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 with 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 all agreed to sign it.
But Pendle Labour’s vice-chairman, David Foat, and campaigns co-ordinator Robert Oliver said that 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 that 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 just 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 her”.
“By refusing to follow the request of the Returning Officer, and being the only party to do so, it shows that they are willing to use whatever underhand means they wish to win power.
“I hope that the people of Pendle will now see the kind of standards the local Labour Party have”.
The leader of the Labour group on Pendle Council, Coun. Mohammed Iqbal, 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 the 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.
“In addition, both Lib Dem and Tory agents refused to accept an agreement which prevents voter intimidation outside polling stations, which is common by their people.”
Mr Oliver said: “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 that 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 both 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.