Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, is under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
The notice of the investigation was posted on the official parliamentary website last week.
The offence? “Use of stationery”.
True, this hardly sounds like the worst offence possible. Maybe right up there with being caught having a sly fag behind the bicycle sheds at Trinity School (stop sniggering at the back).
Inevitably, though, there is more to the matter than Barwell sneaking out of the Palace of Westminster with a wodge of foolscap under his jacket.
It is understood that the offence subject to investigation relates to the mailshot sent from the MP’s constituency office in September, delivered to women of voting age in Addiscombe. Who said the Conservatives don’t use positive discrimination?
Barwell’s begging letter asked his constituents – someone, anyone – to come forward and volunteer to stand for election as a local councillor. The letter was somewhat coy about its connections to the Tories, but most people who have seen it believe it to be a fairly obvious attempt at recruitment for a political party.
The seriousness of the offence being investigated relates to a possible misuse of parliament’s cherished royal symbol of the crowned portcullis, which appears at the top of the Barwell letter.
As with all things in any way connected to Her Maj, the Establishment gets a bit pissed off if you are caught passing yourself off as being “connected”, when you are not in fact working on official business.
On Barwell’s begging letter, it says “From the Constituency Office”, quite properly, underneath the crowned portcullis emblem of the House of Commons. This has surely been used by Barwell and his state-funded office staff to make the recipients of the letter feel as if they have had a personal invitation from their MP.
And this is where Barwell could have bent the rules – and not for the first time.
Since becoming an MP in 2010, Barwell has already managed to collect warnings from the Information Commissioner over his unauthorised use of the names and addresses of those who sign up to receive his constituency emails. He also had to send his election agent, Croydon councillor Ian Parker, along to the court to take a slap on the wrist from a judge over the failure to account properly for his election expenses.
This time, Barwell may be in breach of the House of Commons rules over the use of its headed paper, devices and logos. “The rules about its use are very strict, and limited to parliamentary activity,” a Commons official said. “It’s a royal emblem.”
Was this Tory recruitment letter “parliamentary activity”? Or an abuse of Barwell’s position as an MP? It looks to us as if Barwell – or one of his state-salaried staff – has dropped a bollock. Again.
Had Barwell bothered to get one of the flunkies in his constituency office – and goodness knows, we’re paying for enough of them – to check for him, they would have found the parliamentary rules quite clear:
“The principal emblem of the House is the Crowned Portcullis. It is a royal badge and its use by the House has been formally authorised by licence granted by Her Majesty the Queen. The designs and symbols of the House should not be used for purposes to which such authentication is inappropriate, or where there is a risk that their use might wrongly be regarded, or represented, as having the authority of the House.” The italics are added for emphasis.
We await the outcome of the Parliamentary Commissioner’s investigation with some amused interest. It’s just a shame that for MPs, there’s no totting up process for repeat offenders.
Coming to Croydon
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Summer in February: Nov 18
- Library’s Dr Who day: Nov 23
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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