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Sheffield Uni Tories accused of ‘intimidation’ during ‘unfair’ committee election

A formal complaint has been made to the SU by members of the society

The newly elected Sheffield Tories committee have been accused of breaching rules at their recent AGM, which saw the committee take up their positions.

The allegations centre around the chair of the society, Laurence Smith, who as well as standing as a candidate for Broomhill & Sharrow Vale for the Conservatives in next Thursday's local election also holds a paid role within the Conservative Party.

Eight members who were present that night, including members of both the old and new committees, have come forward to speak to The Tab about what they allege is an "unfair" election.

Their allegations include:

– Intimidation occurred to delegitimise certain candidates.

– Not all members were informed they could use a proxy vote, significant as three prominent roles were decided by a single vote.

– Laurence Smith, the re-elected chair of the society, was allowed to have his speech run for twice the length it was supposed to, which has been called "a clear violation of electoral convention".

Smith apparently used the extra two minutes of his speech to thank members of the society for their hard work, according to a member present at the AGM.

Another member claims: "A lot of people haven't felt able to stand up to [Smith]," because he has been involved in "every single aspect of the society this year."

Smith, who will be going into his second year as chair of the society, has a paid role within the Conservative Party as the youth coordinator for South Yorkshire and is also standing in next Thursday's local election as the Conservative candidate for Broomhill & Sharrow Vale.

A formal complaint has been made to Sheffield Students' Union about last Wednesday's AGM, which took place last Wednesday, and details concerns made by several members of the society.

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The formal complaint made by a member to the SU

No announcements were made on any society channels about proxy votes and the Returning Officer did not do anything to stop Smith's speech after a timer went off at the two minute mark.

The Returning Officer in the election has described the complaint submitted as "completely valid".

Apologising for the proxy situation in a response to the complaint, the Returning Officer said:

"I didn't stand up to Laurence and a lot of other people when I should have.

"I got pushed into a corner, made rash decisions because I was frustrated with a lot of people and then didn't make it right when I realised it was wrong."

The complaint also alleges that "the sitting Chairman used his position to dictate rules without consulting the Returning Officer."

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The message sent by the Returning Officer apologising for how the election was handled

A society member, who was present at the election, told The Tab:

"The society’s position on proxy votes was never clarified and to my knowledge they were not allowed. I learned after the AGM that some individuals were afforded proxy votes. The votes for positions came down to incredibly small margins and I believe that proxy votes could have distorted the results.

"Both elected Vice-Chairs, Inclusions and Sports Captain won with clear majorities. However, Secretary, Treasurer and Chair were incredibly close and I believe these were decided by proxy votes. I do not believe that proxy votes were of a malicious nature on the part of those casting them.

"The Chair’s speech overran by twice the amount as he was ‘thanking members of the society for their hard work’. I believe this to be unfair and a clear violation of electoral convention."

Another member, also present, claimed: "Nothing was explicitly said, but most people were under the impression that they had to vote in person.

"Laurence has been involved in every single aspect of the society this year, even though there were other committee roles. A knock-on effect of that is that a lot of people haven't felt able to stand up to him.

"I think there have been serious issues with the election this year, and an EGM (Extraordinary General Meeting) probably will be called."

A Sheffield University Conservative Society spokesperson said:

"The AGM was conducted properly and fairly following the constitution, allowing for proxy votes. This AGM was a very closely contested race, and we are pleased that so many members chose to take part.

"As a committee made up of supporters of all candidates we do not recognise the characterisation of the events that this report makes."

Laurence Smith was contacted for comment but the Sheffield University Conservative Society told The Tab that he would not be commenting individually on the situation.

Sheffield Conservatives have also been contacted for comment.

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