Postmen can refuse to deliver 'extreme' Euro election leaflets
POSTAL workers who disapprove of ‘extreme’ political parties have been told they can refuse to deliver election leaflets by Royal Mail chiefs.
The controversial ruling potentially threatens the delivery of thousands of European election leaflets produced by groups including the UK Independence party and Operation Christian Vote, which opposes abortion and euthanasia.
The Royal Mail is required by law to distribute the election leaflets, so any that remain unposted will have to be delivered by managers or other postal workers.
Last night the political parties involved described the move by the Communication Workers’ Union as "appalling" and warned the Royal Mail would face legal action if homes did not receive their leaflets.
With less than a fortnight to go until the June 10 poll, parties are battling widespread public apathy and the traditional Royal Mail letter-box drop is seen as vital in delivering the political message direct to voters.
The situation has arisen because of a ‘conscience clause’ in Royal Mail workers’ contracts which means they are not obliged to deliver mail if they believe it puts them at personal risk or they do not agree with the material.
Last week, a row broke out between the left-wing CWU, which represents postal workers, and the British National party, which is also fielding candidates in the European elections.
A CWU branch in Bristol sent out mailshots to members and held meetings with staff, urging them not to deliver BNP material. But yesterday a spokesman for the union revealed the boycott, which has already spread to some parts of Scotland, may not stop with the BNP.
Both the UK Independence party and Operation Christian Vote are fielding candidates for Scotland’s seven seats, which entitles them to free delivery of election material by the Royal Mail. The UKIP, whose members believe Britain should withdraw from the EU, is expected to make huge gains.
The party, which counts Joan Collins among it supporters and Robert Kilroy-Silk among its candidates, has given 200,000 leaflets to the Royal Mail to deliver to homes in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
But Derek Durkin, secretary of the Scotland Number 2 branch of the CWU, which covers Edinburgh, Lothians, Fife, central Scotland and the Borders, revealed the union was ready to back any member of staff who objected to ‘extremist’ parties.
"If someone had a fundamental problem we would take their case up," he said.
"We are duty-bound to deliver leaflets for the mainstream political parties. But if one of our members found material from the other parties offensive and refused to deliver it, then we would back them on that."
Chris Proctor, UK spokesman for the CWU, defended the move. He said: "There is a general agreement that the Royal Mail has a legal obligation to deliver mail. Management will deal sensitively and sympathetically with genuine requests to deviate from this arrangement."
A Royal Mail spokeswoman also defended the controversial policy but insisted all leaflets would be delivered.
She said: "Royal Mail has legal obligations, under the Representation of People Act, to deliver election material, so long as the material is legal. However, we recognise that staff may have strong feelings. We have always tried to have a flexible approach, so if an individual feels they are unable to deliver the material because of personal circumstances or beliefs, or where an individual believes delivery of a particular item may incur personal risk, alternative arrangements will be made."
But a spokesman for UKIP last night reacted angrily to the suggestion it was extremist and could be boycotted by postal workers. He said: "The Royal Mail has a statutory duty to deliver leaflets from political parties. We are disappointed that the CWU have not seen fit to talk to any of our members in Scotland. We really don’t think it’s in the best interests of democracy for one group of people to decide what the rest of the country can or can’t read."
A spokesman for Operation Christian Vote threatened to take legal action if it learned of any delivery problems with its leaflets. The party, which has been set up to harness the vote of Christians, opposes abortions, human embryo research and euthanasia.
The spokesman said 500,000 leaflets had been handed over to the Royal Mail to be delivered to homes across Scotland.
He added: "I am very disturbed by this. I support people’s right to free speech and I don’t believe postmen have the right to be gatekeepers of information. If they don’t like the job of delivering mail they shouldn’t be doing it. We have spent thousands of pounds on these leaflets and we will sue if they are not delivered."
• The Scottish Socialist Party last night claimed that TV bosses were threatening to ban their new European election broadcast because it accuses Tony Blair of lying over the Iraq war.
The party said that lawyers for STV and Grampian television had told them that the brief broadcast would not be aired unless they could prove their case about Blair.
An STV spokesman said: "No decision has been made at this stage as to whether or not it can be broadcast."