It’s one of those things that every Lib Dem was dreading to hear: that, even with months of campaigning, their candidate had lost to the Labour candidate. Not more was the hurt felt in Headingley two weeks ago. We – as in Leeds Liberal Youth – had been campaigning hard since last September to ensure that the then-incumbent councillor, Jamie Matthews, was re-elected. Jamie was a superb councillor, and was a better pick to represent students than the Labour candidate. Even after tuition fees. When thousands of students had problems with their internet connection, Labour, with a majority on the council, were nowhere to be seen. But Jamie carved out the niche of the “councillor who took on Virgin Media”.
I use the past tense, because he lost. By 32 votes.
I initially felt a lot of guilt, as because of prior commitments, I couldn’t really help with the doorknocking and the letterboxing. And I had tried to get the student union to do something about student voting. I was aware it’d give Labour a nudge, but given the problems I’ve had over the past couple of years, and as an active voter? Really, we need to be there doing something.
I felt a sense of absolution, though, after finding out about the actions of Mark Sewards. He’s pretty much the token party hack, given closeness to the two local shadow cabinet MPs (Balls and Cooper) and former chairmanship of Leeds Labour Students. And a friend to few politically active people on campus, given the left hate him for wanting to shut down a student-run space and the Lib Dems and Tories hate him because, hey, he’s Labour.
But enough about him, and more about what he did, which was frankly disgusting: he effectively used his position as outgoing Communications and Internal Affairs officer to tell people in Halls of Residences to vote for the Labour candidate. Structured so he didn’t run afoul of the law, but still extremely dodgy. Then disavowed everything he said in his leaflet the next day. At the same time as using the Union to push Labour policy because it’s Labour policy.
When questioned about it, he did what any politician would do, and frame any complaints as his opponents trying to score “cheap political points”. But it doesn’t change the fact he abused his power, and it doesn’t change the fact he cost a good man his job.