Saturday, August 09, 2008

No apologies, now let's see how we can blame the Lib Dems...

That sums up a significant proportion (but of course by no means all) of the Conservative responses to the Ian Oakley affair. The latest to enter the scene is Essex Conservative activist Steve Horgan who, in response to a comment of mine, asks: this Liberal Democrats in a marginal seat trying to milk the Conservatives embarrassment?

Readers can see the exchange and make their own minds up. But since Steve's postings are indicative of a strain of Conservative reaction, it requires some sort of response, which is as follows.

Had the official Conservative party locally and nationally promptly expressed regret for Oakley's actions, sympathy with the victims and an intention to investigate what had gone on then there would be no need for us (and a Daily Telegraph columninst) to keep raising the question.

It is very well to make glib statements about the police investigation. When someone is operating in a cloak-and-dagger manner such as this, evidence is hard to come by. It took the police over three years to find enough evidence to arrest Mr Oakley. So, quite understandably, the police investigation has not conclusively answered questions about whether there was any degree of complicity or lack of diligence on the part of Mr Oakley's Conservative colleagues in Watford. One might have thought that for their own peace of mind at least, Conservatives would want answers to those questions too.

Bizarrely, Mr Horgan comments:

the statement that 'They were deliberately designed to subvert the democratic process in the direction of the Conservative party' makes little sense

It is possible, but would be rather strange, to argue that a Conservative candidate who harrasses and vandalises the property of political opponents is doing so purely for personal amusement with no thought of political advantage. It is, however, contradicted by the police's own account of Mr Oakley's statements, namely that: 'He told the police he had "wanted to change the political landscape in Watford" with the ultimate aim of a Conservative election win' and: 'He confessed he had harrassed Ms Brinton with the aim of "victory at the next election".' (Source: Watford Observer, print edition)

Perhaps even though Mr Oakley told the police he was carrying out his crimes for political advantage,Mr Horgan knows Mr Oakley's mind better than he does himself and has concluded that Mr Oakley was mistaken in his explanation of his own crimes. But I don't think so.

As for, 'it is difficult to see how it confers electoral benefit', in fact it is pretty straightforward. The crimes appeared to be aimed at dissuading Lib Dem supporters from displaying posters on main roads in marginal wards and at dissuading people from standing in the Lib Dem interest in local elections. It also made us refrain from asking people to display posters etc. for fear that they too would become victims. And it meant time that should have been taken up campaigning was instead spent visiting and reassuring victims, making statements to the police and generally dealing with the consequences of the hate campaign.

Given that during this time, the Conservatives won local elections in marginal wards with majorities of 2, 3 and 47 over the Liberal Democrats, in campaigns punctuated by Mr Oakley's crimes, it is very clear how they might have conferred electoral benefit.

Until the Conservatives give some kind of official reaction they will deservedly incur the suspicion that they are happy to take the benefits of Mr Oakley's actions while at the same time washing their hands of the whole business.

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