PETER FROST reports on the Police and Crime Commissioner election farce in Northamptonshire.
Labour is facing a real embarrassment in the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election on November 15.
Labour candidate Lee Barron has been forced to quit after it emerged he had been arrested and fined £20 for obstructing the police during a pub incident 22 years ago.
Mr Barron is chairman of East Midlands TUC, and Midlands Regional Secretary for the Communications Workers Union (CWU).
Barron, who has also been a respected local magistrate for the past ten years and a former Northampton councillor, revealed his conviction last week.
“I was a young lad at the time. I don’t think society takes a view that if you do something wrong you should be punished for the rest of your life” he tells the Morning Star.
Previously Labour was hoping for a high-profile double victory in Northamptonshire on November 15.
Andy Sawford is predicted to storm home in the Corby by-election taking the ex-steel town back for Labour.
Lee Barron too was favourite for the county’s new PCC job.
It isn’t clear if Labour’s election experts simply didn’t check the regulations or perhaps didn’t know about Barron’s very ancient and fairly minor criminal record. Either way they should have.
Barron is the third Labour candidate to be forced to quit the police commissioner contests because of a minor conviction in their youth.
So what happens next in Northamptonshire?
The Electoral Commission has said that candidates cannot withdraw at this late stage and the Returning Officer says that there will be no announcements, posters or notices explaining the situation and Mr Barron’s ineligibility to take office.
Barron’s name will still be on the transferable vote ballot papers. His votes will still be counted.
The Home Office say if a disqualified candidate like Barron wins – and that is still a real possibility – there would have to be a by-election.
The post would become vacant straight away and an acting PCC would be appointed until the by-election was held, which would be within 35 days.
There’s already both confusion and apathy in the public’s mind about the PCC elections. Experts are predicting a derisory turn-out of between ten and 15 per cent nationwide.
Northamptonshire now has the strange situation of there being five PCC candidates, but just four people left actively campaigning.
Some of the other candidates have expressed concern that any second preference votes for Lee Barron could influence the final result. This could lead to a legal challenge.
On 15 November the names of all five nominated candidates will appear on ballot papers and the election count will go ahead as normal.
The Labour Party’s knee-jerk reaction to the shock announcement in Northamptonshire has not been thought through. They have stopped all campaign activity and asked local activists to destroy all posters and leaflets.
Surely a better tactic would have been to continue. Got Lee Barron elected then when he was disqualified they could have selected another Labour candidate – one without a criminal record – to fight the by-election.
OK, it would have been very embarrassing. But the situation is very embarrassing now and most voters are totally confused.
It would at least have given the people and police force of Northamptonshire the chance of a Labour PCC in the end.
I don’t know about you but if we have to have an elected Sheriff riding shot-gun over our local law officers I’d rather one wearing a red rosette next to his tin star.
Why elected Police and Crime Commissioners?
Cameron and his buddies had been watching too many spaghetti westerns when they hatched the hare-brained scheme for elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
Paid elected sheriffs with strict political party loyalties never worked in the Wild West and they won’t work here.
‘Localism’ as usual was the cry. The Tories and their Lib Dem partners painted a picture of local worthies – the great and the good, with no party political loyalties – being elected to oversee local police forces.
It was all nonsense of course. A £5,000 deposit and huge constituencies to canvass meant that only political party candidates had the money or the foot soldiers to win such an election.
Parties and candidates are allowed to spend between £70,000 and nearly a third of a million pounds on the election campaigns in various police areas. That rules out well-meaning individuals.
More important the last thing the cash strapped police forces need was a highly paid politically motivated supremo telling them what to do.
They were too busy selling of their headquarters, shutting police stations and laying off both officers and support staff as a result of Cameron and Clegg’s austerity cuts.
For some reason the hastily introduced regulations on who could stand for the £70,000 pa salaried PCC positions were draconian.
They banned anybody with criminal convictions from taking up the post of PCC.
It’s most unusual. You can be Prime Minister, an MP, local councillor, magistrate, even a police officer, with a criminal record but not a PCC.
The rules certainly haven’t stopped English Defence League Fuehrer Kevin Carroll sliding out from under his stone and standing for PCC in Bedfordshire.
The original legislation specified that only those offences which carried a custodial sentence would count but in yet another Tory U-turn this was widened to all convictions, a move which, ironically, had the support of Labour.
In almost all other aspects of public life a spent conviction can be effectively ignored after a specified amount of time.
Not, it seems, in the case of PCCs as Lee Barron and Labour have discovered to their cost.
Lee Barron on breaking the law
“I break the law every time I send out letters to my union members informing them of other unions’ strikes to ensure that no-one crosses picket lines. I’d rather break the law than break a picket.”
Lee Barron on crime
“Thatcher stole my milk, but this government is stealing my child’s future. If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.”