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Letter: Strongarm Tories

Sir: The post-mortems on the Kensington and Chelsea by-election have overlooked a particularly sinister, authoritarian aspect of the campaign: the demise of free speech and the curtailment of the right to quiz candidates on their policies.

During the campaign, Mr Portillo was constantly ringed by Tory party minders, in order to prevent me (and anyone else) asking him awkward questions. I was not allowed to politely query how he will vote on the forthcoming Bills to equalise the age of consent and repeal Section 28.

Last Friday, Channel Four News showed me being manhandled by Tory minders. Who authorised these strongarm tactics? Did Mr Portillo and Mr Hague approve their use? Since when have such methods been acceptable in British politics?

Equally disturbing, when Mr Portillo wanted to avoid my questions at Kensington fire station, six police vehicles arrived to stop me getting near him. What offence was I committing that warranted such a heavy police response? How does Sir Paul Condon justify the behaviour of his officers? Did his force act in a partisan way which made them, in effect, agents for the Conservative campaign?

This suppression of dissent is something we normally associate with election campaigns in repressive states such as Indonesia and Serbia, not with democratic Britain. Some people may disagree with what I say, but I hope they would defend my right to say it. Democracy and free elections are imperilled if we fail to challenge these infringements of open debate and the right to question candidates.



London SW14