Friday, 9 May 2014


JAMES CAMPBELL reveals his on-line
experiences of Putting Hartlepool First, a group that says it is aiming at a new way of doing politics in Hartlepool. It's good intentions don't appear to be put into practice.

Since around Mid-March I've been occupied mainly with a Hartlepool political group called Putting Hartlepool First (PHF).

I call them a political group because they do seem to be a little confused about what they are themselves despite having been around in some form or other since 2012.

What initially attracted my attention was that they described themselves as a group of independents who're opposed to the way the town is being run but recognise that the way the party political system was used in the town restricted the ability of a true independent from being able to influence change.  They even say that they have no whip to enforce policy or a party line and members are able to vote however their conscience tells them to. I liked this train of thought because one of my core beliefs is that elected representatives acting in the interests of their party often runs contra to the interests of the people they represent.

My first contact with PHF was via their Facebook page and resulted in a series of frustrating debates where posts and questions that challenged the views of PHF were regularly deleted and on some occasions people who had done nothing more than ask a question were blocked from the site too.

The full details of this is here:

My last Facebook interaction with PHF was to post that blog on their page where it was deleted within 8 minutes and I was blocked within 10 minutes.

After that I realised that the audience of my blog was limited to my existing audience and those who they shared it with and I felt the people who were reading the PHF Facebook page were not getting the full picture so I decided to post a link to my blog in the forum pages of the Hartlepool Post.

I'd been reading the Hartlepool Post since August 2013 and had thought it to be a good independent site highlighting relevant issues in Hartlepool that were not necessarily being reported by the Hartlepool Mail.  I also knew that among the forum users were a number of PHF members but also many others of varying political persuasions.  I was also aware that a lot of people in the town followed the forum without contributing and in short I thought it to be a fairly neutral and unbiased place to discuss this sort of thing. 

In fact many of the contributors had stated that the Hartlepool Mail held a bias towards the incumbent Labour council and would report things that showed the council in a good light and had a reluctance to challenge the council.  They'd even gone as far as to say that when they posted comments on the Hartlepool Mail online forum, that those opposing the council had a tendency to be deleted by the forum moderators.

Granted, my first post on the forum was somewhat controversial and was a direct attack on a popular group in the town (who were by this point referring to themselves regularly as a party) but even so I never expected the response I got, which was to be attacked from the off by a number of members who, as it turned out were all affiliated to PHF in some way.

I was asked on a number of occasions what my affiliation was and when I told them I didn't vote and why I was roundly attacked again despite explaining several times that if I found somebody who I felt was honest, competent and did things for the right reasons I would vote for them but until then I was staying at home on polling day.

Now here's the rub, I don't know if any political candidate is honest and competent until I've personally interacted with them outside of their individual or party publicity machines.  So on the Hartlepool Post forum I began to ask questions of people who I knew to be councillor (there were very few on there operating under their real name) or who had expressed that they might be standing in the upcoming elections on May 22nd.

This brought on a reaction of horror from some users that someone who openly doesn't vote would want to know stuff about politicians and councillors.  I was accused of having various unhealthy obsessions with people on the forum.  I was also accused of becoming fixated on PHF (mainly because of my initial post but also because a lot of my posts were in direct response to members of PHF attacking me in the debate).

They eventually closed the thread in which the main debate was taking place and re-named it "Very Boring Thread".

They also put me on a method of restricted posting called "Pre-mod" where an administrator of the forum had to approve any post I made before other users could view it.

This was immensely frustrating so I tried to contact the admins for a justification and this was what appeared:

As a result I was effectively sidelined from any real debate, so instead I began to find out who was who on the forum (the confirmed identities are as I know them now, not at 31st March).

SteveL / Admin : Steve Latimer – PHF Candidate for Headland & Harbour

DRiddle : David Riddle – PHF Candidate for Hart

SRMoore : Shane Moore – Conservative Candidate for Hart

Lord Elpus : Geoff Lilley – PHF Councillor for Fens & Rossmere

MK1 : Unconfirmed but named as Michael Kenny, unsure of any official role in PHF but definitely a PHF supporter

Pensionater : Name not known, seems genuinely neutral but has aired increasingly anti PHF views in recent weeks as a result of various attacks made against him in the forum

Mican : Name not known, seems relatively neutral

Kipperdip : Name not known, aligned to UKIP

The Great Dictator : Name not known but I have reason to believe this is Stephen Close

After a frustrating week or so I was removed from "pre-mod" and was allowed to post normally again.

I continued to ask various questions of various people and attempted to contribute to debates in a meaningful way but still I was accused of an anti PHF bias.

When the election candidates were officially announced I loudly announced that it was looking like "None of the above" for me in my ward, mainly because of the party political affiliations and historic performance (non performance) of the candidates either in my ward or when they had stood or represented other wards.  The one new candidate was Joanne Banks of PHF.

My reasoning behind not wanting to vote for her was based on several debates Joanne and myself were involved in on the PHF Facebook page where a number of her views were the polar opposite of my own but also she struck me as very naïve and inexperienced in a political debate.  On occasion she struggled to convey her opinion clearly, a key skill for a councillor one would imagine.

To her credit Joanne Banks contacted me individually via Facebook to ask why I thought she wasn't a good candidate to which I responded:

Firstly I'd like to say, I have no problem with you standing and seeking to improve the town, if your aim is as simple as that it's to be congratulated. As is the fact that you're the first of the De Brus ward candidates to contact me.

I take a view of politics both local and national from the position that I will not buy into the system of voting unless I believe the person I am voting for can make a change for the better.

Since the official announcement of candidates I've expressed that I don't feel that any of those standing fulfil that simple requirement. I have tried not to single any individuals out but have mentioned in discussions with friends some experiences about individual candidates.

The reasons I feel that I cannot vote for you as a representative of my ward stem mainly from some of the discussions we were both involved in on the PHF page.

My main concern was your position on traffic calming measures. Having four young children, living close to a main road that has three schools immediately adjoining with an already high volume of traffic (that also has a lot of heavy construction vehicles currently and the potential future increase associated with the new homes being built nearby), your comments on a similar road led me to believe that your position on this issue was the polar opposite of mine.

A number of your other ideas, although well intended struck me as idealistic and impractical. In some cases again contra to my own personal opinion.

From these conversations I felt you were a little naïve about what any group of councillors may achieve and to be honest perhaps might not have a handle on how underhand and devious some of your opponents will be. This in itself isn't a bad thing but it does leave a doubt in my mind of your ability to deal with some situations you'll be placed in.

Finally and this is definitely not a personal point, you've aligned yourself with PHF who, for whatever reasons on their Facebook page decided to avoid or half answer direct questions, including those about who I was even talking to at times. This led me to have doubts about the integrity of those at the heart of this loose alliance of independents. One of my key beliefs is that anyone representing a political party, by default stops putting its electorate first because of a party line. Initially I thought I'd stumbled upon a group that behaved differently in PHF but I'm now certain that time will prove them to be no different.

I also asked why, when she lives in Hart ward was she standing in De Bruce ward.

Her response was:

I decided to stand for de Bruce as I have been brought up there and understand their problems.

This didn't quite sit right with me, it felt like a bit of a wishy washy answer.

So I posed the question in this way on the Hartlepool Post forum (This is the second or third posting of the original question):

After all, David Riddle of PHF had said he was willing to answer questions:

He also later said this:

My concern was this:

David Riddle a senior PHF member had decided that he wanted to fight Hart ward.  Might he or others within PHF have dissuaded Joanne Banks from standing in her own ward (even if she may have wanted to) because this decision was already made?

I got this response from David Riddle:

If so, this already demonstrates that PHF were starting to develop something in the way of party orders, with Joanne being a newer member, would this potentially mean, if elected that she might be encouraged/advised to vote certain ways on certain issues to suit PHF rather than the residents of De Bruce ward?

Put another way, if David Riddle was elected councillor of Hart ward and Joanne Banks was elected councillor of De Bruce ward, what if a decision needed to be made that would benefit Hart ward (and David Riddle as its councillor and Joanne Banks as a resident of the ward) but might detriment De Bruce ward, how would that decision go?

I posed the question this way:

In a slightly separate tangent in this thread MK1 made a ridiculous statement that politicians had to tell lies and be dishonest to survive

I challenged this and was rounded upon again so I posed the question to all election candidates, it took lots of cajoling to get anyone from to answer. Shane Moore (Conservative) opposing David Riddle in Hart ward was the first to answer and posted this, which prompted a response of sorts from David Riddle, note he doesn’t say that he would not lie or not omit things.

I then got accused of badgering PHF and David Riddle again on several occasions despite avoiding directing anything at any individual.

This gave me the idea of opening up a debate for ALL election candidates and as a result of a suggestion by another contributor, all of the current incumbents.

I posted this:

I then set about trying to contact as many candidates as possible sending them a link to the discussion.  Potentially this thread now had a very wide audience in the Hartlepool political scene.  Certainly a lot of the key players involved had received the link and subsequent contacts on various social networks confirm, how wide an audience was reading at this point.

PHF's David Riddle and Steve Latimer were very quick to point out the others that wouldn't reply without themselves replying. This was basically a re-occurrence of PHF's tactics throughout the entire election campaign:  Point out how bad the current incumbents are but don't say what you would do differently.

Shane Moore didn't answer but offered to meet me in person to discuss things, I was prepared to meet him on the basis that I would be able to post his answers on the thread.

I asked David Riddle and Steve Latimer directly if they would answer, here are the responses:

I was astounded that someone standing for election would call me that in open forum (he also appeared to have struggled on the spelling front too), it did make me wonder what the people of the Headland would think of someone representing them who was unable to conduct themselves in a public debate without resorting to foul language and abuse…..So I posted the screenshot on Facebook and Twitter.

Funnily enough the next day I was back on "pre-mod".

I posted this to ask why:

This was the response:

So it seems I'm repetitive, boring and intimidating to new users……

Let's examine my most recent posts on the forum then:

Judge for yourself whether they are repetitive or boring.

Meanwhile, in another thread a number of the current forum users also seemed to be reaching the same conclusion as myself:

So the way I see it now is this:

PHF accuse the current group in charge of the council of poor performance and corruption.

They do not state what they would do differently

When challenged they avoid answering questions

They accuse the Hartlepool Mail of political bias and selective censorship

A forum moderated by (possibly owned by) one of the PHF candidates appears to have a strong political bias and those whose opinions differ from the PHF group are subjected to bullying tactics and on some occasions abuse

PHF state they are not a party, but refer to themselves as a party

PHF state that their councillors are free to vote as their conscience directs them, but one of their candidates is currently standing in a ward outside the one they live in whilst another stands in that ward showing that there is some sort of primacy in rank towards key wards happening

I'm starting to struggle to see how PHF are any different to the group currently in power in Hartlepool.  In fact they seem a bit amateurish by comparison.

It’s kind of like the part of Orwell’s Animal Farm where you realise Napoleon is just like a shit version of Mr Jones……you can guarantee that given the chance they’ll soon be walking on two legs, carrying whips and consorting with other farmers.

My experiences on the Hartlepool Post forum have not changed my opinion of politicians and political groups in any way shape or form, I'm still not voting.

It speaks volumes of that particular outlet when the only contributor on that forum who is also a candidate in the upcoming elections to conduct themselves with any sort of integrity is a member of the Conservatives, Shane Moore.


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  1. Same old same old - I now see why Harry is so angry with this lot, censorship in general, and Michael Doherty's decision to block trolls.

  2. The behaviour of PHF reminds me of the late '70's in Cambridge when Tories, mistakenly believing that they couldn't get elected started calling themselves 'moderates'. Then the other student 'non'political' 'non-party' party politicians got on the bandwagon and took one step further by denying any party political affiliation. Well (my proudest moment coming up) I soon put a stop to that by directly questioning the candidates for Caius JCR about their political 'leanings'. Of course they at first tried to dodge the question, saying that they were not party political. It went something this: Q: "But I would still like to know." Of course they had no real choice except to own up (which they did). None of them are in Parliament. I don't know what that says about them. Anyway, good luck exposing these apparent charlatans.