A PCC candidate’s lot is not a happy one. Whether ‘blessed’ by party support or independent of it, the task of reaching anywhere from 500,000 to over 2 million people with the meagre resources you have managed to scratch together has already proved too daunting for some. Candidates must have a feeling a little bit like that experienced by the disciples when they initially compared the size of the hungry congregation with the amount of fish and baked goods. The definitive lists of nominated candidates are therefore differing slightly from the rumours we’ve been spreading here for months.
So spare a thought for how the candidates felt as they sipped their tea and consumed their toast and marmalade over, say, the Sunday Telegraph, and saw Andrew Gilligan’s article. I would think the thoughts varied from ‘how much?’, through ‘how can I get some of that?’ and to a realisation that having, like them, sought free publicity from the press for months, Lincolnshire Independent Mervyn Barrett (OBE) must now be wondering whether there really is no such thing as a bad variety of it. My post from a few days ago may be seeming slightly prophetic, all the more so, as it was written before I got the call from Mr Gilligan.
Gilligan’s article is something rare in this election, a bit of real journalism, rather than another rehearsal of hackneyed complaints about the reform. I’ve been going on about ‘Where is Mervyn getting all his money?’ since I shared a table with him at a PCC conference in June, and noticed he had a sidekick with him to take notes, unlike all those privileged party people flying solo in the same room. Gilligan’s article is the first take on some answers to that question – or at least the first to get past the lawyers and out to the public.
The article does not go so far as to allege that Mervyn Barrett has taken money from the American ‘think tank’/Political Action Committee mentioned therein. This is important, as campaign donations above £50 need to come from UK sources to be legal, but the problem is that up until now the campaign has been spending an awful lot of money and when questioned has shown a high priority for maintaining the privacy of donors over transparency.
That approach is unsatisfactory, much like the campaign’s response to the revelation that someone bought thousands of Twitter followers for Mr Barrett – which has never properly been put to bed. The campaign may have got the legal angle covered, but it’s a political campaign, and it needs to cover the politics too. Things that look dodgy can be just as damaging as things that actually are dodgy.
Barrett is left with a real difficulty. He has publicity in place, adverts having run, polling done, a film made and now publicised by the Sunday Telegraph, and the nomination secured. As the Sunday papers make their way to the recycling bin it might be tempting to tough it out.
However, if the team’s resignation is real, and not just a publicity stunt, then he has just lost the heart of his campaign workforce, and possibly the funding too. Everyone has been working to the nomination deadline of last Friday and the voting deadline of 15 November, but there is another election deadline that few note. Midday on Wednesday 24th October is the deadline for when a nominated candidate can withdraw. Mr Barrett has scheduled a Press Conference for Wednesday, while he “takes time to reflect”. Is this the end of the Barrett campaign?
If not, his statement needs to be clear, comprehensive and decisive, leaving no room for questions or doubt. He needs to say where every penny is coming from, why his campaign team are no longer with him, and why they were with him in the first place. If he doesn’t, his election story could be the PCC equivalent of Andrew Mitchell’s lingering death.
I have to say though, there are a few loose-ends I’m not happy with.
1) This ‘think tank’/PAC. It’s called the ‘Fund for a New American Century’. Now that sounds awfully like the Project for the New American Century, a proper American think tank supported by people you might have heard of, like Dick Cheney and Jeb Bush, but is it really the same thing or something deliberately contrived to look similar to it? The “Fund”‘s online presence is a single-page website for MatthewPAC, seemingly named after self-styled neo-con and recent Barrett campaign manager Matthew De Unger Brown.
2) Were I to pick someone involved in this election likely to be supported by a Neo-Conservative American political group, I’d pick, well, me, not Mervyn Barrett. I’d pick someone whose election campaign might have the slogan ‘Vote for me and buy shares in rope’, not the ‘Criminals are just misunderstood’ Guardian-reading pigeon-hole into which I would be tempted to place Mr Barrett. It just doesn’t look right. Is that the point? Is that pigeon-hole what international commercial interests think sells in the UK? Is Mr Barrett a privatising wolf in bleeding-heart sheep’s clothing?
3) Finally, just who are these other PCC candidates they are supposedly supporting? Candidates from other areas who’ve had their photo taken with Mr Barrett recently must be diving for cover.