While the Twittersphere’s obsession with the sex lives of professional footballers continues unabated, a rather interesting tale of electoral incompetence in the Principality of Wales has passed almost unnoticed:
Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black has called for “contrition” after two colleagues were disqualified from the assembly less than a fortnight after being elected.
John Dixon and Aled Roberts were members of organisations which in law AMs cannot belong to.
A motion to reinstate them was withdrawn.
UKIP MEP John Bufton is to refer the matter to the police and said it would not be fair to “let them off the hook”.
The story here is that two Lib Dem candidates at the recent Welsh Assembly elections, John Dixon and Aled Roberts, were nominated to the Lib Dem’s regional party lists while, at the same time, holiding down positions in Quangos which should have precluded them from standing as candidates for election. Both were subsequently elected as ‘top-up’ AMs from the regional lists for South Wales Central and North Wales, respectively, and then disqualified when it was discovered that has been ineligable to stand as candidates at the time of the election.
This has no bearing whatsoever on the composition of the Welsh Assembly. As regional list AM’s, their disqualification should result in the nothing more than the seats they would have taken up passing on to the next Lib Dem candidate on each list such that the Lib Dems still get their two AM’s, just not ones the initial thought had been elected.
So, this should be nothing more than a bit of a short-lived embarrassment for the Lib Dems who really ought to chalk it all down to experience, accept that they’ve made a cock up and move on with the two new, and presumably fully eligible, list AMs stepping into the seats vacated by Dixon and Roberts.
But then this is politics and, as usual, that means that the rules are there to observed only for so long as they work in your favour:
The deputy leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has defended the party’s two disqualified assembly members.
Action was taken against Aled Roberts and John Dixon because they were were members of public bodies to which AMs cannot belong.
Roger Williams told BBC Wales’ Politics Show Wales they had paid a price for misinformation on the assembly website.
I smell bullshit, particularly when you look at the excuses being put forward in support of the two disqualified candidates:
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have cast doubt over whether one of their disqualified assembly members broke election rules.
John Dixon and Aled Roberts were members of public bodies to which AMs cannot belong.
But the party said it has a letter from the Care Council for Wales which proves Mr Dixon’s membership was terminated.
Fair enough, if Dixon ceased to be a member of the Care Council for Wales before the election then he didn’t break the rules, so when did he leave the CCW?
The Lib Dems said they have a letter dated 9 May from the care council to Mr Dixon which says that due to his election “your membership of the Care Council for Wales is terminated”.
It also asks him to write to the deputy minister for social services tendering his resignation.
The party said the letter raised questions about Mr Dixon’s qualification because the organisation had already said that he was no longer a member.
Errm, hang on there just a doggone minute, the letter terminating Dixon’s position at the CCW is dated 9th of May when the election was held on the 5th of May and candidate nominations closed on 4th April – and we’ll come back to this dates thing in a moment.
As for Aled Roberts, he has a somewhat different excuse:
The Lib Dems also said Mr Roberts was sent information by the Electoral Commission which directed him to an out-of-date list of disqualified organisations which did not include the Valuation Tribunal for Wales.
That body does appear on the most recent list of disqualified organisations.
The party said the Electoral Commission document included a link to The National Assembly for Wales (Disqualification) Order 2006 rather than the The National Assembly for Wales (Disqualification) Order 2010 which came into force in January 2011.
The Valuation Tribunal for Wales is not included in the 2006 order but is listed as a disqualified organisation in the 2010 order.
The Welsh Lib Dems said Mr Roberts made reasonable efforts to establish whether he qualified as a potential assembly member but was provided with inaccurate information.
So, it was the Electoral Commission’s fault here, as the guidance they sent to Roberts included a link to an outdated piece of legislation.
Now let’s deal with the facts in both cases.
1. Roger Williams, the LD’s Deputy Leader in Wales told the BBC that ‘misinformation’ had appeared on the website of the Welsh Assembly.
However, when I looked to see what information had been posted to that site, what I found was this page, which contains links to a PDF document and a html page, which is incorrectly labelled as a ‘Word’ document, both of which provide the following information in regards to the rules that apply to candidates seeking election to the Assembly:
Who can stand as an Assembly Member?
Candidates must be at least 18 years of age and a British citizen or a citizen of a Commonwealth country, the Irish Republic or another member state of the European Union. Some people are disqualified from standing, for example, judges, civil servants, members of the armed forces and the police, and people holding other kinds of public appointment.
Where can I find information about standing as a candidate in National Assembly for Wales elections?
The Electoral Commission produces guidance for candidates in advance of Assembly elections. Your local authority’s electoral services department will also be able to provide advice.
As there’s a PDF document and it says the exact same thing I can easily put a precise date on when this guidance was finalised for publication to the Assembly website, and according to the PDF’s document properties, the PDF version whas last modified on 8th March 2011 at 12:45 pm.
So, it doesn’t appear that the information that appeared on the Welsh Assembly’s website did anything other than – correctly – direct would-be candidates to the Electoral Commission for further information.
The plot thickens – a search of Google’s cache indicates that the NAfW website did display out of date information up until the 20th May 2011, as shown in the cached page for the 18th of May:
This does incorrectly direct candidates to the 2006 disqualification order and provides some evidence of mitigation in the case of Aled Roberts. It’s also been claimed, in comments, that the Electoral Commission’s site was similarly out of date until around the same time:
Note that the Assembly’s own site says: “The information on this page has been provided by the Electoral Commission as published on 20 May 2011” at the page listed above.
That may have been the date that the NAfW finally got around to updating its website, but the current Google Cache version of the guidance page on the Electoral Commission’s website (dated 18th May 2011) links to the correct documentation.
So, at least part of the story stands up, but then Roberts was also sent information by the Electoral Commission, which is also claimed to have been out of date, so the contents of the NAfW website are only minimally relevant and fail to provide full mitigation.
2. The Welsh Lib Dems – no named source given – claim that Aled Roberts was sold a pup by the guidance he was sent by the Electoral Commission, which incorrectly directed him to an outdated piece of legislation.
Again, the actual guidance is readily accessible from the website of the Electoral Commission as a PDF document and, again, this means that we can verify the date on which this guidance was finalised in addition to evaluating the accuracy of its contents.
So, what does the Electoral Commission’s guidance actually say?
Apart from meeting the qualifications for standing for election, you must also not be disqualified from standing. There are certain people who are disqualified from being elected to the National Assembly for Wales. You cannot be a candidate if at the time of your nomination or election you:
– are a judge
– are a civil servant
– are a member of the armed forces
– are a member of a police force
– are a member of a legislature of any country or territory outside the Commonwealth (other than Ireland)
– are employed as a member of staff of the Assembly
– hold an office that is mentioned in The National Assembly for Wales (Disqualification) Order 2010
– are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order
A person may also be disqualified from election if they have been convicted or reported guilty of a corrupt or illegal practice
by an election court.
What to do if in doubt
If you are in any doubt about whether or not you are disqualified from standing for election, you must take action to be sure you are not disqualified. If you do not, you could be found guilty of making a false statement on the Consent to nomination form, which is a criminal offence. You should consult the legislation or, if necessary, take independent legal advice. The Returning Officer will not be able to confirm whether or not you are disqualified.
That all seems clear to me, right down to the explicit reference to the National Assembly for Wales (Disqualification) Order 2010, which is absolutely the correct piece of legislation. This reference includes, in the PDF document, a hyperlink which leads directly to the copy of this order as it appears on the legislation.gov.uk website and if you expand the Schedule to the legislation and scroll down to the V’s then you’ll see that the Valuation Tribunal for Wales, of which Roberts was a member, is clearly listed as one of the public bodies of which members are disqualified from becoming AMs.
You may also have noticed that the guidance quoted above states that:
You cannot be a candidate if at the time of your nomination or election you:
So, if you already happen to a member of one of the bodies listed in the disqualification order before the election is called, you have to have resigned your position before accepting a nomination as a candidate, which for this election means no later than the close of nominations on the 4th April 2011.
That, of course, blows a gaping hole through the excuse put up by the Lib Dems in regards to John Dixon as it would appear, from the information in the BBC report, that the CCW had to write to him four days after the election to tell him that he could no longer be a member of that public body.
As for dating the production of the Electoral Commission’s guidance, the document properties show that this document was created on 11th March 2011 at around 4:30pm by an Electoral Commission named Jessica Bishop and has not been modified since.
We have another claim in comments to deal with:
All well and good, however the Electoral Commissions website was only updated to include the “new” guidance last week, until that point it had been carrying reference to the 2006 order. Apparently, Aled Roberts was provided with a copy of the 2006, not the 2010 order by the EC and the Returning Officer too – prior to submitting his nomination papers.
Interesting, but also noticeably at odds the BBC’s report, which clearly states that Roberts was sent a document with a link to the outdated 2006 order, and not the order itself, so we’re currently none the wiser as to the exact dicumentation that Roberts claims to have received beyond the fact that the guidance produced for the 2011 election was correct and was finanalised well in advance of the election.
It’s also well worth noting the apparent reason for concern over possible change in AM resulting from Roberts’ disqualification:
Furthermore, it might change the nature of the Assembly, as the second on the North Wales list is what might be described as a loose cannon, with not much interest in taking the party whip – and may even cross the floor.
So, why put such a candidate into the second position on the list, when the party clearly doesn’t trust them to play ball? Again, this doesn’t speak well for the general competence of the party in North Wales.
The evidence leads me to three observations:
1. A prosecution for corrupt practices would, in this case, probably be extremely harsh and contrary to the public interest unless it were show that either of these candidates obtained an unfair electoral advantage from their failure to resign their respective positions with the Care Council for Wales or the Valuation Tribunal for Wales, remembering, of course, that it would have been reasonable for both to cite the fact that had been members of these bodies in their election literature if that had stood down from them at rthe proper time, i.e. before the close of nominations on 4th April.
2. If the Welsh Lib Dems genuinely feel that the rules here are unduly harsh, then the time to raise that objection was during its passage through the Welsh Assembly, before it was passed forward to the UK Parliament for enactment.
3. Putting up a bunch of bullshit arguments after the fact in the hope of retrospectively re-writing the rule book is not only dishonest, its also an extremely stupid thing to do in an age when anyone with an internet connection and an inquiring mind can quickly check the factual accurancy, or otherwise, of your arguments and publish the results on the internet where everyone can see them.
Politicians of all parties need to lead that the days of bullshitting to save face are over. Today, bullshitting only makes things worse.