Dismore: Bungling Barnet’s election ‘inquiry’ riddled with conflicts of interest

fails to address systemic  issues, and gives little confidence for  the Referendum


Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM has received a response (copy attached)  from Barnet Council’s Acting Chief Executive, John Hooton, to 29 questions Mr Dismore posed, concerning the mechanics of the ‘investigation ’ into 5th May London  elections.

Mr Dismore said:

‘Mr Hooton’s reply confirms my worst suspicions about the so–called ‘investigation’ into what went wrong on 5th May. Residents can have little  confidence  in the way the Referendum will be conducted based on this process.

‘Firstly, the investigator, Mark Heath, was appointed  on the basis of a phone call, with  no due process such as a  proper interview or competition. His remuneration is not disclosed. He has spent only 1 day in Barnet.  Nor  will he attend the committee to present his report in person and answer questions.

‘He also appears to be personally acquainted with a deputy returning officer ,  the Council’s Monitoring  Officer, whose role should  presumably be examined under the investigation.

‘There should have been an independent lawyer with an assessor who has run elections before, to give confidence in the investigation. 

‘There are  clear conflicts of interest. Not only is there the issue of this apparent personal acquaintance, the Monitoring Officer and elections team  who prima facie were probably responsible at least in  part for what went wrong  (and presumably should therefore  themselves be subjects of the inquiry) have themselves actually been given the job of collecting the evidence  and information as to what happened!  

‘The report will go to the General Functions Committee, whose lack of exercise of their oversight role ought to be one of the subjects of the investigation: another conflict of interest.

‘It also seems to me that the public have not really been given much of a chance to contribute their experiences of what went wrong, either.

‘The investigation is not looking at everything that went wrong on 5th May and in the run up to the election, either. It is only looking at the question of the wrong electoral registers being provided. That should be a relatively simple problem to address for the Referendum.

‘But  the systemic problems- late or non arrival of poll cards, postal and proxy votes, inaccurate voter registers, inconvenient polling stations, inadequately  trained polling staff, unobtainable helplines, for example-  that have bedevilled every Barnet  election for years won’t even be looked at by the investigator.

‘At the Council AGM, even the Leader of the Council accepted these were problems and said they would be looked at; but this is clearly not going to be done in time to effect substantive changes for the Referendum.

‘Dozy Barnet Conservatives’ slothful attitude is jeopardising the most important vote in the UK  for a generation.

‘I am already receiving complaints from the public about the problems they are experiencing trying to  register for the Referendum and getting postal and proxy votes, for example, but the causes of these complaints are not  going to be considered in time.

‘Whilst, therefore, the ‘wrong register’ issue may be addressed, all the other systemic issues won’t.

‘There is good news and bad news, too. The good news, is that another chief executive is coming into Barnet for a day a week to give support. The bad news is that it is  the chief executive of the rotten borough of the Corporation of London, with less than 10,000 voters, fewer than the population of just one Barnet ward! While no doubt he is an admirable and competent officer, overseeing elections a 20th of the size of Barnet’s  is hardly the right  experience we need.

‘No-one can have much confidence in Bungling Barnet’s ability to run the Referendum efficiently and fairly. There will be the same complaints from disenfranchised voters and if the result is close, Bungling Barnet will be in the headlines yet again.

‘ We have lost the Chief Executive as the  scapegoat and  we now have an Acting Chief Executive. I would not put money on us not having an ‘Acting, Acting’ Chief Executive after the Referendum, the way things are going.

No-one has had the courage and decency to accept the political responsibility for what went wrong. Cllr Cornelius, Leader of the Council should go, as should Cllr Scannell, chair of the relevant General Functions Committee, responsible for elections.’