Kerpow!!!! Sir Eric Pickles takes action on electoral corruption

At long last – action. Sir Eric Pickles, the UK Government Anti-Corruption Champion, has produced a damning report on electoral corruption with recommendations that will make Tower Hamlets First choke on their cornflakes.

Sir Eric has made 50 recommendations to make democracy work and drastically reduce election fraud (see below). His report gets to grips with fundamental issues that have been the curse of Tower Hamlets for years. These include:

  • The Metropolitan Police for being soft on electoral fraud
  • The British culture of political correctness leading to potential criminality being ignored within ethnic communities
  • Clear links between electoral corruption and the endorsement and funding of extremist causes
  • The complete waste of space, time and money that is the Electoral Commission [“complete waste of space, time and money’ is LW’s description.]
Sir Eric - he's the man!
Sir Eric – he’s the man!

The 50 recommendations by Sir Eric include:

  • Requiring identification to vote at polling stations, with initial pilot schemes of different options.
  • Stronger police powers to tackle intimidation outside polling stations.
  • Banning political activists from handling postal votes to stop ‘vote harvesting.’
  • The abolition of permanent postal votes.
  • Tougher checks on electoral registration to prevent the electoral register being used for immigration and benefit fraud.
  • Learning the lessons of Tower Hamlets, with new corruption-busting powers for the press, public and councillors to scrutinise the decisions of elected mayors and cabinets, from whistleblowing protections to stronger rights to inspect council documents.
  • A new role for the National Crime Agency to tackle complex election fraud cases.
  • LW is so excited by the above, especially whatever “new corruption-busting powers for the press” means that the entire editorial team had to sit down in a dark room for several minutes and drink lots of tea.

Introducing his report Sir Eric said, in reference to Tower Hamlets:

“Last year’s court ruling in Tower Hamlets was a wake-up call that state bodies need to do far more to stamp out corruption and restore public confidence. It was local residents who lost out from the unscrupulous politicians who bullied them and wasted their money.”

“There are sometimes challenging issues over divisive community politics, but this is no excuse for failing to enforce British law and protect the integrity of our democratic process. The law must be applied equally and fairly to everyone. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to uphold the rule of law and ensure British fair play.”

Councillor Peter Golds, Leader of Tower Hamlets Conservatives, has been both fearless and persistent in his highlighting of electoral corruption in our proud borough for many years and Tower Hamlets residents have much to thank him for.

Here are his comments on the report.

“Two weeks ago I attended a thoroughly depressing meeting initiated by the Police who once again showed how out of their depth the Metropolitan Police is in handling voter fraud. As Sir Eric says in his wide ranging report, it should not be private citizens who do the job that the police should be doing.”

“For years the Met maintained that there was a lack of evidence, whilst at the same time ignoring the vast amount of evidence that was given to them. Likewise the electoral commission has become more interested in lobbying government on its own position and acting almost as the spokespeople for election officers rather than responding to real concerns raised by the electors that they should be supporting.”

Cllr. Peter Golds

Easier to obtain a ballot paper than a library book

“Looking to the future there are positive proposals to protect the integrity of our electoral system. That it is easier to obtain a ballot paper than a library book says it all and the proposals to tighten up postal voting will be welcomed by all except the most dedicated fraudsters.”

“The electoral system must be fair for all voters and the acceptance of practices which damage democracy under the guise of “cultural” activities – an excuse popular with the Metropolitan Police, must cease.”

“The proposal to place investigation of electoral malpractice under the National Crime Agency must also be welcomed. This will see specialised, trained officers, who understand both the law and the electoral process investigating electoral fraud, rather than local police forces who claim to have other priorities.”

“The remit of the electoral commission should be reduced with electoral law initiated by the Cabinet Office with full parliamentary scrutiny and the electoral commission left to concentrate on its core activities.”

Here are some verbatim highlights of the report:

On inaction by Metropolitan Police – soft on electoral fraud

“Following the Tower Hamlets election court case, it is astonishing that no criminal prosecution has been brought by the Metropolitan Police. No further action has been taken against the disqualified individuals or the (now-disbanded) political party. The Met has maintained there was ‘insufficient evidence that criminal offences had been committed’. This is a surprising statement. The election court disqualified Lutfur Rahman and his agent for a litany of corrupt and illegal practices. He was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt – to a criminal standard of proof – on a series of grounds. There was extensive oral and written evidence tested in hearings held at the Royal Courts of Justice. The damning body of evidence was lucidly laid out in the Election Commissioner’s ruling. The repeated inaction by the Met Police over electoral fraud prior to the 2014 mayoral elections, and after the 2015 election court case, sends a worrying signal that the police are ‘soft’ on tackling and prosecuting electoral fraud, when faced with competing operational demands.”

On political correctness – turning a blind eye

“Abuses of postal voting on demand were noted too often be carried out in communities where an individual’s right to vote in secret and exercise free choice may not be fully valued. Evidence was presented of pressure being put on vulnerable members of some ethnic minority communities, particularly women and young people, to vote according to the will of the elders, especially in communities of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background. There were concerns that influence and intimidation within households may not be reported, and that state institutions had turned a blind eye to such behaviour because of ‘politically correct’ over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion.”

On town hall corruption – clear links to extremist causes

“The Tower Hamlets case illustrates how electoral corruption went hand in hand with broader financial irregularities and impropriety, as evident from the PwC forensic audit into the council which I commissioned as Secretary of State. The PwC report was not a comprehensive assessment of all the potential corruption – in some areas, the absence or potential destruction of documents hindered further investigation. There were also clear links between such corruption and the endorsement and funding of extremist causes. Electoral malpractice – such as the bribery offences – were able to flourish because of the broader breakdown of democratic checks.

“The Government should undertake a broader review of councils’ executive structures to ensure that robust scrutiny and powers of challenge by the press, public and councillors exist in local government structures where power is concentrated in ‘strong leadership’ models. Mayoral systems, in particular, provide strong governance and accountability: but they also present greater risks of corruption, and require stronger checks and balances to maintain a robust democratic system. This should include reviewing transparency requirements, rights of access to documents by the press and public, decisions by ‘unofficial’ committees or working groups, official meetings going in camera, whistleblowing protections for both staff and councillors, powers of scrutiny committees, rights of councillors to information, scrutiny of delegated decisions, powers of Full Council to question and review, retention of archives and records, and independent or cross-party chairing of audit bodies. This is not solely to protect against electoral fraud, but to protect local government from the broader culture of corruption and financial fraud that goes hand in hand with it.”

On the Electoral Commission – ignored years of warnings

“Despite years of warnings on misconduct in Tower Hamlets, the Electoral Commission gave the Borough’s electoral system a gold-star rating for electoral integrity in its inspection reports. We still have a series of tick-box inspections of town hall electoral registration departments that are as ineffectual as those once practiced by the now-abolished Audit Commission… There is a conflict of interest between the Electoral Commission drawing up policy guidance, and then the Electoral Commission being the arbiter of whether such ‘rules’ were clear, whether there were deficiencies and whether the rules were breached…

“The Electoral Commission continues act to as a commentator and lobbyist on both policy and law. Yet government should not be lobbying government. It would be clearer for electoral law and electoral policy to be determined by the Cabinet Office, subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and approval. The structuring of the performance management regime of local government should be determined by Government, again subject to Parliamentary approval (with appropriate arrangements to reflect devolution).”

Good stuff eh? Thanks Sir Eric!



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