LETTER: Labour will not be signing Charter

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In his comment attached to our letter in last week’s West Sussex County Times, your editor said that the Labour Party had been invited to co-operate with a similar profile to that published for the UKIP came candidate.

Whilst we thank the editor for that invitation we would like to point out that it only followed receipt of our published letter.

We are puzzled by the editor’s decisions to also mention in his response to our letter that Labours’ members and candidates had declined to sign the County Times Freedom of Speech Charter.

As he has brought this to your readers’ attention, however, we would like, once again, to take the opportunity to clarify our position on this issue. Hopefully the editorial team will see fit to publish our response in full.

At election time our candidates present a manifesto. This sets out what we, as a group, consider to be our guiding principles and our priorities should we be elected.

We give a clear message to the electorate. If they like that message they will vote for us. If we are then elected, the electorate know where we stand and what to expect. That’s the deal that we make with the electorate and we expect our representatives to stick to it.

Any manifesto will not cover every issue that is likely to arise, or every nuance of every issue Of course, therefore, candidates will listen to the views of the electorate to inform their final decisions.

If the electorate are not satisfied with the elected candidate or believe that the candidate has failed to listen, they can withdraw their support at the next opportunity. That is how democracy works.

Relentless haranguing of elected representatives by the media to attempt to get them to act in a way that the media see fit, should not be a feature of democracy and it would be a very worrying state of affairs if it was.

I am sure that many of your readers would have felt uncomfortable at the County Times haranguing political candidates over the charter.

I certainly did when reading the editorial attacking Helena Croft in the WSCT two weeks ago (‘It’s about friends - not enemies’, WSCT , March 19, 2015).

It seems she was subjected to a personal and vitriolic attack because ‘she has ignored every invitation to sign this newspaper’s Free Speech Charter’.

Let’s be clear about this, this charter is not a United Nations’ instrument, it is not a legal document, it is a media initiative which appears to demonstrate complete naivety as far as the realities of responsible representation are concerned.

On any issue there will be a diverse range of views. No one can possibly take a decision that will enable everyone to feel that they have been put first. It is, therefore, irresponsible to make such a statement.

We accept that there are people who feel that they can be bound by the charter and are happy to sign. Seeing some candidates and councillors rushing to sign when they have no party and, in some instances, no manifesto does strike us as little odd but it is their choice to sign and we respect that as much as I am sure they respect the decision of others no to do so. However, we would also note that it is not always evident that signing the pledge has the intended result.

Perhaps the County Times would like to undertake and publish a survey of how many of those who have signed the pledge have put their electorate first when they made decisions on planning applications such as the one submitted by Horsham Football Club or on cuts to local services.

We would like to make it clear that we fundamentally believe in the freedom of speech as a principle.

We, therefore, hope that you will respect the right of those who do not wish to sign the charter to say so. At the end of the day we believe that actions speak louder than words. We have chosen therefore not to sign your charter.

CAROL HAYTON

Campaign co-ordinator, Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road, Horsham