An electoral communication from Boris Johnson arrived via the Royal Mail yesterday. The letter has my name and address on it, and Boris's smiling face, and he's signed it too. He kicks off by asking me to help him keep investing in Greater London's future. And, in his same opening sentence, he urges me to apply for a postal vote today.
There's plenty in Boris's letter about what he claims to have done for Londoners over the last four years, and what he hopes to do in the next four. And he's really very keen that I apply for a postal vote. He mentions it again in paragraph three, in bold type, asking me directly to consider applying to vote by post. And then he asks me again in paragraph six, and again in paragraphs nine and ten. He doesn't want me to miss my chance to vote, so he's enclosed a postal vote application form for me to complete, and a Freepost envelope for its return.
The application form has already been pre-printed with my name, address and postcode. I can also add my daytime and mobile numbers plus an email address, if I choose, but these are optional. Next I have to decide whether or not to switch over to postal voting permanently and whether I'd like my voting form to be sent to a different address. Finally I sign and date my application, and the job is done. Apart from branding, Boris's application form is identical to the official postal vote form available online at aboutmyvote.co.uk. Identical in every way except for the smallprint. The tiny smallprint, in grey text only one millimetre high, right down at the very bottom of the form.
How we use your data The data you provide will be retained by the Conservative Party and BackBoris2012 ("the data holders") in accordance with the provisions of the Data Provision Act 1998 and related legislation. By providing your data to us, you are consenting to the data holders making contact with you in the future by telephone, text or other means, even though you may be registered with the Telephone Preference Service. Your data will not be sold or given to anyone not connected to the Conservative Party. If you do not want the information you give to us to be used in this way, or for us to contact you, please indicate by ticking the relevant boxes: Post ¤ Email ¤ SMS ¤ Phone ¤
I had to squint hard to read this very small print, and my eyesight's fine. But I fear that a significant number of electors will either fail to read this part of the form or, more likely, fail to notice it exists. Which would be a shame, because this is the part of the form that stops Boris spamming you. The ticky boxes at the end are grey squares less than a millimetre in width, which makes them very hard to see, let alone fill in. But overlook this smallprint and you'll be receiving marketing material from the Conservative Party for life, via up to four different communication media.
I was also surprised by the address on the return envelope. I was expecting it to be Electoral Registration Officer, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, 6th Floor, Mulberry Place, Clove Crescent, London E14 2BG, because that's where any request for my postal vote should go. But no, instead I'd be returning my form to Boris Johnson, CCHQ, 30 Millbank, London SW1P 4DP. Some member of staff at Conservative Party HQ would then transcribe all my contact details, unless I've ticked those tiny boxes, before forwarding my form to the Electoral Registration Officer before the mid-April deadline. Adding a middleman like this isn't illegal, but it does feel somewhat dishonest.
My letter from Boris appears to be a nothing but a devious data-harvesting exercise masquerading as a helpful offer to facilitate my postal vote. No chance - I'll be attending my local polling station in person, as usual, on May 3rd. So my best response to this campaign, I reckon, is to seal the empty Freepost envelope and drop it into a postbox. Should you receive a similar invitation from Boris, I'd advise you to do the same.