Alliance dirty tricks stifle freedom of speech and taint local politics
19th September 2019
Today this newspaper publishes background details on the campaigning tactics of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, the political party launched with one aim - stopping the £108million theatre and civic complex project.
Such a move would mean more than £10million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted; some of it spent on unsubstantiated Alliance objections.
Pressing ahead with the development would leave the council with around £250million in saleable assets and provide an estimated £35million in additional economic benefit to the area.
The three people leading the theatre protests, and driving a campaign of intimidation against anyone who dares not share their views, are all so called ‘NIMBYS’ living on the doorstep of the planned site of Calverley Square.
Alliance Cllr Nick Pope was in favour of the scheme until his wife bought a nearby apartment. He has named the Tory councillors he will attack at the May elections if they do not back him.
Alliance social media activist Francis Harris has been banned from a community website for his comments. He claims to have worked at the Courier newspaper although no one remembers him.
And then there’s Alliance Chairman Robert Chris whose arguments have been repeatedly dismissed by independent experts. He even wrote to auditors Grant Thornton attacking them for not finding fault with the council plans for the new theatre and branded their actions ‘utterly disgraceful’ and likely to cause ‘severe embarrassment.’
Those who publicly support the theatre immediately incur the wrath of the Alliance and its supporters.
Last week the Times carried a story quoting the Managing Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra James Williams on the benefits of a new theatre. Within days he received a letter taking him to task and warning his stance would do ‘very little for his reputation.’
Former banker Richard Powell was also attacked for his pro-theatre views and had an Alliance supporter contact his employer suggesting he was setting a poor example to young people.
Another target for the protestors was touring theatre manager Matt Elesmore who was bombarded with 200 hate messages including one that said he should ‘just go and die’. Alliance Chairman Robert Chris suggested Mr Elesmore ‘might want to reconsider’ his opinions.
The Times is aware of other local business people who have been targeted by the Alliance. Most do not want to be named. At least one subsequently withdrew his public support for the new theatre.
When the Alliance party was launched this newspaper was supportive with a front page story, believing that a cross section of views and opinions on a local council is a good thing.
Sadly the Alliance has not lived up to its promises. It has used intimidatory tactics to threaten, bully and silence those who do not share its views on the theatre development.
Public debate is healthy for democracy: the actions of the Alliance are not.
The Labour Party is opposed to Calverley Square believing the money could be better spent as do the Lib Dems. Both have reasoned arguments that deserve to be heard.
The Alliance on the other hand pumps out propaganda that does not stand up to scrutiny and all the time uses social media to threaten and intimidate.
Former councillor Tracy Moore believes the Alliance has ‘poisoned the minds’ of the general public. She lost her seat after being the target of much online abuse.
Had she come out against the theatre she would probably still be a councillor but would have abandoned her principles.
A panel set up by the Town Forum to look at the overall project is suggesting that a non-party commission be established to ‘review each component.’ Such a move would mean an end to the theatre initiative with, amongst other things, contractors walking away.
Details of those on the Forum’s panel are not being made public.
Next week there is an important vote on the future of Calverley Square at the Full Council.
Those members in favour of the development must ignore the threats and external pressures and hold their nerve for the sake of the town’s future prosperity.