Beth Forrester (Unlock Democracy): On Saturday 5th July 2008, a team of four from Unlock Democracy, travelled to Cottingham in East Yorkshire. We were to have a stall at Cottingham Day, an annual fun day in this historic Yorkshire village, to educate people about civil liberties, encourage people to value their rights and discuss the issue of extending pre-charge detention to 42 days (although our activities were of course prompted by the decision by David Davis to resign and initiate this by-election, Unlock Democracy does not support any candidate).
The day did not go entirely to plan but then the best experiences rarely do. All our activities in this campaign, including our wraparound adverts for both the East Riding Advertiser and the West Hull Advertiser, were funded by individuals who had donated money specifically. We were also helped by useful advice provided by a number of helpful local contacts including Alan Williams who had told us about the fayre. With Alan’s help, four Liberal Democrat members, a local councillor and the local MEP Diana Wallis all came down to support us. This was great turnout and we were grateful for the support.
On arriving in Cottingham we found that this support was unfortunately not universal and were told, despite repeated phone and email contact the previous week to the contrary, that we did not have a stall booked. Eventually, we were placed next to the police safety bus, which provided a good balance in the discussion about civil liberties versus the need to be protected from crime.
Our other challenge was the weather: the continual heavy rain and strong winds threatened to blow away not only our stall, but also the whole fayre at times. We were well prepared for this, with waterproofs, plastic sheeting and umbrellas, allowing us to keep campaigning and even provide some shelter to rain and wind beaten fayre-goers. To further improve our activity we distributed flyers and sweets amongst the public and engage them in discussion whilst visiting other areas of the fayre. This was an effective strategy, with people explaining why they were or were not voting and how they felt about civil liberties.
The members of the public who approached us and engaged were very positive and interested in what we were doing, particularly as a non-aligned organisation, as were the two by-election candidates we met, Thomas Faithful Darwood, an independent and Chris Talbot from the Socialist Equality Party. We were able to have a lively discussion with both about their stance on civil liberties and wider policies they were campaigning on. Disappointingly, none of the other candidates appeared present, which was understandable considering the weather but limited our opportunities to quiz them on their civil liberties agenda and raise public awareness. The discussions we did have, especially with Tom Darwood, were very lively and interesting, with both sides, I hope, learning something new about each other’s activities and opinions.
The continually bad weather and consequently poor turnout lead to us finishing early, all soaked through but positive that our attendance - as the only non-aligned organisation present - had definitely been worthwhile in raising the profile of both civil liberties and Unlock Democracy.
I hope our presence on the day may encourage some people to continue to find out more about the issues we were promoting. If the knowledge and active interest in the issue, is an indication of the public interest in this week’s by-election however, the turnout should be expected to be exceptionally low and David Davis will probably regain his seat, sadly not through a public protest at a draconian act of parliament but through a general apathy towards politics, at every level. I hope our activity on Saturday will go some way to increasing this result but will have to wait until Thursday's polling to find out.
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