Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London Councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.
Amongst many revelations in Willie Carlin’s recently-released book Thatcher’s Spy; My Life as an MI5 Agent inside Sinn Fein is what he describes as his greatest achievement; the ending of “vote stealing” – the endemic electoral corruption that poisoned the electoral process and much else, in the province for decades.
This was wholesale corruption that was endorsed and carried out by both sides in the sectarian divide. As described in the Sunday Times extracts of his book, he organised the vote stealing that helped elect Bobby Sands to Parliament. This was achieved by having a team to impersonate voters whom they knew had not voted. In his words “this wide open abuse still exists on the mainland.” Chillingly, he jokes that with a small budget and a few hundred workers “I could probably win a marginal seat for any candidate or independence for Scotland.”
In order to deal with this problem the Blair Government introduced voter ID in Northern Ireland. The result has been to clean up elections in and lift the taint of corruption that for over half a century had soured elections in the province. This reform was one of a number of measures that increased cross-community confidence across Northern Ireland.
The integrity and legitimacy of the ballot and elections must be of one of the prime concerns of any democratic government – and there are serious failings in the UK at present.
To be handed a voting paper on demand, as is the custom in England, Scotland and Wales, is out of touch with reality. Democracies across the world, including those in the EU, require a form of ID for an elector to vote. The notion that ID is unavailable is wrong. It is not possible to rent a property, open a bank account, claim benefit, drive a car, obtain a driving licence, or enter many official buildings without ID in one form or another.
How often, in modern society, is ID routinely required? I continuously come across voters who express surprise that it is not required when voting.
The Labour Party has strict internal rules about ID. Two forms of ID are required to attend Labour Party selection meetings. Labour charges £30 to process photo ID to enable delegates to attend the party conference. Momentum restricted those attending a rally to campaign against voter ID to those producing ID in the form of a membership card. The latter point proving, if any proof were needed, that Momentum is a veritable corkscrew of hypocrisy.
The Electoral Reform Society naturally opposes this change. Their former director issued press statements against voter ID whilst simultaneously seeking and failing to secure a Labour Parliamentary nomination which required her supporters to attend selection meetings.
There are constant excuses that personation and voter fraud is not a problem. I have seen far too much of it to be more than aware that there is a problem. In Tower Hamlets, this has included people standing outside polling stations with copies of an electoral register to provide convenient names to potential fraudsters.
I had evidence of one fraudster placing four names (which he had forgotten) on the electoral register using an incorrect house number and demanding from the electoral registration officer cards for electors whose names he could not remember. I witnessed a man turning up in Tower Hamlets with a poll card from Enfield, and trying to look for a similar name on the register in front of the poll clerk. Then there is the sad case of the man whose death was registered in Bangladesh on an election day. Miraculously, his vote was recorded thousands of miles away in Tower Hamlets. Elsewhere there was extensive coverage of the incident in the Midlands of poll clerks showing students a register and asking them to find their name.
These are just a few tips of a scarcely-concealed iceberg which damages democracy. In fact, what I have reported above is the tip of an iceberg. Consider the situation when serious fraudsters such as Willie Carlin, Lutfur Rahman and Tariq Mahmood set out to steal an election, and have not only themselves but a machinery to achieve it. We know the answer and it can be identified in recent election petitions.
Amongst our problems in resolving this situation is the ongoing failure of the police to actually investigate personation and election fraud in any meaningful way. I accept that this is expensive and requires training of officers. Too often, the police response to complaints is to ignore them or simply do the minimum which involves looking at the offence and “speaking to the offender.” The result of this is that there is no record of far too many offences and therefore it can be said there is not a problem. However, Birmingham, Peterborough, Derby, Slough, Woking and Tower Hamlets prove otherwise.
I am concerned that the disaster of Operation Midland will make the police even less inclined to undertake investigations that intrude into politics. The legacy of Tom Watson misusing both the parliamentary and legal systems to smear political opponents for party political gain is likely to make the police even more wary of actually investigating electoral fraud.
The reason there is legislation governing human actions ranging from speeding in a car to completing a tax return is that this is essential for good conduct. The number of convictions for speeding and tax avoidance is far smaller than the incidents of both, but society expects there to be a legal framework and enforcement. Nobody says that speeding and tax evasion do not exist.
Even the feeble electoral commission have asked that the modest reform of voter ID be introduced. In Northern Ireland, any elector that does not have a form of ID can obtain a certificate from the local authority. The Government are proposing to extend this across all of Great Britain and doing so to bring our voting procedures in line with other mature democracies that value one person one vote.
There have been voter ID trials and they proved successful and popular with voters who are reassured that their vote actually counts. The opposition to this simple change by Labour smacks of cynicism and possibly something worse. Why is Labour so keen on ensuring their internal processes are managed correctly yet opposed to ensuring the integrity of the ballot in local and national elections?
Marsha-Jane Thompson a Momentum activist once employed by Tower Hamlets council, was prosecuted for submitting 100 forged applications to vote to Newham Council. She now has a House of Commons Pass and is employed to work on Jeremy Corbyn’s events and campaigns team.
Strangely, Labour are unhappy at being reminded of this. Why?
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