Fringe Box



Opinion: Should A Criminal Record Bar Political Activity?

Published on: 11 Mar, 2016
Updated on: 14 Mar, 2016

GBC petitionBy Martin Giles

Does a disgraced former councillor with a criminal conviction for dishonesty, on several counts, have the right to raise a petition that might influence the way we are governed locally?

A number of Dragon readers have expressed outrage at the prospect but legally there seems to be nothing to stop Monika Juneja, the former councillor in question. And would we really want our laws to bar all those with convictions from the politics? Surely there must come a point in the rehabilitation process when normal political activity is allowed, even if a suspended sentence is still in force.

Opinion Logo 2Whether enough time, since her conviction last May, has passed to allow forgiveness is highly questionable and it is doubtful if Ms Juneja will ever be fully trusted again with matters political. Jeffery Archer’s political career was dealt a mortal blow by his conviction for perjury in 2001.

But perhaps whether the organiser of this petition has a criminal conviction should not be our main concern. It is worth recalling the background.

It was not the first petition on the subject of council governance. Disillusioned with the Conservative party in power at Millmead, green belt protection activists had already started a petition in 2014 seeking to force a referendum on a return to committee style governance at Guildford Borough Council.

One motivation for starting the “Elected Mayor Petition” might have been to thwart this “Committee Petition” (once one referendum is held on the subject of our borough council governance another would be debarred for a decade) but the way it was organised makes it unlikely that this was the sole reason it was raised.

Firstly, there was the secret involvement of the former council leader, Stephen Mansbridge. A close friend and political colleague of Monika Juneja, he was seeking support for the petition from local students even while the council was already, under his leadership, holding a review of its governance.

The reaction to news, when it came, of the petition being organised, and signatures being collected near polling stations, by Ms Juneja, still a serving councillor at the time, due to appear at the Old Bailey within days, visibly angered many Tory councillors at the election count last May (2015). They seemed both incredulous and ignorant of their leader’s covert involvement.

Secondly, there was the support from local entrepreneur Michel Harper, who has well known business property development aspirations in Guildford.  He and a business partner funded the payments to students, and others, organised to collect signatures on a payment per signature basis.

To be fair, Mr Harper, an unpopular figure with the council over the years and previously a sharp critic of Mr Mansbridge, has always been an advocate of a directly elected mayor for Guildford. But why did Ms Juneja repeatedly refuse to say how the petition was funded if it was all above board?

Both Stephen Mansbridge and Michel Harper have denied any ambition to be the elected mayor and one wonders who would want to take such a role on?

We should be reassured that if there is a referendum the decision will rest with the electorate of our borough. The choice will be binary and the decision made by a simple majority of those who vote.

We can only hope that voters understand something of the issue and consider their choice carefully. Our past track record does not augur well; most of us cannot even name our councillors and tribal voting seems as rife in Guildford as elsewhere in the UK, the outcomes made worse by the disproportionate first past the post system. But at least the elected mayor decision is not, in the main, a party political issue.

Personally, I am all for referendums but I would rather we had them on whether we should build on the green belt, or increase local taxes to fix pot holes, or adopt the proposed Local Plan.

Worry not, you will not be expected to report to your nearest polling station on a weekly basis to vote on such issues anytime soon. Politicians jealously guard their power and many really don’t trust us to make policy decisions. Perhaps they worry that if we did we would not need them other than to implement what we decide? And that’s not what they want at all.

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Responses to Opinion: Should A Criminal Record Bar Political Activity?

  1. George Potter Reply

    March 11, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    It is worth noting that referenda are quite expensive. I once did some very rough calculations and worked out that the extra cost to the council of administering a borough wide referendum would be roughly equivalent to a 1 or 2% rise in council tax.

    Interesting, thank you. We are making enquiries about the potential cost of a referendum should the petition be accepted. Perhaps someone already knows? Ed

  2. Mary Bedforth Reply

    March 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Off topic. I read that the EU referendum will cost £70m.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    March 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    A additional cost that, these days, we could really do without.

  4. Paul Robinson Reply

    March 14, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I live on the same housing development as Monika Juneja and I find it surprising that no-one has come round with her petition.

    I would have thought if you are drawing up a petition one of the first places you would try would be your own back yard – unless you are after a particular demographic that isn’t locally available.

  5. Jim Allen Reply

    March 18, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    If the petition is successful but the organisers do not have a candidate to put forward and no one else puts their name forward, what happens?

    As for convicted persons, they should be excluded from use of the public purse in any way shape of form. There should be no forgiveness, they have proved untrustworthy by nature and leopards do not change their spots.

    If a referendum is held, as now seems more likely, and Guildford votes to have an elected mayor, all the main parties, we believe, will put up a candidate. Ed

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