It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I am firmly on the side of Brexit. However, I am also professional and completely endorse the Conservative Party's official neutrality on this issue. Despite my wholehearted support for Vote Leave I have steadfastly refused to do any work for the Leave campaign in the run-up to the local, PCC and London Mayoral elections on Thursday 5 May, and have openly criticised local Conservative activists who have campaigned for (or against) EU membership when we had vitally important elections to win on our doorstep.
I was therefore surprised to receive an email yesterday from a group called South East Conservatives Europe Network (SECEN). Attached to this email was the Group's newsletter, which was five pages of pro-EU propaganda written by the Group's leading lights, with no balancing arguments whatsoever. Hardly surprising given the Group's "Mission Statement" printed at the top of the page, proclaiming
What intrigued me about this organisation is that I had never heard of them nor knowingly given them my email address, particularly as the one used was my private email, not in the public domain. A quick round-robin to friends and colleagues in the South East indicated that most had also received the newsletter despite never knowingly providing their data or requesting to be put on the organisation's mailing list.
A bit of further digging then highlighted that the registered address for the Group's website was listed on whois.com as being the same address as a Buckinghamshire Conservative Association, as indeed was their registration details with the Information Commissioner's Office.
I need to place on the record here that I fully appreciate that many fellow Conservatives feel passionately that the UK's best interests are served by our continued membership of the EU and they are absolutely right to campaign vigorously for those beliefs. Unlike too many hot heads (on both sides of this debate) I do not regard those who feel differently as "unpatriotic" or "traitors" and I actually recoil when I read such comments being made. This issue, however, is one of fairness and trust. And SECEN has questions to answer:
1. How did they obtain my email address and that of so many others, who have never knowingly signed-up to receive such information?
2. Have they permission from CCHQ to use the Conservative Party name and title to disseminate pro-Remain information in this way?
3. Is it right that a Conservative Association office should be used to accommodate this group and facilitate its activities, when the Party and all of its branches and employees are officially neutral in this campaign?
4. Given the need for fairness and balance, will SECEN provide Vote Leave with their database so that those who received SECENs newsletter may also receive a balancing view in this important debate about our country's future?
The Conservative Party was absolutely right to take a neutral stance on this issue, allowing members, staff and elected representatives the opportunity to campaign in accordance with their beliefs. Such impartiality will be vital in restoring not only unity post 23 June, but also in rebuilding the long-term bonds of mutual trust and respect upon which our future success will be built. This approach will only succeed if all those involved accept both the letter and the spirit of that understanding.