Until last weekend I’d rather enjoyed the campaign here in North Norfolk. I’m not saying that we have made spectacular progress, but the sun has been shining and the atmosphere on the doorstep tolerant and pleasant. Unfortunately that changed temporarily because of an unfortunate incident very close to home.
I regularly attend at our local Village Church and am the Church Treasurer. It is one of group of nine Parishes in a Church Benefice (to use the technical term) looked after by one Rector who has his office and home in a nearby village. On Friday 24th all the Churchwardens received an e-mail from the Benefice Administrator which read: ‘Short notice, but the Rector has issued an invitation to you and anyone in your parish to meet Norman Lamb at the Rectory, this Sunday 26th April, from half past one o’clock. Drinks!’. Norman Lamb is the local LibDem candidate and is defending the Parliamentary seat.
In my capacity as Labour Party Parliamentary Agent I immediately responded requesting equal treatment for all candidates and stressing that, once the election had been declared, Norman Lamb was no longer an MP. It was essential that the Church, locally or nationally did not express a preference for any single candidate or party. I received a quite extraordinary reply that included the statement “There was never any sense of a political gathering in this invitation – Norman is very well liked by many people of all political persuasions …”. Meanwhile the local LibDems had leafleted our area describing the meeting at the Rectory as a chance to ‘Ask Norman Lamb’ and ‘hear more about his priorities for North Norfolk in the coming years’. It was an overtly political event, featuring just one candidate among five, organised by the Church, in the middle of a General Election.
The pattern of campaigning has changed in the Internet age and it is good news that Churches are willing to step in and organise hustings. However it is important that good practice is observed and any hint of partiality avoided.