Fringe Box



Letter: Campaign Restrictions Are Suffocating Political Activity

Published on: 1 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 1 Apr, 2024

From: Sue Hackman

campaign manager Guildford Labour

GBC and SCC have been quietly removing the civil right to campaign on their highways and land. We have always found council officials to be helpful and efficient, but they are now under instructions which inevitably suffocate political activity in Guildford.

The problem lies higher up. Guildford Labour requested permission from GBC for a stall in the High
Street last weekend, something it does now and again to hand out leaflets and chat to members of the public. It was declined by the council on three grounds:

First, that ‘Purdah’ prevents campaigners from holding political events on council land or Surrey Highways in the run-up to the PCC elections. This is wrong: purdah does not apply to PCC elections, and it doesn’t apply to campaigning either according to The Electoral Commission (which makes
the rules).

Purdah applies mainly to politicians and civil servants to prevent them from taking reckless or destructive decisions which compromise a new administration. At election time, it is fair and expected to argue for and against different parties.

Political activity is being curbed at the one time when people expect and need to hear about policies.

Second, the council now considers single stalls a ‘trip hazard’. This trip hazard does not apply to markets, apparently, and the council has not shared the number of stall-trips in the last decade (we have asked).

In fact, we always provide a health and safety assessment and Public Indemnity Insurance for our stalls, and no one has ever tripped over them. I am advised by the council that our stall would not be a trip hazard on Saturdays if we paid £150 to use the Rotunda.

Third, the use of the High Street is being ‘reviewed’ with Surrey Highways who are, say GBC, the source of the new restrictions. We do note, however, that political demonstrations by others have gone ahead.  It’s all very strange.

There is little land to campaign on if you take away GBC council-owned land and Surrey highways. We think the restrictions are obstructive in a healthy democracy. Over-reach or error? Probably the former, but it needs fixing.


Share This Post

Responses to Letter: Campaign Restrictions Are Suffocating Political Activity

  1. H Trevor Jones Reply

    April 1, 2024 at 3:57 pm

    The Guildford Chess Club has held an annual stall outside Holy Trinity Church, typically a couple of tables with chairs, giving space for up to four games of chess at once, on a Saturday in early September, for many years, as a recruiting exercise for the club, without any problem that I’ve ever been aware of, and without any special permission, as far as I know. (I think we did have GBC support for our 125th anniversary celebration with three timed sessions of 125 games each against a series of masters and grandmasters.)

    Sue Hackman will know that I occasionally helped with pre EU referendum Remain stalls and leafleting in the High Street in 2016. Unless you have electrical wires I really don’t see the trip hazard.

    So why should’nt her political party have a campaigning stall? But even better, as a non-party person, I’d suggest that all political parties join together to have an all-parties series of stalls so that people going up and down the High Street can quiz the parties and even better their individual candidates about the policies they are standing on.

    Speaking for myself, I like to vote for the person rather than the party anyway. (That would also avoid the problem of an “isolated stall” if that really were a problem.)

  2. Anne Rouse Reply

    April 6, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    Well said Trevor Jones. Interesting that we have never had a problem before and Surrey county councillors say they know nothing about this restriction. I wonder if someone has just made a mistake at Guildford Borough Council and blame is being passed elsewhere.

    Be good to get this cleared up sooner rather than later so everyone knows what is and isn’t allowed.

    I hear there are several gazebos up by Trinity Church today (Saturday, April 6).

    Anne Rouse is the chair of Guildford Labour.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *