A leading independent candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner has been bankrolled by a right-wing US think tank committed to the privatisation of public services.
The revelation, which promoted the resignation of Mervyn Barrett's entire campaign team in Lincolnshire over the weekend, comes amid a growing sense of crisis surrounding next month's elections.
Former Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair yesterday urged the public to undermine the new positions by boycotting the commissioner votes, as lack of interest threatens to keep turnout below 20 per cent.
In an extraordinary development, Mr Barrett, who had been polling in third place, parted company with his campaign team following the revelation that he had been receiving money from the Fund For the New American Century – an organisation that shares the ideology, staff and almost the same name as a now defunct neo-con think tank which is credited with helping persuade President George W Bush to wage war in Iraq.
Rivals in the Lincolnshire race had previously raised questions about the source of funds for Mr Barrett's slick campaign, which is believed to have cost up to £50,000.
The former charity boss arrived for meetings in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, boasted a team of paid staff and planned to mailshot every home in the country ahead of next month's vote.
Yesterday Mr Barrett was forced to deny that his policies were inspired by the think tank, which argues for more outsourcing in the public sector.
"I am not for sale, I never have been for sale and I never will be for sale. If anybody who donated to my campaign thought differently they are very sorely mistaken. It is disingenuous in the extreme to suggest that I am in some way anybody's puppet. The policies contained within my manifesto were developed and agreed by me alone," he said in a statement.
Lincolnshire Police is regarded as a leading proponent of police reform. It is understood the county was targeted by the think tank because it was believed Mr Barrett had a realistic chance of winning. The Fund held talks with a number of other candidates before choosing Mr Barrett, it emerged.
His former special adviser and campaign manager Matthew de Unger Brown, a former Conservative activist, paid tribute to his former boss. "The reason I and my team resigned was because, once the campaign manager and the campaign management becomes the story, it is no longer fair to the candidate to continue," he said.
Conservative candidate Richard Davies, who is favourite to be the first Lincolnshire police commissioner, said: "I think he has come into Lincolnshire to try to run a big presidential style political campaign and that does not really work here.
Under Electoral Commission rules independent candidates do not have to reveal their source of donations until 90 days after the ballot.
Its guidelines state candidates are able to accept contributions only from "certain mainly UK-based sources" although a Commission spokesman was unable to comment on the case yesterday.
Profile: Melvyn Barrett
Awarded an OBE in 1999 for services to crime reduction for his work with the charity Nacro, Mervyn Barrett was exactly the kind of non-political "big figure" David Cameron had in mind when he announced plans for his new Police and Crime Commissioners. Mr Barrett recently praised Lincolnshire Police's civilian worker contract with G4S – the company criticised for failing to recruit enough Olympic security staff – praising the £3m a year it was saving the force. Has also backed cost-saving collaborations between constabularies and supported the idea of officers holding surgeries in supermarkets.