Connect with us

News

SPECIAL REPORT: Fenland Council orders MP Steve Barclay’s videos to be removed from Whittlesey Town Council Facebook page

‘I have also requested that any reference to Whittlesey Town Council is removed’

Avatar photo

Published

on

MP Steve Barclay and police and crime commissioner Darryl Preston found themselves at the centre of a political storm this week after videos of both were published on a Facebook page in breach of election laws. 

The videos popped up on a Whittlesey Town Council Facebook group after Mr Barclay visited Whittlesey last Friday to promote the election prospects for Mr Preston, the Conservative candidate seeking a second term, and for a local Conservative candidate standing in a town council by election.

However, promotion of candidates of any party during an election is governed by strict laws, known as purdah. And we are in that period.

Advertisements
Pictures

Amongst guidance given to candidates and political groups is not to “retweet or share political opinion or content posted by political parties or politicians.

“Do not tweet, post images, or share updates on matters which are politically controversial”.

A snapshot of social media comment and coverage of the official/unofficial Facebook group for Whittlesey Town Council. Videos made by MP Steve Barclay breached election rules and were removed

A snapshot of social media comment and coverage of the official/unofficial Facebook group for Whittlesey Town Council. Videos made by MP Steve Barclay breached election rules and were removed

After a 4-day investigation, Fenland District Council elections teams has admitted publication of the interviews to the Whittlesey Town Council Facebook group breached purdah.

In the interviews Mr Barclay, the Conservative MP for NE Cambs, is shown interviewing Mr Preston about his policies and plans, and inviting the local town council election candidate to air his views.

Now, after a complaint by CambsNews, Anna Goodall, assistant director of Fenland District Council, has ordered the videos to be removed together with the Facebook page “in order to prevent any members of the public being inadvertently misled”.

Ms Goodall’s letter explains that she is responsible for the elections teams at Fenland District Council.

“You may be aware that the Notice of Election for the Police and Crime Commissioner Election in addition to the Notices of Election for St Andrews Ward of Whittlesey Town Council and Whittlesey North West Ward of Whittlesey Town Council were published on 26 March 2024, which initiates the Pre-Election period, formerly referred to as Purdah, and as such this requires that publicity restrictions are put in place,” she wrote.

“You may also be aware that the pre-election restrictions are governed by Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986, as amended in 1988.

“Essentially councils should ‘not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party’.

“As a result, elections colleagues have been in contact with the administrators of the relevant Facebook Page to remind them of the pre-election period publicity restrictions.

She continued: “It is imperative that public confidence in the election process and associated result is protected and therefore we have insisted that all videos promoting political parties and their respective candidates are removed with immediate effect from a social media page which carries reference to Whittlesey Town Council within its title.

“Naturally should the North East Cambridgeshire Conservative Association wish to publicise these videos on their respective social media pages then they are at liberty to do so.

“We have now received confirmation that the videos have been removed.

“The administrators of the social media page have also confirmed that the page is not officially linked to Whittlesey Town Council, and they have assured us that no public money has been spent on the promotion of political candidates as the administrators role is entirely voluntary.

“However, we have highlighted that public perception is that the page was and still is affiliated with the Town Council, not least because the page continues to reference Whittlesey Town Council in its title.

“As such I have also requested that any reference to Whittlesey Town Council is removed from the title of this social media page in order to prevent any members of the public being inadvertently misled.

She added: “Once again many thanks for bringing this matter to our attention and please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further queries.”

However as of lunchtime today, the Facebook group has not been removed.

It’s previous administrators were shown as Cllr Haq Nawaz, Cllr Elizabeth Sennitt Clough, Cllr Saeed Arman, Cllr Jason Mockett and Cllr Diana Lin Dickinson – all Conservative members of Whittlesey Town Council.

Over the weekend the Whittlesey Town Council Facebook page changed to ‘private’ following issues raised over the video posts.

And it suddenly became ‘promoted by Sam Hoy on behalf of Conservative Councillors from Whittlesey Town Council’, in an attempt to hide the Facebook page behind the NE Cambs Conservative Association where Cllr Hoy is agent. As such it could be regarded as lawful election material.

Advertisements
canopyuk.com in-article

Describing itself as ‘the unofficial page’ of Whittlesey Town Council it added that ‘the posts and comments expressed by the admin are not that of the council but their own personal views and opinions. Promoted by Sam Hoy on behalf of Conservative councillors for WTC all@MJSHOUSE, Wisbech Road, PE15 OBA March**’

But despite the promise to Fenland District Council, the site remains ‘operational’ today with another change.

This time it notes that ‘Cllr Jason Mockett changed the name of the group ‘Whittlesey Town Council’ to ‘Whittlesey Town Council (Unofficial)’.

Fenland District Council has been contacted for comment.

The row has sparked a row with the Conservative controlled town council from independent members of the council.

Cllr Barry Wainwright said: “I was the only independent councillor to use the page – and I’ve now been blocked!

“This is very much like us agreeing that the cat needs to wear a bell – all very true, but will the cat agree?”

He added: “My point of view is that if the Whittlesey Town Council name remains, it has to be a *council* page, administered by the clerk. This will necessarily mean that she will only administer the page in working hours and the responsiveness will be much slower.”

He believes that if councillors wish to remain as admins they will need across the board support, but he questioned if they “are going to have to relinquish control – that is an anathema to the current cabal”.

Another independent councillor, Roy Gerstner, said he spoke for some time on Tuesday to Fenland District Council chief executive Paul Medd.

He told Mr Medd that those who had complained, and had now received responses from the council, “are feeling let down and somewhat disappointed that no further action had been action and felt fobbed off”.

Cllr Gerstner added: “The incident was/is yet again a travesty on the fairness of local democracy.”

Cllr Eamonn Darling, another independent member of the town council, is planning to raise the issue at a town council meeting next week.

He would like the town council to have its own Facebook page but questions who should oversee and run it.

Not everyone, he says, “has got the time to devote to social media, throughout a full week time after time”.

On Sunday, an ‘anonymous’ member of the Tory controlled Whittlesey Town Council Facebook launched a smear campaign against Alan Bessant, Cllr Wainwright, and me after criticism of the Barclay and Preston videos surfaced.

“This election situation is very concerning and not for the reasons John Elworthy, Alan Bessant, and Barry Wainwright etc claim.

“None of the other candidates in the past 12 months have received all this negativity, created by Alan Bessant and John Elworthy.

“So why Gurdinder? Think about it and open your eyes to what is going on”.

The post- hastily deleted – is now subject to code of conduct complaints against the councillors who administered the site.

Meanwhile Cllr Mockett continues to stand firm in the belief that the Whittlesey Town Council (Unofficial) Facebook page has done nothing wrong.

A post today from Robert Boddington, a former winner of the Whittlesey Citizen of the Year award, queried if the change of name was to enable the group to dispense with purdah rules.

Cllr Mockett replied: “No. As very few people read the group described we thought we would make it clearer.

“The last two posts regarding the elections were posted on here instead of Whittlesey Conservatives Group. A simple mistake in all honesty”.

The videos were posted simultaneously to both groups.

 

Facebook

Read More

Tímea Kovács, a photographer working on a documentary photo project with Camp Beagle took these photos of Louise Ryan and her wheelchair protest. Tímea Kovács, a photographer working on a documentary photo project with Camp Beagle took these photos of Louise Ryan and her wheelchair protest.
News14 hours ago

Gleeful look in her eyes as wheelchair activist spray paints sign outside Cambridgeshire ‘puppy factory’

American owned MBR Acres runs Britain’s largest puppy factory at Wyton, Cambs

‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris ‘No more gambling shops - it is time to stop the rot and take back control of our city centre,’ says Andrew Pakes, Labour candidate for Peterborough at the General Election. Above: Part of our journey through the city spotting betting shops and slot arcades. PHOTO: Terry Harris
News17 hours ago

Peterborough – the undisputed gambling capital of Cambridgeshire

Peterborough has a population of 183,000 with 40 betting shops and arcades

A snapshot of the horror that awaited RSPCA and council officials when they visited the Wardy Hill near Ely home of Jackie Draper A snapshot of the horror that awaited RSPCA and council officials when they visited the Wardy Hill near Ely home of Jackie Draper
News3 days ago

Greedy Cambridgeshire breeder crams 44 dogs into her house of horrors

Cruel breeder's actions 'deliberate, pre-planned, premeditated and motivated by profit'

News3 days ago

OPINION: We can’t afford another five years of the Conservatives doing Peterborough down

'This is our chance to build a better Britain, and a better Peterborough'

Luton councillor Javeria Hussain has been confirmed as Labour’s choice to fight the forthcoming General Election in NE Cambridgeshire. She met the NE Cambs Labour team over the weekend Luton councillor Javeria Hussain has been confirmed as Labour’s choice to fight the forthcoming General Election in NE Cambridgeshire. She met the NE Cambs Labour team over the weekend
News3 days ago

Labour picks Javeria Hussain as candidate for NE Cambridgeshire

She stood as a Labour MEP candidate for the East of England in 2019

Ian Sollom is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire Ian Sollom is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire
News3 days ago

OPINION: The Conservative party are simply unfit to run our NHS

Patients should be able to see their GP when they need to

The new Wisbech Free school will be run by the Brooke Weston Trust, which also runs the Thomas Clarkson Academy (above), and is expected to be fully operational by 2026. The new Wisbech Free school will be run by the Brooke Weston Trust, which also runs the Thomas Clarkson Academy (above), and is expected to be fully operational by 2026.
News3 days ago

Students spared 40 mile round trip commute after agreement reached to fund Wisbech Free school

The new school will be run by the Brooke Weston Trust

Police and Crime Commissioner Darryl Preston with amnesty weapons at Parkside police station Cambridge (left) and Thorpe Wood police station (right) Police and Crime Commissioner Darryl Preston with amnesty weapons at Parkside police station Cambridge (left) and Thorpe Wood police station (right)
News3 days ago

Swords and machetes among 150 weapons surrendered during Cambridgeshire amnesty

Maximum penalty for an adult carrying a knife is four years in prison

News3 days ago

Labour selects Luton councillor for NE Cambridgeshire General Election battle

Cllr Hussain is a director of London Luton Airport Ltd

Jesus Green Lock footbridge (above) has reopened, to the delight of residents and Cambridge Beer festival goers. PHOTO: Camcycle Jesus Green Lock footbridge (above) has reopened, to the delight of residents and Cambridge Beer festival goers. PHOTO: Camcycle
News4 days ago

Council gives green light to walk over water as Jesus Green Lock footbridge re-opens

Baits Bite Lock footbridge, Cambridge, will remain closed