August is probably the very last month you would choose to “bury bad news”. With Parliament not sitting and many politicians on holiday normally there is a dearth of news which produces the famous 'silly season' where small curious stories get attention normally beyond their merits. This August has probably had less of this due to the Olympics and now the Paralympics, but those who practice news management probably play it safe in August anyway, due to the lack of competition from other political stories.
So we have a right to be suspicious when, on the first day of September, we get two stories on PCCs from the main parties that we could really have found out about at other times.
The first is from Nottinghamshire, where the Conservative PCC candidate Mike Quigley has stood down because of some undisclosed minor conviction 44 years ago that disqualifies him from standing. (Update:- This report reveals it was criminal damage – breaking a window while drunk from 21st birthday party) I had thought that, with the list of none-fessions on this site, and the mess the Labour party suffered in August around this same issue, perhaps this whole 'previous convictions' thing was over, but no. The Conservative party had already in August refused to tell me what they were doing about candidates' previous convictions. Now perhaps we know why. Trouble is, they knew about this problem in June, 2 months ago, when they lost Keiron Mallon from the Thames Valley shortlist because of a conviction he had already told them about. They should have known by reading the list of qualifications before they even started. The slow-motion reaction on this issue by CCHQ does them no favours, on a day when the Party Chairman is pleading in public to keep her job, for the inspiring reason that she ticks all the right boxes.
Mr Quigley, by the way, has been replaced as Nottinghamshire Conservative PCC candidate by Tony Roberts, Deputy Leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council. The fact this is announced at the same time shows the pre-planned nature of the timing, in contrast with the fiasco in Cambridgeshire earlier this week. (Update: This report seems to show the candidacy has simply passed to the runner-up)
The second piece of news is from Labour's on-again off-again candidate in Derbyshire, Alan Charles. You'll remember that Mr Charles stood down from being candidate because of a court appearance 47 years ago, that his resignation as candidate came a couple of days after TopOfTheCops asked him to declare he was clear of problematic convictions, and that his reinstatement as candidate came a couple of days after TopOfTheCops told him that his conditional discharge didn't count as a conviction.
Well, Mr Charles wouldn't say what it was he had done wrong all those years ago – not when he stood down, and not when he stood back up again, but today, when it begins to sound like old news, he has admitted that he stole a purse from a woman's handbag while she was shopping. The Twitterverse has gone into its we-all-make-mistakes/let's-forgive-and-forget-mode. I'll indulge in neither forgiveness or condemnation here, but just look at the politics of it. This isn't what we have heard before – the 'oops, the car I was in turned out to be stolen' or 'I was on railway property with some people I knew who were shooting cans' – this is a deliberate act of dishonesty with a personal victim that will chime with many women who have lost their belongings in similar circumstances. I can see why it has come out today, but even those 47 years may not be sufficient to stop the story damaging his campaign.
I am definitely not judging Alan Charles for his past mistake, and he has proven by the life he has led since that he has moved on from the person he was when he committed this offence. However, this situation does pose a problem for the Government. Bob Ashford was not allowed to stand,due to the fact he received a small fine for the ‘imprisonable offence’ he committed which was seen as a more serious than the -at the time- unexplained offence committed by Alan Charles which only warranted a conditional discharge. The general public would not have been aware that Alan Charles’s offence could potentially be more serious than that committed by BoB Ashford. Now it is clear that Alan Charles also committed an imprisonable offence of a clearly more serious nature, but due to the lack of consistency in sentencing, he was treated more leniently in the court he appeared. I am actually not surprised the government has not yet responded formally to this issue, they have dug a monumental hole for themselves. I am more shocked that they made the mistake in the first place,as they had barristers and other legal experts involved in the committee that made the decision to exclude those ‘convicted’ of an imprisonable offence.
Corrct – and changes in the criminal justice system since 40+ years ago, and the crime version of ‘grade inflation’ has meant that people can be cautioned or otherwise escape a conviction for a reasonably serious offence, and so remain qualified to stand, while older people find minor convictions as a youth to be a bar when they would not be prosecuted for them today. Regrettably I must say that this part of the legislation has not been fully considered.
Although this recent news is just another nail in the coffin of what should have been a key election in 2012 it has now prompted Michael Crick to “tweet” today – “It’s hard to think of any policy since the poll tax handled so badly by govt “. Short, succinct and sad, but so true. A shambles made of selection procedures resulting in some truly awful choices of candidate and just over two months left to E-Day!
I have to agree with both Pretty Polly and M Crick – an Omnishambles squared.