Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Law on Postal Votes Must be Rewritten

West Midlands Labour Councillor Bob Piper can contain his glee at the arrest of a LibDem Councillor's wife in Birmingham on electoral fraud charges. The truth is that all parties have people who will stretch the law, so we shouldn't be too sanctimonious about it. Birmingham Conservative Council leader Mike Whitby (pictured) probably sums it up best.

“The Conservative Party in Birmingham has been at the forefront of rooting out fraud and corruption that has blighted our local elections for years. We highlighted the need to look at the Northern Ireland system which can offer the necessary
safeguards to ensure our local elections are free, fair and clear of any illegal or corrupt practices. For two years we identified the frailty and the weaknesses of our postal vote system and how it had been appallingly abused by those wishing to cheat the people of our city. Even the Labour Leader on Birmingham City Council admitted that the changes to the postal vote system, that his government introduced, ‘looks and feels wrong”. We argued that our postal vote system is open to abuse, and presents an invitation to cheat. It would seem that despite our best efforts, there are still those who wish to tarnish our democratic reputation yet further. It is vital that the police and the public remain vigilant to ensure that the results on the 4th May reflect the will of the people. The Conservative Party have already set a strong example by formally complaining to West Midlands Police about a suspiciously high number of postal vote applications. I have also met with the Chief Executive and senior Conservative Party officials to discuss the implementation of a pilot scheme to combat this very problem and I look forward to setting the foundations for stronger democracy in Birmingham that will not only help prevent those who wish to cheat the chance to do so, but will repair our battered reputation.”

It seems that there are still huge problems about conducting elections in our second City. Labour's PPERA Act has a lot to answer for. We just didn't have this sort of problem before - well, certainly not on the scale of what's happened in Birmingham. The law on postal votes clearly needs to be completely re-written.


Jonathan Sheppard said...

One huge problem with postal ballots is that the element of the ballot being secret has been completely lost, which for me is worrying.

Jock Coats said...

I presume he doesn't mean the whole of the Northern Irish system?

Mind you, STV would at least give them some seats on Oxford City Council..:)

Anonymous said...

I think you are deluding yourself Iain if you think this didn't go before. Look at Hackney - Labour were notorious for fiddling proxy votes in the 1980s. When those involved were expelled after a huge public row over all sorts of things to do with how the party in hackney was run (at the time the press described the expellees as the good guys - they weren't) then it became the party they joined (ie the Lib Dems) who took it up. And Tories were at it too.

Proxies were the method of choice for the fiddlers before postal votes came along.

I am also intregued by the leader of Birmigham Tories' support for compulsory ID cards - in Northern ireland one can only vote on production of a passport or an ID card.

Chris Palmer said...

Why do you think Labour changed the law in the first place? To cheat of course - they weren't going to be able to stay in Government any other way.

Bob Piper said...

Iain, my 'glee' as you describe it is not about the fiddling of postal ballots but about the obvious discomfort it causes to that sanctamonious prat John Hemming. When he was Lib Dem Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council (some say actual Leader because Whitless is so useless and doesn't even have the grace to live in Birmingham, he lives in Sandwell, wise fellow) was on a crusade against Labour postal vote fraud... but always strangely silent over Lib Dem fraud. By the way... wasn't 'Vote Sinn Fein, Vote Often' a party slogan in the North, where half of the residents of Milltown Cemetry used to cast their votes.... perhaps that was what Whitless was hinting at.

Anonymous said...

And all through yesterday the headline on the Birmingham Lib Dem website was "Crime prevention is a central theme in the Liberal Democrats local election campaign". Ho hum.

Gawain Towler said...

According to the electoral Commission they are holding a similar experiment in Swindoon.There is no need to countersign a postal vote applications amongst other things.

I reckon that somebody should look very closely at the marginal wards results down in Wiltshire. Oddly enough Graham Booth a South West UKIP MEP has been the first one to pick this up.

Anonymous said...

The Evening Standard are reporting a police investigation into massive postal vote fraud in several London boroughs - including Tower Hamlets, Merton, Southwark, Barnet and Kensington & Chelsea.

neil craig said...

This has to be faced. It will not go away unless treated seriously & if that means this woman (who being a Lib Dem is clearly a nice person) has to go to jail then she should & any election affectd be refought. It would be nice if those more guilty did to.

In that regard may I remind you of the words of the words of the judge in the Birmingham trial that the entire postal ballot system introduced was "a positive assistance to fraud" & "short of righting "steal me" on the envelopes it is difficult to see what more could have been done".

Following that Cabinet decided to run the election on that system after deciding that to do otherwise would cost them votes.

PoliticalHackUK said...

It isn't new.

I certainly recall stories from '92 where there reports of care homes in marginal Tory seats getting visits to 'assist' residents in casting their postal votes.

There were also serious allegations made about the behaviour of some LibDems in the recent Aston byelection - caused by abuse from Labour councillors. There were also an awful lot of postal votes in the Solihull parliamentary campaign of 2005 and concerns were raised then.

I'm deeply disappointed that this is still going on, because it cheapens all politicians. The fact that the finger of suspicion is now pointing at the LDs and their holier-than-thou attitudes doesn't make me feel any better about politics.