Long Lib Dem history of dirty election tactics

The activities of the Lib Dems in Norwich North are far from the only example of dirty tactics being employed by the party during a by-election battle.

Lib Dems have a long history in particular of launching personal smear campaigns against rival candidates, rather than focussing on their own policies and ideas.

The 2006 Bromley & Chislehurst by-election was a classic case not just of underhand tactics but also of dirty politics.

The Lib Dem bid to win the seat started rather shamefully when the party's then leader, Menzies Campbell, had to intervene to "put a stop" to local activists campaigning before the funeral of the former local Conservative MP - Eric Forth - had taken place.

Once the by-election campaign was underway, the party's tactics didn't get much better when a series of leaflets issued by the Lib Dems appeared designed to mimic Labour and Conservative party literature, a general interest magazine and not one but two styles of local newspaper.

But it was the so-called 'Bromley Mail' Lib Dem leaflet (pictured above) that set the scene for one of the Lib Dem candidate's key themes of the by-election - a front page splash not setting out his main policies, but a highly personal attack on this chief rival.

Castigated with the nickname "three jobs Bob", Conservative candidate - now MP - Bob Neill was criticised for being a member of the Greater London Assembly (GLA), sitting on a health authority board and working as a barrister.

But beyond the dramatic headline, repeated by the Lib Dems in leaflet after leaflet, the essence of the attack was misleading as none of the jobs were full-time and Neill's work with the health authority was shortly to end as the authority would soon be abolished.

Criticising Neill for being a barrister was particularly short-sighted, as another Conservative MP, Ed Vaizey, pointed out at the time in a Guardian article headlined "unedifying attacks".

Neill would hardly be the only barrister in Parliament, among not least one MP who at the time listed "occasional practice as Queen's Counsel" in his register of member's interests - then Lib Dem leader, Menzies Campbell.

The 'Bromley Mail' Lib Dem leaflet further misleads by quoting comments made on a website purportedly "used by Conservative members to exchange views", clearly seeking to portray that the party's own activists were upset with the choice of Bob Neill as their candidate.

Neglecting to point out that anyone can post comments on the ConservativeHome site - not just Conservative "members" but also, potentially, supporters of other parties.

Making over-hyped personal attacks on rival candidates, leaving out critical information that diminishes claims being made and publishing campaign material that appears to be designed to imitate independent or another party's literature are the sort of tactics it's time the Lib Dems left behind.

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