Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Practical and telling politics

This post may be of interest to those that enjoy the cut and thrust of politics but are unaware of the ins and outs of practical politics by political parties on the ground, but essentially the post is for the benefit of another blogger who has a bee in his bonnet (as usual) about a perceived scandal, albeit incorrect, at his polling station and a complete misunderstanding of the reality of what he's taken issue with.

The "he" in question is Tim Ireland, who, as a general rule doesn't get linked to from this blog, but is having a video highlighted today. You see, back on polling day, Tim made a video which was secret filming of his entry to a polling station where he was asked by a teller for his polling card number and then, in true Tim style, went apoplectic about what he perceives happened.

For those who don't know, what the tellers do is record the number on a bit of paper, give it to someone else who then crosses your name off a canvass sheet which is also a marked electoral register, then, late in the day, someone else runs around like a blue arse fly getting anyone who said they would vote for you to go out and vote if they've not been crossed off the list yet. Consider that explanation "Telling in a Nutshell".

Now, all the parties do this in some form or another if they're actually bothering to fight a seat or think they have a high level support in one polling district or another. Thus, you might sometimes find three tellers outside a polling station, or sometimes maybe just one - this was the case when I once ran for election and Labour bizarrely put tellers out in the ward I was never going to win and they were never going to lose. Meanwhile I ran a committee room in the ward next door which I wasn't standing in but there was a chance of winning.

Anyhow, tellers are not necessarily party activists, they're volunteers who agree to perhaps an hour stint taking down numbers. They may just be voters that support you, or, in some cases, may just be a friend or neighbour who has said "yeah OK I'll help you out", the same can be true in canvassing. I stress this point about friends because I've been canvassing with the Tories where we had declared Lib Dem voters writing the sheets, all because they were friends of a Tory activist on a personal level.

Remember kids, politics itself may be divisive, but friendship and general civility on a personal level tends to overrides such things.

The same stuff is true when it comes to tellers. It's highly likely that the person telling may not even be a member of the party they are telling for, and, in fact, may not really be "into politics" as such. They just had some time free and agreed to write some numbers down on a piece of paper for someone. Likewise, the tellers, if there is more than one party present, will chat to each others when there are no voters about, and, if you refuse to give your voting number to someone because, for example "you fucking hate tory scum" the chances are the Labour teller will give the Tory teller the number anyway after you've buggered off.

Its called being polite and cuts every way because sometimes there are too many people coming out or going in at the same time for one person to catch everyone's number.

So, what does a teller get told before they go off to a polling station? Do they receive a big briefing from upon high? Of course they don't, they get handed a pad of paper and pen and get told something along the lines of. "Stand outside the polling station you can't go in; ask people for their polling number but don't ask them how they voted or how they intend to vote; if they don't give you the number don't worry about it, oh yes, and wear this rosette, although if it makes you feel like a tit you don't legally have too". That's about it because that's pretty much what the Electoral Commission says.

There are some other things a teller is not allowed to do such as have discussion with voters as they enter about party affiliation, or intimidate a voter on their way in or out (unlikely to be honest, people involved in politics at a local level are for the most part personable nice people). They don't have to declare what party they're from (they might not actually be telling for a party, could be independent), although it is good form to wear a rosette or a ribbon but isn't, as I say, a legal requirement. For more on what the Electoral Commission says in detail have a look at Appendix C in this document.

So now that I've said all this, watch this little video that Tim filmed on polling day.

Now you might, had we not just gone through the information before the film, think that Tim had uncovered some tremendous scandal, but the reality of the video is simple. The little old lady is one of those people who said "yeah, I'll write some numbers down for you between 2 and 3". She is then presented by a pretty tall guy who aggressively questions her and then interrupts her whilst she's trying to answer him.

You might, if you pause the video at 23 seconds, notice too that the woman goes to say something beginning with the letter "c" when she says "who am I representing? I'm representing c..." but then Tim starts to get more aggressive by interrupting her and, as one of the comments beneath the video on YouTube says, acts as if he's somehow been personally "violated" by this blue rinse granny.

You'll also notice the rather odd semantic absolutism Tim places on the phrase "we have too". Anyone involved in practical politics will realise that the "we" would have meant "all the tellers", and the "have" refers to what they've been asked to do. For Tim though, this is evidence of some sort of impersonation of legal status rather than a old woman answering a question about what she and others are doing. Had he let her speak and then refused to give her his number, it's unlikely she would have said he had no choice but to give it to her.

Now, you may be wondering at this point why I've written such a long post about this. It's because, having discussed this over Twitter yesterday with Tim I said I would post about it, because I think Tim needs a reality check away from his blatant aggressiveness toward some little old dear who did nothing wrong and nothing illegal.

The fact is, Tim's implication that this woman - and local Tories in general - are posing as polling station staff and/or a member of the Electoral Commission is nonsense, when in fact, what the video actually show is him refusing to let someone speak by repeatedly interrupting with leading question designed to achieve the agenda he set out with. Throughout which of course, he basically treats the woman like a piece of turd on his shoe.

What do we think the word beginning with "c" might have been that Tim didn't let her finish saying?

Personally speaking the video is worth highlighting - and I apologise profusely for the use of vernacular Anglo-Saxon - because it shows what an absolute partial and aggressive cunt Tim can actually be. Not to mention that what Tim says she should be doing in declaring who she is telling for isn't actually correct - but as I say, she didn't really have a chance to answer, but then she's a Tory so she wouldn't, she's scum.

More amusingly, and this will make you wet your pants with laughter no doubt, Tim has been asking Eric Pickles via Twitter to respond to this shocking scandal of a little old lady in some tiny little voting district in SW Surrey. Tim you see, seems to be under the illusion that "tellers" are somehow briefed and organised from the centre. Anyone involved in real local party politics on all sides (rather than the direct action stuff Tim goes for), will know how hilariously naive and dimwitted such an idea is.

The fact is, at a local level, political parties are rarely more than organised chaos with dodgy IT systems they all moan about, and in some cases, dot matrix printers with spooled canvass/voting cards for their "Get Out the Vote" operation. As mass membership of political parties has been in constant decline, getting tellers is a scramble for most parties and where one party may be weak you'd be amazed who pitches in to help out friends. Thus, the idea there is some intensive briefing is risible because the rules that tellers need to know about can pretty much be counted on one hand.

None of this will alter Tim's view of what happened though. His video is "evidence" irrespective of his interrupting, aggressive leading questions and dodgy semantics. Even if he accepted it the goalposts would probably move to calls for intensive teller training for those who offer an hour of their time every four years. It does remain mildly amusing though that Tim's starting assumption that tellers have to declare who they are telling for isn't actually in the Electoral Commission guidance anyway.

Anyhow, I don't know if Tim did give his number to anyone, but I bet if he did, the little old lady he filmed got given it by one of the others, because, in the real world of party politics and elections, tellers are not arseholes to each other, but they may have to deal with arseholes during their stint.

Note: I fully expect Tim to leave a comment now saying that I am distorting what happened, smearing him as aggressive, and basically defending the woman because she's a Tory. We can all be guilty of partisanship, but that doesn't mean that we're always partisan. I would be saying the same thing if the teller was from any party because basically the video isn't evidence of impersonation, it's evidence of an idiot with an agenda reinforcing his already assumed conclusion based on a flawed starting assumption.

UPDATE @ 12:30pm: As predicted, Tim has, on Twitter, accused me of bias and presenting him falsely as aggressive. He also started banging on about Nadine Dorries for some reason; implied that there must be some ulterior motive for this post; and has lied by implying I said he "bullied" the woman. Sadly he's not likely to comment here as he says I am pretending to know the law, and refuses to acknowledge the link to the Electoral Commission documentation on the subject. No surprise, he doesn't like it up 'im, as they say.

Oh yes, just realised that the teller's form was printed long before 2004 as CCHQ ceased being CCO and residing at 32 Smith Square years ago. Clearly times are tough in the local association for up-to-date notepads!

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