Election hopefuls launch 'keep it clean' pledge

Election hopefuls launch 'keep it clean' pledge

ELECTION candidates in Dewsbury have devised a tough anti-fraud pledge after claiming that a council code of conduct is too vague.

The guidelines were brought in after the town was hit by claims of postal vote rigging in 2012.

Tories standing in the town’s three council wards believe it does not go far enough –  and so came up with their own ‘keep it clean’ pledge.

Dewsbury East candidate Mark Eastwood claimed the council code of conduct deals solely with postal vote fraud, but makes no mention of voter intimidation at polling stations.

Now they want the 11 other candidates, from Greens to English Democrats, plus Kirklees Council and the police to sign up.

Labour have this week accused the Tories of not signing the council code of conduct, claiming they are only party not to do so.

Coun David Sheard (Lab, Heckmondwike) wrote in a blog on Wednesday: “Instead the Tories have created their own wishy-washy pledge and are trying to get others to sign.”

Former councillor Khizar Iqbal was ousted from his Dewsbury South seat after 14 years in 2012 following a huge swing to Labour.

The Press reported claims of postal ballot fraud and voter intimidation there, which led to three people being cautioned by police.

Mr Iqbal is standing in Dewsbury South again, as residents go to the polls for council and European elections on Thursday May 22.

He said: “The code of conduct is too vague, and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve come up with the pledge.

“It’s about protecting and upholding the integrity of a person’s vote and the electoral system.”

As a result of 2012’s claims Kirklees is one of 16 councils whose polls will this time be monitored by the Electoral Commission.

Mr Iqbal added: “I’m still disappointed by the outcome of that investigation. It was swept under the carpet.

“What happened in 2012 was shameful. I provided concrete evidence of it to both the police and Kirklees Council.

“But the people who interfered in the electoral process got away with it. That shouldn’t happen in Britain.”

Dewsbury West candidate Shehzad Hussain – who himself hit the headlines in February when it was revealed he had a fraud conviction – said he had first-hand experience of voter intimidation.

He said: “I’ve seen extreme instances of voter intimidation by candidates and political activists where police have been called.

“Some polling stations resembled battlefields as opposed to places where people can peacefully place their vote.”

Labour candidate Coun Mumtaz Hussain (Dewsbury West) backed the pledge and said: “I won’t entertain anything suspicious.”

It is not known at this stage whether candidates from all parties standing in Dewsbury will sign the pledge. Mark Eastwood, meanwhile, hand-delivered pledge leaflets to the homes of his rivals in Dewsbury East on Wednesday.

He said: “The police and council do seem to be taking voter fraud seriously now, which I don’t think they did last time.

“It’s not about who wins or loses. It’s about having a free and fair election – so I hope everybody signs up.

“Dewsbury has a history of making headlines for the wrong reasons. Let’s show we can hold elections without controversy or serious incident.”

Council chief executive Adrian Lythgo said several steps had been taken in the fight against voter fraud.

Kirklees Police chief supt Tim Kingsman said such allegations should first be reported to Mr Lythgo, who is also returning officer for elections.

Chief Supt Kingsman added: “We are committed to protecting the integrity of our democratic voting system.

“We will have a policing operation in place on polling day and any allegation of electoral fraud will be taken extremely seriously.

“The police work closely with the returning officer in Kirklees both in the run up to and following any election to identify any suspicious activity.”

In addition to their pledge, the Conservative trio are also asking for the public to support their ‘Keep It Clean’ campaign with an online and paper petition, with party activists collecting signatures in Dewsbury town centre tomorrow afternoon (Sat).

The online version can be found at www.ipetitions.com/petition/keep-it-clean-2.

Candidates’ Pledge:

“We, the undersigned, candidates of all political parties standing in the Kirklees Metropolitan Council elections on May 22 in the Dewsbury East, West and South wards and representatives of Kirklees Council and West Yorkshire Police – publicly pledge to ensure that the forthcoming elections on May 22 are free and fair and condemn all forms of electoral fraud or voter intimidation and will take all steps necessary to ensure that no such conduct or behaviour will be perpetrated or accepted – and any reports of such conduct will be reported and fully investigated.”

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