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McKinnon's mum fights for civil liberties in parliamentary run

A day in a life on a campaign trail

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Interview Janis Sharp, mother of accused Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon, is upbeat about her run for Parliament despite acknowledging she has little chance of becoming an MP.

Sharp is contesting the safe Labour seat of Blackburn held by Jack Straw, the Justice secretary, as an independent in a campaign that aims to highlight the erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government. The campaigning mother has adopted the slogan "vote with your head not with your habit" for her election campaign.

Her site lists of a litany of privacy eroding measures introduced by the Labour government over recent years including ID cards, the ubiquity of CCTV camera surveillance, and the recent Digital Economy Bill. Sharp is standing against Straw because, as Foreign Secretary, he signed the extradition treaty with the US that is being used by the US authorities in seeking to extradite her son, Gary McKinnon, over alleged hacking offences.

Sharp also uses the site to condemn trial without jury and the passing of the Digital Economy Bill, which has been heavily criticised after being rushed through Parliament in the "wash-up" of outstanding proposals before Parliament dissolved. McKinnon, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been fighting against extradition since 2005. He faces the latest in a long series of court appearances on 25 and 26 May.

Sharp - a lifelong Labour supporter - explained to the Reg that once she decided to stand for Parliament it came down to a choice between standing against Home Secretary Alan Johnson or Jack Straw. The Hertfordshire resident decided to contest an election in the north west because her sister lives in Manchester; her family also has ties in Blackburn where her aunt lived for most of her life and ran a limousine hire company.

Running as a political candidate is hard work, but speaking to Sharp it's clear that she is relishing the fight.

"I've never been politically active but have always been socially conscious," she explained. "It's hard being a candidate but someone has to stand up against the erosion of civil liberties."

"I've never spoken in front of an audience. But I'll take it how it comes. Nobody expects candidates to be an encyclopaedia but I try to do my best. Press conferences for Gary were different because I was speaking to a much smaller group of people."

4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

Sharp has been up to Blackburn several times as part of her campaign, canvassing voters and polling their opinion.

"People were nice but one man I spoke to was more concerned with holes in the road. Others I spoke to were not really political or didn't vote," she said.

Other campaign activities included an appearance on BBC Radio Lancashire, where she was aggressively questioned on her lack of political experience and perceived single issue campaigning. Sharp said she has strong opinions on bread and butter political issues such as unemployment and housing, as well as local issues such as the proposed demolition of the old market in Blackburn. She is running her campaign without the assistance of professional politicians.

Her son's parlous situation has come up on the campaign trail but the prime focus of Sharp's campaign is on the wider erosion of civil liberties. "Gary is a victim of the erosion of civil liberties. He is being put through extradition proceedings that were meant for terrorists but abused and applied against vulnerable people, such as my son," Sharp said.

Sharp concluded that the number of votes she received at the ballot box next Thursday was not her prime concern. "It's not the amount of votes. My aim is to wake people up about the erosion of civil liberties. We need to stand up."

A spokesman for Jack Straw told politics.co.uk: "Jack respects the right of Ms Sharp to select her own agenda for the election but doubts that many people in Blackburn will share her particular emphasis.

"CCTV cameras are undoubtedly recognised as vital in the fight against crime and if Ms Sharp asked around the town she would probably find that the concern was that there were not enough cameras not that there were too many. The government have a duty to protect their citizens and they need to use all the appropriate tools in that challenge." ®

Eight candidates are standing for the Blackburn constituency at Thursday's general election. The seat was held by New Labour's Jack Straw in the 2005 general election with a majority of 8,009:

  • Bobby Anwar, UKIP
  • Damian Brown, Independent
  • Paul English, Liberal Democrat
  • Robin Evans, BNP
  • Bushra Irfan, Independent
  • Michael Law-Riding, Conservative
  • Janis Sharp, Independent
  • Jack Straw, Labour

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