A ROW has broken out after Labour refused to sign a cross-party agreement aimed at stamping out postal vote fraud in Pendle.
The agreement was drawn up by Pendle Council chief executive Stephen Barnes and lists a number of guidelines for the parties to follow.
At a meeting of the parties’ election agents, the Conservatives, Lib Dems, BNP and UKIP all signed up to the agreement, but it was rejected by Labour who said it carried no enforcement power.
The council set up a panel to look at postal vote fraud in 2012 after Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson claimed the practice was ‘widespread’. Paul White, the agent for Pendle Conservatives, said: “We’ve long said that we think there are issues with postal ballots being collected in parts of Pendle by the Labour Party.
“We have some wards with over 1,200 people on postal ballots. We’re a westernised country, and this sort of rigging shouldn’t be happening here.
“Their agents sat there and said this sort of thing doesn’t go on in their party. If it doesn’t go on, why wouldn’t they agree it?”
Tony Greaves, Lib Dem agent, said: “Everyone involved in local politics knows that postal rigging goes on every year in some parts of Pendle, and that there has been a problem for the past 12 years.
“It is only common sense for the parties in Pendle to agree not to carry out this dubious activity this year in order to help clean up the elections here.”
At the meeting, Mr Barnes asked the parties to agree to the statement, which included giving assurances that they would not go round collecting postal votes from electors.
But Labour said that every sentence in the statement started with ‘I urge’, and it did not provide any power to the council or police.
Robert Oliver, Labour agent for Nelson, said: “We attended the meeting and were honest with our comments and constructive.
“We were not seeking a cheap publicity stunt, unlike the Tory party.
“The chief executive accepted that the one-sided piece of paper he has drafted has no legal powers.”