I had planned to focus on the UK general election, but it’ll have to wait as I feel that an update is merited to the ongoing case of the anonymous leaflets distributed in Gwynedd prior to the council elections earlier this month.
A PICTURE EMERGES
I first dealt with this glossy, 4-page leaflet in Dirty, Dirty Politics, but at the time I was only able to provide you with copies e-mailed to me and almost certainly taken with a phone. I have since received a copy of the leaflet and I’m now able to provide a scanned version. (Click on the image to enlarge.) I also provided an update in Elections 2017 (scroll down).
Perhaps the main reason I’m returning to this subject is because information I’ve subsequently received makes it clear that these leaflets were distributed far more widely than I had originally thought, and may even constitute something of a campaign. Let me remind you how it began.
I was sent copies of the leaflet on Friday, April 28th, with a message saying that they had been handed out in Trawsfynydd by a guy driving a Mercedes. I was able to establish that the car in fact belonged to Councillor Louise Hughes, who represents the Llangelynin ward on Gwynedd County Council as an Independent. Louise Hughes told me when I phoned her the next day that she had stopped in Trawsfynydd on her way to Garndolbenmaen to canvass for the Lib Dem candidate in Dolbenmaen ward, Steven Churchman.
Then someone else got in touch to say that the leaflets had also been seen in Dolgellau, and a few individuals were named as likely distributors. Later, I heard they’d turned up in Blaenau Ffestiniog. More recently, I have been told of these leaflets turning up on Llŷn, and there seems to be a pattern emerging.
We shall look at the wider consequences, and the possible scale of this activity, later.
SO WHAT HAVE YOU DONE ABOUT IT, JAC?
I have sent a letter to North Wales Police, and accompanying the letter was a copy of the offending leaflet together with a copy of the Electoral Commission’s factsheet, the clear and concise Election Material and Imprints – Great Britain. I reproduce the relevant passages of the leaflet below.
The page reproduced above makes it clear that Hughes and her gang constitute a non-party campaign organisation, which makes the leaflet election material – in that it seeks to influence people against a particular party – and as such it should carry an imprint, which it clearly doesn’t. (Believe me, ‘Printy McPrintface’ will not be accepted as an imprint by the Electoral Commission.)
On Thursday I received another e-mail from the Electoral Commission which said, “It appears that the material you have provided does not contain an appropriate imprint. However, as it is not clear from the material you have provided who has actually produced and distributed the leaflet, the Commission needs to consider the likelihood of being able to establish the source of the material in deciding how to progress this matter. Therefore, if you have any information as to who may have produced and distributed the material, (including the locality and volume of distribution), please could you provide this.”
I responded with the information requested and also quoted from my letter to the North Wales Police:
“There can be no doubt that Councillor Louise Hughes was distributing unlawful election material in the period preceding the council elections earlier this month. How many others were involved in the distribution remains to be established, but I’m sure Councillor Hughes can give you their names.”
“As for who printed and published these leaflets, I’m sure Councillor Hughes can also tell you that. What seems clear to me is that the leaflets have been professionally produced, which suggests that they are the work of someone with access to commercial printing materials and equipment, or may even have been produced by a commercial printer.”
I now believe that we are moving in the right direction, though I still worry that North Wales Police might look for excuses not to get involved. They might try to interpret it as a political squabble, ‘Six of one . . . ‘. It’s not. The law has been broken. The law in question being the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
WIDER STILL AND WIDER . . .
When my attention was first drawn to this leaflet I assumed it was the work of a few anti-Welsh bigots – camouflaging their swivel-eyed hostility to ‘all that Welsh nonsense’ with attacks on Plaid Cymru – just the usual suspects letting off steam before council elections.
Hughes and her “scruffy” companion were – as she told me – handing the leaflets out in the cafe in Trawsfynydd simply because they’d stopped there en route to Garndolbenmaen. Some leaflets had even been left with the saintly Churchman, who claimed to have destroyed them, but also admitted, “I quite like Louise Hughes”.
We now know that the leaflets were distributed from Dolgellau to Pwllheli. I’ve had no reports as yet from the north of the county, Bangor, Caernarfon, and other places, but if you’re targeting Plaid Cymru’s control of the county council it makes sense to cover the more populous parts of county.
Before leaving Garndolbenmaen, it’s worth mentioning that another source insists Hughes’ scruffy companion was seen on polling day, hanging around the polling station in Pentrefelin, which is on the A497 from Porthmadog to Pwllheli but in the Dolbenmaen ward. He is said to have been handing out copies of the leaflet, which if true, is almost certainly illegal. I’m awaiting further information.
The feedback I’ve had says that the leaflets were available in a number of “retail outlets” in Pwllheli. Which may be significant, for the town produced an interesting result on May 4th when the sitting Plaid Cymru councillor for Pwllheli North, Michael Sol Owen, lost to Independent candidate, Dylan Bullard, on roughly the same turnout as in 2012. If less than fifty people had voted differently then Owen would have been re-elected.
Now Dylan Bullard may be a splendid fellow, who has never heard of Louise Hughes and her gang. But whoever distributed those leaflets in Pwllheli did so with the intention of damaging Plaid Cymru, and if they succeeded then Bullard is the beneficiary whether he acknowledges it or not.
Some reading this are now shouting, ‘But this is all supposition, Jac’. Is it? What we know for certain is that the leaflets exist, they were widely distributed prior to the council elections, and they were intended to damage Plaid Cymru’s election chances. The only imponderable is the degree to which the leaflets succeeded.
UPDATE 21.05.2017: Councillor Dylan Bullard has been in touch to say, “At no time prior to or during the local elections were these pamphlets available in any of the ‘retail outlets’ I frequent in Pwllheli, indeed a quick survey of certain towns people would suggest your feedback to be overwhelming wrong.” A sweeping statement.
He may be right, he may be wrong. But if he’s right, then I find it strange that leaflets should have been available at Bargain Booze and the shop-filling station (maybe other places) in Criccieth yet those responsible did not travel a few miles to Pwllheli where there was such a finely-balanced contest taking place.
When pressed to offer an opinion on the leaflet’s contents, Councillor Bullard said: “I have briefly read the pamphlet and can assure you that I do not agree with what is written and neither would any decent inhabitant of Pwllheli.”
UPDATE 26,05.2017: Here’s an interesting screen capture from the webcast of Gwynedd council’s full meeting on May 18. It shows of course Louise Hughes, distributor of leaflets; then, on the right of the picture, we see Steven Churchman, Lib Dem councillor and recipient of leaflets; on the far left (of the picture, never the political spectrum) we see Mike Stevens, printer of Tywyn; but who is that sitting between Stevens and Hughes, surely not Dylan Bullard?
Oh, yes, out of picture, but sitting next to Churchman, was Siôn Jones, the Labour councillor. What more do you need to know?
What might earlier have been dismissed as a few odious malcontents spreading their bigotry is no longer a valid interpretation of what happened in Gwynedd prior to the council elections. For we now know that it was more organised and widespread than that.
Not only did the recent activity cover a considerable geographical area, but the leaflet proudly announces, “this is the 6th edition of Tales With A Twist”. So were the other five produced prior to earlier elections? Will one appear before the June 8 UK general election?
The fact that six of these leaflets have been produced and distributed makes it look like an ongoing conspiracy to influence the democratic process by an organised but secretive and law-breaking group. Therefore those involved must be exposed and punished.
In addition, there are features of this latest leaflet that are just crude racism: the suggestion that Welsh verbs are formed by adding ‘io’ to English words; the allegation that children are punished for speaking English in Gwynedd schools; and the reference to ‘English Not’ signs being made by ‘Waldio Priciau’.
This of course is the insulting reaction we hear from a certain English mindset whenever it’s confronted with another culture or identity. This mindset also believes that the natives are always corrupt . . . and so it is with those behind issue 6 of Tales With a Twist, which accuses Plaid Cymru of electoral fraud.
Those responsible for this leaflet must feel there is an audience for their views, so let them give that audience a chance to express its contempt for all things Welsh through a new party, a kind of UKIP specific to Wales, a party for which there is only one permitted language and only one acceptable identity. A party committed to turning Wales into a greener and pleasanter England . . . without the immigrants.
But before they have that opportunity I hope that North Wales Police and the Electoral Commission do their jobs. Both have enough evidence now to begin proceedings against those responsible for the leaflet and the violations of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
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