Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on a serial offender
Gavin Barwell is breaking the rules on use of parliamentary resources for electioneering. Again.
Less than two years since the Tory career politician received a formal warning for abusing his state-funded parliamentary offices for conducting a key part of his election campaign, Barwell has been caught doing almost exactly the same thing as he seeks to cling on to his Croydon Central seat.
This is at least the fifth time that Barwell’s abuses of public-funded facilities have resulted in his conduct being reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards or other office-holders. On each previous breach of the rules, Barwell has been found to be in the wrong, but the authorities have taken no action against him.
In 2015, Kathryn Hudson, the commissioner, accepted Barwell’s apology and explanation that letters with the House of Commons logo, distributed to thousands in his constituency by Barwell as part of his campaign to get re-elected, were merely “an honest mistake” by the politician and his state-funded staff. By the time Hudson issued her ruling, Barwell had slunk back to Westminster after scraping in with a 165-vote majority.
Generously funded by the tax-payer, Barwell runs constituency and Westminster offices with six members of staff, which have included four current Croydon councillors, all collecting a second state-funded income: Mario Creatura, Sara Bashford, Sue Bennett and Jason Cummings. The facilities of Barwell’s parliamentary office are not supposed to be used for party political electioneering.
The latest complaint over Barwell and his staff’s misconduct and abuse of public money has been filed this week by David White, a retired solicitor and the secretary of the Croydon Central Labour Party.
In an email to Hudson, White writes, “I wrote to you in 2015 about the use by Mr Barwell of parliamentary resources for party political purposes. You kindly wrote to me with your conclusions on 9th July 2015.
“Mr Barwell is doing this again. I attach two screenshots taken today from his website from which you will see he is using his House of Commons address and parliamentary email as part of his current election campaign.
“I request that you take appropriate action, bearing in mind that this seems to be a repeat offence. If anything this is worse than the last occasion as he is not currently an MP,” White wrote.
Barwell’s previous defence was incompetence, which hardly reflects well on him or the Tory councillors on his staff. It would seem most unconvincing for them to try to claim the same “honest mistake” plea again.
What Hudson does in 2017, when Barwell has been reported to her for a very similar offence in the midst of an election campaign, remains to be seen.
But it ought to be plain that Tory election candidate Barwell and his staff have very little respect for the rules, and merrily abuse public resources for the benefit of the Conservative Party.
Given that in 2010 and 2015 Barwell was also caught breaking election spending rules, which seven years ago resulted in his agent, Ian Parker, having to go to court to be formally reprimanded by a judge, it might seem to many that his abusing public resources to supplement his 2017 campaign should deserve something rather more than a slap on the wrist and being reported to parliament’s Committee on Standards, as happened two years ago.
But no one’s holding their breath.
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