The shocking story of Tories behaving badly in Essex County Council during local campaigning. This is what happens when Government normalises dishonesty and sleaze. No election is too small for Tory sleaze and the ‘leadership’ style is filtering down to local level.

First published in April 2021.

Lesley Scott-Boutell is standing to become a County Councillor in the Stanway and Pyefleet division in Essex. Lesley Scott-Boutell has been an elected Borough Councillor for nearly 20 years and is very popular with local residents.

Lesley Scott-Boutell She is a local herself and really cares about her community. She has an excellent track record and is someone who gets things done rather than just talk about them. She certainly does not let her disability (she is deaf) hold her back.

She is the only person who stands a chance of defeating the sitting Tory candidate, deputy leader Kevin Bentley, tipped to be the next leader of Essex County Council (ECC).

Ms Scott-Boutell does not have a big campaign team helping her. She has a few people giving her their time voluntarily.

By contrast, Councillor Bentley’s campaign got a big name support on Saturday when Home Secretary Priti Patel arrived to support him. That wasn’t a huge surprise as Ms Patel turns up during every local election to actively campaign against Lesley Scott-Boutell as she holds a corner of Patel’s seat that isn’t blue.

Kevin Bentley’s big name support: Priti Patel. | Witham Conservatives

So, Ms Scott-Boutell’s small team of volunteers designed posters and banners and placed them strategically around the division. That sounds pretty standard but it took a lot of time and effort, and of course the assets cost money to get printed.

Some of the posters and banners were placed in people’s gardens – i.e. on private property with the owners permission, of course.

Before... | Jo Hayes

Then, yesterday, ALL of the posters and banners were removed.

After... | Jo Hayes

This was not done in the dead of night. No, this was done by someone from ECC! And when the person was challenged for taking assets that were on private property, they said that they had instructions to remove them.

In at least one instance a privately owned fence has been damaged. When the owner challenged the person, the operative refused to give his name, ironically stating that he “didn’t want to get involved.” He said that he was acting on the instructions of ECC Highways.

Essex Highways When asked to provide the name of the person who gave him the instructions, he refused and repeated his wish to avoid involvement. That wish did not, however, prevent him from inexplicably taking a photo of the resident’s house. Why??

Surely only someone with enough clout, authority, and vested interest could have issued those instructions to an ECC employee.

Kevin Bentley, Lesley Scott-Boutell’s opponent, is the current portfolio holder for Highways in Essex and deputy leader of Essex County Council.

This was a surprisingly efficient undertaking. Mr Bentley has not been able to get potholes filled, despite claiming to have done so in a campaign video (others a few metres away have not been repaired).

Kevin Bentley’s video. | Facebook/Stanway Conservatives

So, to recap. An ECC ‘employee’ was instructed to remove someone else’s property, even when they had to trespass to do so and damage that property to boot. This all happened less than 48 hours after the Home Secretary openly supported the Head of Highways candidate.

So far we have theft, trespass, and criminal damage, as well as the breaking of electoral laws. We are clear, the LAW has been BROKEN.

If you cannot win an election fairly, get out of politics!

The fact that Lesley Scott-Boutell is disabled only makes this underhand and bullying behaviour against her worse. Ms Patel has form for bullying of course but I had hoped that the party was better at local level. Clearly not.

My great grandmother received a CBE for her campaign work for the Conservative Party. She would be turning in her grave and frankly I am glad she is not here to see what has become of the party she worked so hard for.

I think Kevin Bentley should apologise, and if he had any involvement whatsoever in the removal of property from private houses he should immediately resign.

The home secretary, responsible for law and order, must comment too. Was she aware of these crimes at any point? Will she continue to support a compromised candidate just to keep someone she dislikes from becoming an Essex County Councillor?

Priti Patel. | Flickr/Number 10

Is this really democracy or a corrupt one-party state? Are the Tories so scared of democracy that they endorse and support bullying a disabled woman in this way?

My opinion: This is how low the Tory party has sunk. No election is too small for Tory sleaze and the ‘leadership’ style is filtering down to local level. 

Updates – 27/04:

  • The ECC’s Head of Compliance confirmed that there has been no ‘official’ action taken by Highways that they can see on their computer system now and they do not have Lesley Scott-Boutell’s property as far as they know.
  • I understand that Cllr Bentley’s position is that he knows that Highways removed all of Ms Scott-Boutell’s literature (including by trespass on three private properties) but denies issuing the order himself.
  • Lesley Scott-Boutell’s team continues to work with Essex County Council to get to the bottom of this story. Her agent is making a complaint to the police for theft, vandalism, and interfering with the electoral process. They have a full description of the vandal purporting to be on official business and it is all being handed to the authorities.

Nicola James, Chairman of the Final Say For All Foundation (FSFA).


[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 27 April 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Jo Hayes. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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