"As a child I was bullied, and I felt I was being bullied, particularly by certain people who can be really nasty for no good reason..." Stef Lorenz
Come election time in Salford and, usually, all the candidates are over keen to show how integrated they are with the local community... 'Here I am doing a litter clean up'... 'Here I am with some old dears'... 'Here I am doing this that and the other...Aren't I wonderful? Vote for meeeeeeee....'
It's standard practice. Turn up to some community event, get your mug at the front of a photo, bugger off and then shove it on your election leaflet, gawping out with a hi-viz jacket and a brush, desperately trying to look human.
It's cynical. It's opportunist. It's horrid. And virtually every candidate from every political party does it. That's the perceived game.
Up in the Claremont ward this 'game' has turned nasty. You have a LibDem candidate, Stef Lorenz, who happened to be the chair of the Claremont Community Centre Campaign, which is raising money to turn the old Height Youth Club into a new facility; who is involved with the Claremont Alleygaters, and who is trying to get a new community notice board mounted in the area.
To raise funds, the Community Centre Campaign held a jumble sale and art auction, with works donated by the likes of Harold Riley and Geoffrey Key*. But when they asked to put up a poster in the Height Library for the jumble sale and maybe have an exhibition of the art in the Library foyer, they were refused permission point blank by Salford Community Leisure.
An explanation from the Director of Libraries and Culture stated that the decision was due to 'purdah' and 'exploratory work being undertaken by local councillors'.
"This was well before the purdah period" Stef recalls "I wrote back and said, A: 'It isn't political'; B: 'It isn't in purdah', and C: 'What explorations is anybody doing?'. She never replied. But from that point on, the Library staff were instructed to have nothing to do with the Claremont Community Centre campaign because it was 'political'.
"They never explained why it was political" she adds "The only explanation is that I was heading it up and, because I was a candidate, therefore everything I did was political. And that's been the argument that has gone on since..."
Meanwhile, having refused permission for the jumble sale and art auction publicity, an official notice was then handed out via the Library stating that local councillors were 'exploring' delivery of a 'Height Community Hub' and if anyone was interested to contact the councillors directly.
As this bullet was undermining the Community Centre campaign, everything Stef was involved with was turned around and made 'political'...A community notice board? Political! A fundraising campaign for a community centre? Political! Cleaning alleyways? Political!
What Stef calls 'internet trolls', virtually all Labour Party supporters, hammered her on social media sites for Irlams O'Th' Height, basically writing that everything she did was just a front for her candidacy. Most of the posts have now been deleted.
She was forced to stand down as chair of the Community Centre Campaign. She was forced to change her election leaflet as people who weren't LibDem supporters appeared on them, even though other parties' campaign leaflets are usually festooned with similar photos...and she couldn't even put up a poster for a jumble sale ...So how does Stef feel?
"I veer between laughing at how it's like children in the playground, how pathetic and petty" she says "But there are other times when I feel like I'm being bullied and I have had very dark days. As a child I was bullied, and I felt I was being bullied, particularly by certain people who can be really nasty for no good reason.
"I have my own political site where I put things but I've never put any political posts up on other sites and yet, because it's me, everything gets turned and twisted" she adds "They cannot believe that I actually get satisfaction from working with the community to make things better around here.
"I said to them 'Why do you think I want to get on the Council?'...It's not to go on jollies and get a fat salary" she adds "I'm a retired professional; I don't need the fat salary. I don't want to go to the South of France; if I wanted to I could do that. I don't want power in the Council either. Why do I want to get on the Council? So I can do more of what I'm doing now. So I've got a bit more clout, can get a bit more done for the community...I've stood in two by-elections before but it's never been like this..."
So why are they doing it? "They're jealous" she responds. Of what? "What I'm doing. They're worried, which is good in a way, that I'm making them face up to some of the gaps in their campaign. I'm knocking their complacency."
The Salford Star tried to interview the Labour Party candidate in Claremont, standing Councillor Neil Reynolds. But he didn't respond to email and Facebook messages. We also tried to get hold of the Conservative Party candidate, Charlotte Annaliese Woods. But the Tories never responded either.
However, Independent candidate, Mary Ferrer, and Green Party candidate, Daniel Towers, do agree to discuss the fracas...
For Daniel, it's a problem of bringing Politics, with a capital 'P' into community activities...
"I do appreciate the energy that she seems to have for the community" he says "She's working really hard, I have no doubts about that. However...she's claiming to be involved with these groups in a non political fashion, that's where the difficulty is.
"I think this is an effort by the LibDems to promote Stef Lorenz as a candidate rather than promote the Party" he explains "And I understand that, because the LibDems are so unpopular in Salford after the Bedroom Tax and all the damage that was done in the Coalition.
"There's nothing wrong with what she actually does, but when we as the Green Party do a litter pick or community event, we always say that it's a Green Party thing, if it's led by the Green Party" he explains "I did some work for the Claremont Alleygaters, thinking it was a non political group, but I then ended up on the front page of the LibDems leaflet [*This statement was later acknowledged as a mistake - Daniel didn't appear on a LibDem leaflet]
"I don't think it's the worst evil in the world but I don't want to be on the next LibDem leaflet, especially when they joined with the Tories" he adds "Having said that, I don't see anything wrong in putting up a poster about a jumble sale...and the community notice board doesn't seem like a problem.
"I think these are all good ideas if everyone works together" he insists "The Green Party will always work with anyone. People should put their politics aside and actually fight for the community."
The political push-me-pull-you-ing over the Height Youth Club doesn't impress Daniel either, with the Community Centre Campaign now seemingly undermined by a 'Height Community Hub' campaign from the powers that be...
"They're fighting fire with fire here" he says "It's fifty fifty. Labour are obviously thinking about the seat and getting worried...
"It's become a bit of a dog fight" he adds "I understand that it's a popularity contest but the community is what matters and I think some people have gone out of their way and converted it into a political thing. A lot of people are to blame; it's the problem with tribal politics."
Meanwhile, Independent candidate, Mary Ferrer, who disagrees with a lot of Stef's stances, also has her concerns about what's going off in the background to the election...
"I think she's gone about things the wrong way" Mary explains "She has got a good heart, I'm not saying she hasn't, but she's doing things for the wrong reasons and she's upset a lot of people with the things she has done."
But if you're standing for the Council surely you would expect candidates to be involved in community campaigns and issues? "Yes but she's denied that she's doing it for political reasons...she's done it in a roundabout way."
Labour Party supporters seem to be behind all the attacks. Would that be accurate? "A lot of them on Facebook are" Mary responds "They are frightened of her, to be honest, because she has been that pro-active in the ward for the last 18 months. She's been out there doing things which I think is fantastic, it's just that in the last few months it's gone a bit sour. The Labour Party are running scared, maybe they think she'll get in, I don't know..."
Stef Lorenz certainly has her work cut out to overturn Labour's majority. At the last local by-election she polled 162 votes, against the Labour Party's 718, with the Conservatives coming second on 447 votes.
So is Stef Lorenz manipulating community campaigns to try and get votes? Or is she just naive and experiencing the sharp end of daring to stand up to the powers that be? And do the voters know what's going off or are they innocently oblivious to it all? And do they really care?
The full list of candidates for Claremont...
•Mary Ferrer - Independent
•Stef Lorenz - Liberal Democrats
•Neil Andrew Reynolds* - Labour Party
•Daniel James Towers - Green Party
•Charlotte Annaliese Woods - Conservative Party
Voting is on Thursday 3rd May
*For details of the Community Centre Campaign see previous Salford Star article - click here