Less than a month after a former Mayor of Peterborough convicted of electoral fraud announced his intention to stand as a Conservative candidate for May’s local elections, Peterborough City Council has again called for a change in the law to prevent vote riggers from being allowed to stand for public office.
In October 2015 the council voted to write to the Electoral Commission calling for a change in the law so that anyone convicted of electoral fraud was given a lifetime disqualification from standing for office.
And after the Conservatives selected former Labour mayor Mohammed Choudhary to stand in Central ward - a decade after he was jailed for interfering with postal votes at council elections - the authority has once again voted to write to the Electoral Commission to ask it to review the issue.
It follows a motion introduced by Cllr Bella Saltmarsh of the Liberal Party at Wednesday’s Full Council meeting which received 21 votes in favour and 19 against, with 10 abstentions.
She said: “We feel it is important that voters in Peterborough should have confidence in the people they elect to represent them and that they will uphold the law.”
Her stance was immediately endorsed by Labour councillor Matthew Mahabadi who said: “We must have integrity in our system and the people who stand to be elected.”
UKIP’s Cllr John Whitby then added: “Politics and politicians are viewed lower than most criminals in this country and things like this is one of the reasons why.
“In almost no other profession would you be permitted to practise if you have been found guilty of malpractice.”
However, a series of speakers then spoke against the motion, including Cllr Stephen Lane of the Werrington First group.
He said: “Once that conviction is spent they are free to stand. This chamber should not discriminate on who should and who should not stand.”
Cllr Steve Allen from the Conservative side of the Council Chamber said he understood the sentiment of the motion, but that he believes in “giving those who have done wrong a second chance.”
Independent Cllr Darren Fower said: “I find the stance of this motion quite right wing.
“If the people do not like the candidate do not vote for him.
Fellow independent Julia Davidson added that spent convictions should not be held against people.
Conservative cabinet members Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald and Cllr Peter Hiller both said voters should be allowed to choose whether they wished to vote for people convicted of electoral fraud if they wanted to stand for public office.
Cllr Fitzgerald said: “Let the people decide. That’s the fair and proper process.”
Fellow cabinet member Cllr David Seaton said he thought at the start of the debate he would vote for the motion, until he heard “some of the sanctimonious speeches.”
But Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford said: “We are not talking about whether their crime expires and getting employment, we are talking about coming back as a member of the council.
“If somebody commits a sexual offence that crime expires after a period. But would you allow them to go back into a school or a place where children are?”
The same argument was made by Labour group leader Cllr Ed Murphy who said: “If as a doctor or accountant you do something serious in that profession, it’s a lifetime ban.”
The final word went to another Labour councillor in Angus Ellis. He said: “It’s an issue of restoring faith in politics in Peterborough.”
Despite senior Conservatives locally confirming Mr Choudhary would be a candidate, a Conservative Party spokesman contacted the PT to say no candidate would be officially chosen before March.