Tory Councillors caught up in row over using vulnerable adults to deliver local election material4 min read

  • Service users at local charity deliver election flyers for Tory councillor in run up to tomorrow’s vote
  • Though perhaps within official election rules, this story raises wider ethical and social questions
  • Local Council allegedly pay for general leaflet delivery scheme and demanded part-repayment when alerted
  • Another Tory Councillor posted angry, error-ridden response accusing blog owner of various legal and moral breaches

Election leaflets promoting a Tory Councillor in Walsall, West Midlands were delivered by vulnerable adults, indx media can confirm.

Local blog Pheasey Views uploaded a video this week, appearing to show a group delivering Tory election material to the homes of local residents, wrapped inside events flyers for a nearby community centre.

The blogger wrote: “You can clearly see a group of people being led by the woman in the mauve hoodie delivering leaflets. These people are ones with learning difficulties, a couple of people with Downs for example. So I went downstairs and tucked inside of a Collingwood Centre leaflet I saw the Tory one.”

chris-towe-community-centre.png
The election leaflets were delivered inside a flyer for the local community centre.

Mr. Towe and fellow Conservative Councillor Adrian Andrew are both trustees of the charity. They also hold their monthly Councillor meetings there, according to its website. But while there’s nothing wrong with Councillors being charity trustees – in fact, it’s quite normal and beneficial in most cases – here, there seems to be a fundamental conflict of interest.

The most pressing issue is an ethical one. Vulnerable adults should not be delivering political leaflets in general, never mind for candidates linked to the very charities they are service users of.

Fellow Tory Councillor Mike Bird posted a response to the blog yesterday. Littered with hyperbole and borderline intimidation, it frankly reads more than a late night Facebook rant than the statement of someone who holds public office.

He does make a valid point over the morality of putting this issue in the public sphere, which we address toward the end of this article. But perhaps he should also ask the same question of his colleague: were the potential knock-on effects – in an age of social media and days before an election – of having vulnerable adults deliver party leaflets really considered by whoever gave the orders?

It seems doubtful. And ethically, the whole thing stinks – perhaps this is why the blog post was then subject of such a spurious response from Mr. Bird.

Was the taxpayer also involved?

So just to recap, there’s a video appearing to show a group of vulnerable adults acting on behalf of a community centre to deliver leaflets for Tory councillor Chris Towe, who is a one of the centre’s trustees.

But it might just go from bad to worse for the local councillors. There’s also a row over whether the taxpayer paid for the election leaflets to be delivered. The blog post asserts that upon finding out about Tory leaflets being delivered, the local council – who allegedly pay the charity £4,000 to run the leaflet delivery programme for vulnerable adults – demanded £1,500 of it back. Local Conservatives fiercely deny this, however.

What is beyond doubt is that leaflets for the community centre were election leaflets for the local Tory candidate. The blogger and several other local residents have confirmed this.

indx media contacted the blog’s manager, who also alleges that this is not the first time this has happened – but the first time he had caught a recording.

Are we trying to score political points?

There’s a very fine ethical line when it comes to reporting this story, because it fundamentally involves vulnerable adults, who are completely innocent victims of the situation.

So why report it? Well, it’s certainly not to score political points – I’m not even voting tomorrow. And if it was Labour or any other left-leaning party, I’d be even more appalled.

Ultimately this is an ethical issue that deep down most of us know shouldn’t be ignored – and it has particular relevance because it adds to the notion that the Tory party has deep moral fault lines, incompatible with 2018 Britain.

I wouldn’t even advise watching the video. It would be deeply wrong to bring the vulnerable people into this anymore than they have been already; and the comments on the blog post from both sides confirm they delivered the Tory party leaflets that Friday.

A programme helping vulnerable people build skills and esteem by delivering leaflets is laudable. Having these people deliver political material – of any party or candidate – while actively engaging with the programme is morally abhorrent, however. There’s no way around it.

Latest controversy adds to Tories’ woes on eve of vote

The Tories are undoubtedly on the backfoot though. Amber Rudd resigned this week over the Windrush scandal – yet it refuses to go away. Sajid Javid made his first impression as Home Secretary by busting out some cringey and (slightly creepy) body-language-power-moves.

On a local level there are also major problems. In April alone, 18 Tory Councillors were suspended for accusations of assault, Islamophobia, sexism, ableism, homophobia and Anti-Semitism and more.

They are predicted to get a hammering in London tomorrow – and perhaps obscene election tactics and truly dodgy candidates won’t help elsewhere.