4 April 2020
Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole Green Party (BCPGP) is issuing a public apology for unknowingly selecting a former UKIP activist who had lied about his CV as its 2019 Parliamentary candidate for Poole. This individual has now decided to leave the Green Party.
Barry Harding-Rathbone was selected as emergency replacement candidate for Poole to contest the 2019 General Election. BCPGP was under highly unusual time pressure to re-select a candidate for the constituency, after the originally selected Poole candidate withdrew just two days before the legal nomination deadline due to unforeseen personal events. Given this timeframe, standard processes of an in-depth application form and local member scrutiny at a hustings event were waived by the national Green Party under its emergency reserve powers, in the spirit of giving voters in Poole a Green Party option on their General Election ballot paper.
Mr Harding-Rathbone, who rejoined the Green Party in May 2019, failed to disclose to this local Green Party at any stage a period as a public face of Rochdale UKIP in 2014, during which he was identified in local community media, still available online, as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (although he did not go on to fight an election for them).
When the first indications of this information were identified during the General Election campaign, and BCPGP's Chair & Coordinator asked Mr Harding-Rathbone to confirm he had never been involved in UKIP, Mr Harding-Rathbone denied any involvement in writing and offered a spurious cover story. Documents have since been obtained from Rochdale Green Party proving the matter beyond doubt.
Section 17.2 of the Green Party of England & Wales Members Code of Conduct states: "Members should disclose anything in their personal history that could potentially bring the Party into disrepute before they stand for election to any office within the Party or for selection as a candidate to represent the Green Party externally in any capacity. This includes opinions that are incompatible with Green Party ethics or philosophy. Disclosures should be in confidence and via appropriate procedures. The duty to disclose is an ongoing duty that persists after being selected or elected."
Green Party members in Poole constituency had agreed in an emergency online ballot to Mr Harding-Rathbone's name going forward onto the ballot paper, when (due to the impending legal deadline) the only alternative would have been no Green Party candidate. Members would have been reassured by Mr Harding-Rathbone's written statement to members that he had served as a frontbench elected senator in the upper house of the Parliament of Malta. Unfortunately, it was only picked up after the election that the upper house of the Parliament of Malta was abolished in 1933. BCPGP is now satisfied this claim was a fabrication.
Chris Henderson, BCPGP Chair & Coordinator, said: "This should not have been allowed to happen. Multiple opportunities were missed to probe Mr Harding-Rathbone's past and his impressive claims of political experience. We understand that there will be disappointment among Green Party members, Green voters and the wider public, and I want to say sorry on behalf of BCPGP. Lessons have been learned, and we will also be seeking a dialogue with the national Green Party who held their own file on Mr Harding-Rathbone's bid to be a Green candidate and green-lighted him for Poole. Suitable 'due diligence' measures will be put in place locally for Green Party candidates, fit-for-purpose in the event of any further short-notice emergency selections.
"There isn't a blanket ban on Green Party involvement by any individual who once involved themselves with UKIP. We understand that some one-time UKIP voters are merely lost anti-establishment voters who've just yet to find a much more appealing anti-establishment party - the Green Party. At the same time, UKIP's influence on political discourse in this country and their standards of conduct have been disturbing in the view of many Greens and regular and occasional Green voters, and a UKIP-to-Green switch by any politician must be proactively acknowledged and would at least prompt searching questions.
"We now know that Mr Harding-Rathbone was previously an active Green Party member in Rochdale (shortly after his UKIP period), and that Rochdale Green Party rejected a 2014 application from him to be a Parliamentary candidate for them, in which he acknowledged his UKIP involvement. Importantly his rejection by Rochdale Greens was not because of UKIP involvement per se, but because of his evasiveness about what his involvement had entailed, his unwillingness to recognise that his recent past at least raised real questions about his political judgment and his real attitudes, and the risk of the Internet footprint of his political past bringing the Green Party into disrepute.
"Lamentably, having moved back to Dorset, Mr Harding-Rathbone decided simply to not disclose his UKIP inolvement at all when reapplying for Green Parliamentary candidature locally, and then to lie about it when first suspicions arose. Mr Harding-Rathbone presented to members a sanitised partial version of his political history, declaring two other past parties (Conservatives and Labour) but at least falsely suggesting a consistent direction of travel. He had also reassured local members with an impressive claim of senior political experience which we now know wasn't true.
"The Green Party locally and nationally prides itself on values of trust and integrity, and Mr Harding-Rathbone has not met the standards expected of Green candidates. Had he not quit the Green Party of England & Wales almost immediately on being confronted, he would have been referred for disciplinary procedures.
"All we can do now is place this statement of what has happened on the public record, with our sincere apology.
"We further wish to distance ourselves from Mr Harding-Rathbone's widespread styling of himself, to our members and publicly in other contexts, as 'Dr' when he holds only an honorary doctorate.
"To the 1,702 people who voted Green in Poole constituency in the General Election, please be reassured of the positive benefits of your Green vote. Green votes everywhere brought extra Parliamentary funding for Green MP Caroline Lucas, and by contributing to the appreciable swing to the Greens locally and nationally, you've brought the Green Party closer to 'major party status' with Ofcom (for TV and radio coverage) and brought serious Climate & Ecological Emergency action closer.
"But obviously, we want to do it better in future, and make sure we select a Green candidate for Poole next time around who would make a credible and trustworthy Member of Parliament. BCPGP is now making moves now to relaunch the grass-roots Green Party scene in the Borough of Poole, and local members and supporters are warmly invited to get involved to help us move on and upwards from this low point."