Today Bob Ashford has stood down as Labour PCC candidate for Avon and Somerset, having achieved some clarity on the fact that convictions dating from his youth 46 years ago will disqualify him from standing for the office. These were, by the way, convictions that resulted in a total fine of around £5. He tells his side of the story here.
I first raised the issue of candidates with previous convictions on 29 April, and again on 9 June, when an Independent candidate in Lancashire withdrew, and I repeated the rules then, making clear that they applied to juvenile convictions where people had not necessarily gone to prison, but where an adult convicted of a similar offence could have.
On 18 June Michael Crick joined in, mentioning the difficulties Simon Weston was having around a teenage conviction. This led to a statement from Theresa May that the law in question was not targetted at people like Simon Weston.
On 24 June Keiron Mallon withdrew from the Thames Valley Conservative selection because of a previous conviction, and it was very clear he had highlighted the conviction in the applications process without anyone spotting the problem.
On 28 June Michael Crick reported that the Home Office and Attorney General were briefing that Simon Weston wouldn’t have a problem with his teenage conviction, and on the same day solicitor and election law expert Ros Baston advised that she thought they were wrong about that and, embarassingly for the Home Office, pointed to the record of the Policing Minister explaining to the Common’s committee as to how it would catch such convictions when the legislation was being considered.
On 29 June I again mentioned this, and a week or so later, after the fuss about his conviction had died down, Simon Weston withdrew from the race, citing not his conviction, but that the race had become too political. Some were perhaps unconvinced, as Michael Crick opting to take the line wasn’t he barred anyway?
Ros Baston reported back on 10 July that the Home Office and Electoral Commission were saying they agreed with her (and my, and everybody else’s) interpretation that the law covered juvenile offences, and this is the article that Bob Ashford cites as causing him concern, leading him to contact the Labour party on 19 July to seek clarification. This was over a month after the Labour selection results had been announced, but it should be remembered that the issue was raised on this site before the Labour selection was completed, and that the law (which, despite the confusion, is pretty clear) was passed months before the parties began their selection processes. And here we are at 8th August with Bob Ashford pulling out, and I have to say I would not be surprised if there were more to follow.
Any candidates who may be disqualified but who are putting off this issue are depriving other candidates a fair hearing and preventing the electorate from giving proper consideration to the choice they have to make. I would urge parties, media, and the public to ask candidates to each make a statement that they have considered this issue and are not disqualified, or we may find time and effort being wasted on candidates who cannot stand. I am offering to maintain a list of candidates on this site who have made such a declaration. This is not a Criminal Records check – this is a chance to show you have considered the issue and that you are clearly qualified to stand.
Meanwhile, there have been other developments. I had a concern that the system would run on trust, with candidates risking further convictions by declaring they were not disqualified and no checks being done on this. Ros Baston’s reading of a new draft Order related to the election that has since been released is that if it is approved cops will be in a position to check candidate’s criminal records, though it is not clear that it will be anyone’s job so to do.
Questions that arise
Others will complain at the severity of the disqualifications, impacting on people decades later for minor wrongs committed in their childhoods. I need not cover these issues here, but other questions remain:-
1. Can any of the candidates read? It is shocking to me that you would stand for election for a new post such as this and not personally read the legislation that sets it up. If you are not able to understand it yourself, should you be standing? If you don’t understand the rules for candidates being qualified should you be selecting them? Both the selection processes of Conservatives and Labour have failed in this respect. Some confusion was introduced by the Government in June, but the issue predates the confusion and the confusion was never credible.
2. How will Labour choose a new candidate? Will it fall to the runner-up, John Savage, who is now the only remaining shortlisted candidate?
3. Why did the Home Office make such a fudge of the issue around Simon Weston’s conviction/disqualification, when they clearly knew that such convictions would disqualify those who offended as juveniles?
4. Which candidate will be next to go?
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