Misrepresentations – Today’s Story

The news this morning contained the snippet that 5,000 small businesses had expressed their support for the Conservative Party’s policies in a letter published on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. A little thought emerged – how did they get the names? So I decided to check and was amazed to find that my Sales Director was listed as a signatory. Suddenly the company that I run was being co-opted into the Conservative Party’s election campaign.

A quick call elicited that he had not signed, and that he wouldn’t have signed.

Since I started campaigning on various issues, we’ve maintained a strong distinction between personal politics and a corporate view. Our policy is basically, if it’s not pertinent to us doing business, then we don’t comment on it as a company. Trans Media Watch follows a similar line – if it’s not a media issue and it’s not to do with trans or intersex issues, we don’t comment on it. That’s not to stop me, as an individual, commenting on issues outside those remits, and my roles on the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity and trustee of the LGBT Consortium mean that I can extend my remit with consultation if required, but I always make clear that I do so as an individual.

I used our Twitter account to ask the Telegraph to take my Sales Director’s name off the letter. The first tweet went out just on 9am, an email followed shortly after. Around 10:20 I managed to speak with the Telegraph’s political editor who assured me that, just as soon as my Sales Director contacted him directly, his name would be removed. This was done by 11.

I was asked by a few journalists whether I would comment or be interviewed on broadcast media. My response was that any such comment could be taken as a political statement against the Conservatives, and that it would be pretty much impossible in such an environment to separate my views from the company’s. Because I felt it would be impossible to be interviewed without further breaking the policy, I declined all such requests.

At 1 our Sales Director’s name was still listed. Another phone call to the Telegraph, another assurance. His name was eventually removed from the list at 3pm, long after the initial tweet had gone viral (over 800 retweets and counting), had featured in BBC News coverage and the Guardian (amongst others), and was read out to David Gauke on BBC 2’s Daily Politics programme by Andrew Neill. The statement of our political independence had received much more coverage than one single line in the letter had done.

So, job done.

Well – kind of. I’ve sat on my hands all day. I should make it clear that what follows is, as is everything on this blog, my own personal opinion. It does not represent the views of Aurum Solutions, or of Trans Media Watch, or of the LGBT Consortium, or the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity.

The Telegraph’s headline reads “Boost for David Cameron as 5,000 small firms back Conservatives”. It’s clearly trying to position the businesses referenced as Conservative supporters. As I stated above, the position of Aurum Solutions is clear – it’s politically unaffiliated and will not support any political party, nor state any preference. If the letter had been headlined “5,000 businessmen back Conservatives” that would have been a different matter (apart from the obvious sexism in such a title). But I could not let my company lose its political neutrality when I, as MD, hadn’t signed anything to that effect nor had been contacted to verify whether my company was prepared to lose its political neutrality.

As an individual I’ve come to increasingly detest the Conservative Party’s attitude, even before today’s debacle. If anything this campaign has solidified that attitude. Politics for me is so much more than the economy. I have very little faith that what a government chooses to do or not to do regarding the economy has very much impact on what happens in our multi-national corporatized world. Politics used to be about how we were governed, not how we were managed.

Because of my campaigning, I’ve been invited to Number 10 three times in the last four years, and have met David Cameron there twice. To me he’s simply a showman. I’ve never been sure whether he actually believes the things he says, or whether it’s simply a game he plays in order to gain and then remain in power. The latter view has been reinforced during this election campaign, with one policy after another appearing as though his party is simply trying to buy votes.

In the campaigning I do, I find the Conservatives hardest to reach. That’s not to say that all Tories are bad – they aren’t, and I’ve had good working relationships with a handful of Conservative MPs. But, in terms of civil rights, it always seems more of an uphill struggle with them as a party than the other, left-leaning parties.

Let me say, quite unequivocally, that my personal position is that I do not support Conservative policies in a number of areas. I find their underlying attitude to benefit claimants and immigrants inhumane. I see the underfunding that’s hitting healthcare and the impact that has on the vulnerable in our society. I view the claim that the Conservatives will protect per pupil school funding as absolute hypocrisy, given my local Conservative council is already cutting per pupil funding for all local schools by a considerable amount – and we already have the lowest per pupil funding in the country – preferring instead to invest in another town centre redevelopment scheme. That being the case, it’s obviously nonsensical that the Conservatives should even try to claim my company as supporting them when I, as the MD, clearly do not.

I’ll leave to others the potential issues over the Charities Act and the Data Protection Act that seem to have been unearthed by this letter.

Let me be clear again. The Daily Telegraph have removed the reference to the company I run from the letter they published, so corporately we are satisfied.

I, however, am personally deeply unhappy about the way that my company has become forcibly involved in this election campaign and how our neutral view has been badly misrepresented. Any trust I had in the Conservative Party has been well and truly lost now. That’s my personal view, not the view of Aurum Solutions Ltd.

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