Pendle Labour Party has refused to sign a statement designed to prevent impropriety in the handling of postal votes applications and ballot papers in the borough, describing it as a “smokescreen”.
Members of all the major political groups and police representatives met Pendle Council’s chief executive, Stephen Barnes, to discuss the statement issued by Mr Barnes in the interest of protecting the integrity of ballots.
Conservative election agent Coun. Paul White, Liberal Democrat Coun. Tony Greaves, representatives from the British National Party and the UK Independence Party and the police agreed to sign it.
But Pendle Labour’s vice-chairman, David Foat, and campaigns co-ordinator Robert Oliver said they would not support the statement, which asked party workers not to procure signed postal ballot papers.
It also asked parties to agree to council staff requesting the names and addresses of people delivering batches of completed postal vote forms and not to issue blank forms without referring requests to the appropriate senior party representative.
Coun. White said: “We’ve long said we think there are issues with postal ballots being collected in parts of Pendle by the Labour Party.
“We have some wards with over 1,200 people on postal ballots. We’re a westernised country, and this sort of rigging shouldn’t be happening here”.
“Their agents sat there and said this sort of thing doesn’t go on in their party. If it doesn’t go on, why wouldn’t they agree it?
“The Labour Party constantly says this is sour grapes from the other parties, but by refusing to agree to a document which asks people not to collect postal votes, or to exert undue influence on electors, it shows what could well be going on here.
“By refusing to follow the request of the Returning Officer, and being the only party to do so, it shows they are willing to use whatever underhand means they wish to win power.
“I hope the people of Pendle will now see the kind of standards the local Labour Party have.”
Coun. Greaves said: “Everyone involved in local politics knows postal rigging goes on every year in some parts of Pendle, and there has been a problem for the past 12 years.
“The Electoral Commission has accepted there are serious concerns about voting fraud in some places, including Pendle, Burnley and Blackburn, and has put the elections here under special supervision this year.
“The commission is also consulting on a proposal to make the practice of going round collecting postal votes against their rules, with a view to bringing that in nationally next year.
“It is only common sense for the parties in Pendle to agree not to carry out this dubious activity this year in order to help clean up the elections here.
“If the rest of us can agree, why can’t Labour do the same? The answer is obvious and it brings shame on the Labour party in Pendle.”
Mr Oliver said: “Pendle Labour Party strictly follows the electoral commission code of conduct, which is very clear in terms of guidance for campaigners.
“We do not see what additional power the local agreement brings to the table. There needs to be actual powers used by the Chief Executive and police.
“It’s actually ironic for the Tories to be using this as a smokescreen while accepting at the meeting that their national party is collating postal vote applications at a central address in Birmingham before sending them onto local councils.
“All Labour candidates have signed the national code of conduct without any hesitation.
“We attended the meeting and were honest with our comments and constructive.
“We were not seeking a cheap publicity stunt unlike the Tory party. The Chief Executive accepted the one-sided piece of paper he has drafted has no legal powers.
“Pendle Labour Party is wanting the Tory party to defend their record in office locally and nationally and here we have their election supremo trying to use a smokescreen.”
Pendle is currently one of 16 areas in the UK subject to an inquiry by the Electoral Commission looking into the vulnerability of some South Asian communities, specifically with reference to postal voting.