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Baptist church hustings breached Electoral Commission and churches’ guidelines

    An electoral hustings which excluded the Respect candidate breached both Electoral Commission and Churches Together guidelines and may result in the candidates who were allowed to appear having to bear the cost of the meeting. A complaint is also being made to both governing bodies.

    Rob Hoveman, the Respect candidate for Thornton and Allerton, was denied a place on the platform at the Sandy Lane church hustings on Wednesday (April 22) minutes before it was due to take place, having been assured earlier that day that he would be allowed to take part. Indeed his (misspelled) name was on a card on the table in front of the seat he was meant to occupy. The decision to bar him – and earlier to confirm his presence – came from the church minister Dr Keith Jones.

    “I arrived shortly before the meeting was about to start,” said Hoveman “and was told that a candidate, or candidates, had objected to me appearing. I had emailed the organiser, Dr Jones, in the morning, asking if I could replace George Galloway, and got an email back confirming that I could. Dr Jones then claimed that allowing me to take part would breach guidelines from the Council of Churches, which doesn’t seem to exist. Guidelines form Churches Together do exist and they are based on Electoral Commission guidelines, neither of which bar a party representative from taking part. I asked Dr Jones to show me any justification for his claim that the rules did not allow me to speak and of course he couldn’t.”

    Jones said that he intended to “empty chair” George Galloway and proceeded to do so, producing a name tag for the Respect parliamentary candidate and placing an empty chair at the table to illustrate his absence. Hoveman described Jones’s actions as “theatrical and deeply prejudicial”.

    He added: “This is a clear case of bias and I have now told the ‘meddlesome priest’ that I am referring this to both the Electoral Commission and the general secretary of Churches Together. And I have also informed Dr Jones that because he has put on what is a selective hustings the candidates who did take part will have to include the costs in their election expenses.”

    The exclusion from the debate mirrors one in David Cameron’s Witney constituency, again under the aegis of Churches Together, where Dr Clive Peedell of the National Health Action party, as well as another candidate and a photographer, were refused a platform.

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