What motivates a 68-year-old grandmother to stand against a knighted MP who has been representing her constituency since 1997? This article is based on an interview with Yvonne Tracey.
I am a reluctant parliamentary candidate, standing against Sir Ed Davey at the next General Election, but I think the ‘little people’ need someone to speak for them. I have no wish to be an MP but it’s time for someone to stand up for fairness and restitution.”YvonneTracey
Tracey was catapulted into the national consciousness when she appeared on ‘Sky News Breakfast’ with Kay Burley. Her very composed and confident demeanour belied what she confessed was a nervous experience – “It was quite scary going into the Sky studios!”
Sub-postmasters badly served by their MPs
The issue that concerns her is that almost 1,000 former colleagues have been wrongly accused of theft, fraud and deception by the Post Office, resulting in criminal convictions, prison sentences and the destruction of their personal lives and finances, not to mention at least four suicides. Arguably, they have been poorly served by their MPs and the government department responsible for the Post Office.
Such is the voice of Tracey, currently a Kingston (Surrey) councillor and now formally an independent prospective parliamentary candidate, backed by the Kingston Independent Residents Group (KIRG) to compete for Sir Ed Davey’s seat in the next general election. Davey won his seat by a majority of 10,489 votes; so significant local support, although a swing against an established majority is not inconceivable. Former BBC journalist Martin Bell’s stand against Neil Hamilton on the single issue of MPs’ ‘cash for questions’ in 1997, overturned Hamilton’s Conservative majority of more than 20,000, securely winning the Tatton seat.
Yvonne Tracey: a very personal stand
Tracey has already been through the electoral mill, having previously stood successfully as a KIRG councillor in Kingston-Upon-Thames, winning a majority over her nearest rival. She stood and won that council seat in Kingston in 2021 and said that she would donate her fees as a councillor (of around £8,000) to charity in her first year. So, there’s something to be said for her integrity and lack of self-interest in these fractious (and perhaps corrupt) political times.
Unassuming and modest, Tracey is rather overwhelmed by the attention she’s getting from making a very personal stand on behalf of her wronged Post Office colleagues. She was an employee of the Post Office in the main New Malden (Surrey) branch, so didn’t directly suffer the problems imposed by the Post Office and the Fujitsu ‘Horizon’ computer system. But she had many friends and colleagues who were comprehensively destroyed by accusations of dishonesty, which is why she decided to roll up her sleeves to fight for them, albeit reluctantly, and stand as a KIRG MP for Kingston and Surbiton.
Her disappointment in her local MP, now leader of the Liberal Democrats, is clear from the fact that it’s now well known that Davey at first refused to meet Alan Bates, coordinator of the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance, when he was the minister whose portfolio included the Post Office from May 2010 to February 2012.
He was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. There have been 20 holders of that junior non-cabinet portfolio since 1997, eight were Conservatives, eight were Labour, four were Liberal Democrats. A year in the job for each – not very many months to understand their portfolios or ministries and naturally dependant on their civil servant staff to be properly briefed.
Perhaps also, incumbent prime ministers didn’t really consider Post Office minister appointments seriously enough to give them longer in office in order to really get to grips with their portfolios.
Davey has since claimed that he was advised initially by his departmental staff not to meet Bates, as “this would not be helpful”. He agreed to meet him five months later and was the first minister in that post to do so.
As Tracey notes, “ … if Sir Ed had agreed to intervene and investigate the emerging scandal in 2010, over some further successive five years”, she observes that “many wrongful prosecutions and convictions might have been avoided”. (The numbers of sub-postmasters involved in the five years after 2010 are, as yet, unknown.) Davey was knighted in 2016 for services to “politics and public services”.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennels, a former vicar and now disgraced former recipient of a CBE – which she has since handed back – has refused to apologise for the aggressive behaviour of senior Post Office employees towards their sub-postmasters when using their powers of prosecution to close down their privately-owned sub-post offices. Davey also refused to apologise ten times in a TV interview for the failings of his department, although he has now apologised for his role during this scandal, saying he is “sorry he did not see through the Post Office’s lies”.
It’s interesting to note that in his first appearance this year on the floor of the Commons, Monday 16 January 2024, he was jeered and booed down by MPs before the speaker intervened to let him speak. Of all the 20 individuals who have been the responsible minister across the years, the focus has been on him because of his current position as leader of the Liberal Democrats. They have been struggling with the public relations of this as political opponents have seized on it.
Tracey takes up the challenge
Tracey and her colleagues in the KIRG asked Sathyn Siju, a subpostmaster (who lost his business in Tolworth, Surrey, his home, his savings and his health) if he would stand against Davey in the next election, but he declined, as he felt so bruised and damaged by being wrongfully accused of fraud by the Post Office. “He didn’t think he had the energy to stand for Ed Davey’s seat.”
So, Tracey decided to take up the challenge herself and is now formally adopted by the KIRG Party to stand against Davey in the forthcoming general election. She admits to not wanting especially to be an MP and is “overwhelmed by the attention” she has received since making her intention public this month, but she wants fervently to keep awareness of the scandal alive and in the forefront of press and public interest – “for all the little people who have been damaged” by The Post Office over the last 20 or so years.
If she wins Davey’s seat, she intends to fight on for her colleagues who have been so appallingly treated by the government’s (and therefore our) Post Office.