Heanen, owner of HG Walter says "no-one spoke to me about it".
The Labour campaign are claiming Bailey has been left with "egg on his face" and that his campaign has been revealed as "full of hot air".
But is all as it seems? Speaking to me last night a spokesman described Labour's claims as "remarkable" and sent over a copy of the letter that was apparently used with every one of the businesses, which you can read and judge for yourself below. They have copies signed by each of the businesses on the list. I'm not sure which part of this letter doesn't look Tory, it all does to me.
Shaun Bailey Business Leaders Letter
Bailey's campaign have also apparently just received identical word for word letters from two other businesses asking to be removed from the list which, unless both businesspeople chose precisely the same words, would suggest the Monty Python like situation of Labour activists following Tories into shops up and down the borough trying to get them to un-agree what they'd just agreed to sign!
I should also say that Rizwana Ali is a Labour candidate in Brent - so unlikely to want any member of her family to be backing a Tory campaign. But the allegations her family make are very specific - that the Tories did not reveal who they were and what they were aksing the businesses to sign. If that's true then it's very serious, which is why I decided it was worth running this story. Ali describes her family as "minority" and that they didn't understand what they were signing. Based on the letter which you can all now see, the implication seems to be that they didn't understand the English because if they did there's surely no way they couldn't have known.
I've been involved in running election campaigns in a former life, and this does remind me of the ridiculous stuff that goes on in elections - if there's an ounce of truth that Bailey's team have been deceiving local businesses then he has some very hard questions to answer - but on the basis of this letter I can't really see where the evidence is. And if there isn't any it won't be Bailey that ends up with egg on his face.
Now, can we debate some serious issues instead? All eyes ahead to this thursday's debate.
UPDATE 1115 TUESDAY - A member of Andy Slaughter's campaign has written in to take issue with my view on this, and suggests Shaun Bailey's team do indeed have hard questions to answer. He says they've been "ruthless" and "rotten" in duping the businesses:
"After we heard from Rizwana, the Labour office called some of the businesses asking them if they knew they were being used for a Tory campaign. The majority didn’t.
One of our volunteers went down to a couple of the business to talk to them, and one of them suggested writing a letter to get their name off the lists. We then took the same letter to a couple of other businesses when we had time and they immediately signed up. If our volunteers weren’t so busy working to explain our policies to Hammersmith residents, we’d have signed a lot more up.
The truth is that NO small business wants to get dragged into politics. This is a politically diverse area, and labelling yourself for one side or another isn’t a good idea. The story isn’t about taxes, it’s about honesty.
First, the letter contains untruths. If you read the letter, it simply says Labour is going to increase NIC by 1%. On his own website he nuances that by stating, accurately, that the plans would be to increase NIC by 1% for anyone earning over £20,000 a year. How many newsagents or other small business on that list pay 20 grand a year to most employees, or any of their employees?
Second, and even more fundamentally, who’s signed these? The owners? The owner of HG Walter, as quoted in the release, hadn’t signed it. Who had? HSS has apparently signed up. HSS is a global multinational. BlackKatz, headquartered in Camden, apparently signed up. Who signed up for them? Ask the owner, because he certainly didn't. Papa John’s Pizza is a global multinational. The manager there was horrified to hear he was on the list and signed a letter to be taken off. Blink Brow Bar is not a small business. It has outlets all over the place. We don't have enough time to go through it, but does it sound to you like the Tory hack they sent around was being fastidious with ensuring the people signing whatever they signed had the authority and realised what they were signing up for. No. No it doesn't.
If these were all companies where the owner had scrutinised a letter at their own leisure and then posted back their support, fair enough. But going into busy small businesses, harassing them, telling half-truths, targeting minority-businesses where English is a second language, that’s just plain rotten. And then using them as propaganda, potentially damaging their sales? That’s ruthless".
UPDATE 1215 - The Fulham Chronicle has now caught up with this story here
UPDATE 1315 - Another Tory candidate, this time in Scotland, seems to have done exactly the same thing and been forced to apologise. Read more here.