A POLITICAL row has broken out over directly-elected crime commissioners after a Labour candidate claimed a Tory rival was “too young” for the position.

As it emerged that Home Secretary Theresa May had asked the Treasury to fund an advertising campaign to encourage stronger candidates to come forward, Northumbria Labour candidate Vera Baird said Durham Conservative candidate Nick Varley lacked the experience for the post because of his age.

Mr Varley was a 20-year-old student when he stood as Conservative candidate for Durham City in the Parliamentary elections of 2010.

Last night, Ms Baird suggested he lacked the gravitas to be elected as a police and crime commissioner (PCC), saying: “The police commissioner has a budget, sets the precept and negotiates with the chief constable – and this all requires experience.”

But James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, who announced Mr Varley’s candidacy at the weekend, hit back, accusing Ms Baird of ageism. He said: “What will we be saying next?

That some people are too old to run?

“Vera Baird’s experience is of losing her driving licence for breaking the law while she was Solicitor General.”

Mr Wharton was referring to the former Redcar MP’s speeding conviction in 2010, which led to a six-month driving ban.

Ms Baird went on to say: “I think the Tories are in real difficulty.

They are not getting the kind of calibre of candidate that they themselves would wish for.”

Several former ministers and MPs are to stand for the PCC elections in November.

Falklands War hero Simon Weston last week withdrew from the contest in South Wales, saying it had become too political and was not serving the people.

PCCs, who will be paid between £65,000 and £100,000, will have the power to set budgets and hire and fire chief constables, but will not intervene in day-to-day operational matters.

Ms Baird said: “Lots of the public don’t understand what these police commissioner elections are about, and that is not their fault, because the Tories have done nothing to make clear what they are.

“If there is any danger of politicising the police it is the Tories because they are fully responsible for this plan.

“All of the Labour candidates have said they will safeguard the operational independence of the police.”

Mr Wharton said he would welcome more independent candidates but said there was plenty of time between now and November for more people to stand.

Councillor Ken Lupton, a former leader of Stockton Borough Council, was chosen by the Conservatives to contest Cleveland and Mr Varley was selected for Durham.