UK Labour election fraud ‘would disgrace a banana republic’

The Times/Hat Tip Davey Crockett

Banana Republic/Miliband Banana

SIX middle-aged Muslim men, all pillars of their communities, won seats on Britain’s biggest local authority in the most corrupt election campaign since the Victorian era.

Vote-riggers exploited weaknesses in the postal voting system to steal thousands of ballot papers and mark them for Labour, helping the party to take first place in elections to Birmingham City Council.

They believed that their cheating would be hidden for ever in the secrecy of the strong boxes where counted votes are stored, never suspecting that a judge would take the rare step of smashing the seals and tracing the ballots back to the voters. Election corruption has been so rare in the past 100 years that lawyers have struggled to find examples since the late 19th century, when Britain was adjusting to the novelty of universal male suffrage.

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Banana Republic, continued:

The elections last June were the dirtiest since the general election of 1895, when Sir Tankerville Chamberlayne, the Conservative candidate for Southampton, notoriously travelled by cart from pub to pub, waving and throwing sovereigns at the crowds. His election was later ruled invalid.

The Birmingham vote- riggers were more cunning than the flamboyant Sir Tankerville. They coldly exploited communities where many cannot speak English or write their names. They forced what the judge called “dishonest or frightened” postmen into handing over sacks of postal ballots. They seem to have infiltrated the mail service: several voters gave evidence that their ballot papers were altered to support Labour after they put them in the post.

Proof that votes were stolen came when Richard Mawrey, QC, the election commissioner, ordered ballot boxes to be unsealed. Unknown to most voters, ballot papers can be traced back to individuals through serial numbers. The judge was struck by how many had been amended, sometimes using correction fluid.

Voters were traced and asked if they really had voted Labour. It emerged that some had handed completed postal ballots to Labour supporters calling at their homes offering to post them. The envelopes had been opened and the papers altered, then delivered to the election office for counting.

One of the wards where corruption was rife covered Aston, an inner-city neighbourhood. This is the fiefdom of Muhammad Afzal, a city councillor for 23 years, regarded as the most powerful man in Birmingham Asian politics. At midnight two days before the election, the police stumbled on what appeared to be a vote-forging factory. Half a dozen men were discovered in a warehouse with 274 unsealed postal votes for Aston ward.

Among them were Mr Afzal and his two fellow candidates. Mohammed Kazi is a longstanding Labour officer. He is a former postman and official of the postal workers’ union but says that this is irrelevant because he left the job in 1993. Mohammed Islam is the trustee of a mosque. A handwriting expert found that Mr Islam had signed 121 voting papers using five names and six addresses.

Along Birmingham’s ring road lies a grid of terraces forming the largely Kashmiri community of Small Heath, heart of Bordesley Green ward. The most senior Labour candidate here was Shah Jahan, a former banker and, for a brief period in 1979, a postman. Mr Jahan, who was seen several times collecting ballots from a postman, received more votes than the other Labour candidates. Some forged ballots were found to contain crosses next to his name alone.

“No doubt Mr Shah Jahan considered that, having gone to the trouble to get the votes from the postman, it was only fair that he should be allowed to use them for his own benefit,” the judge said.

Ayaz Khan, a law graduate, managed the post office in Small Heath. His witness statement, not shown to the court but seen byThe Times, claims that Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, “asked me to stand as a candidate”. Mr Mahmood denies this, saying: “I have not had a direct role in promoting him or anything else before his selection.”

Shafaq Ahmed, another Labour Party officer, was the third candidate. He denies a claim that he kept postal vote applications in his video shop and asked customers to sign one. The police caught him with ten sets of unused postal ballots.

The vote riggers were versed in election cheating. The basic technique is so well known that two senior Labour figures, on separate occasions, both described the same method to The Times. The first step is to consult a little-known public document called the marked register. Produced locally after every election, this shows which individuals on the electoral roll have voted.

A vote rigger notes the names of people who never seem to vote. They may be dead, living elsewhere, illiterate or apathetic. These are the people whose votes are stolen. Labour knows that postal voting is vulnerable to suspicions of fraud. Mr Mahmood’s selection for the 2001 election tore apart his constituency party when an unprecedented surge in postal voting led to suspicions that Mr Mahmood’s supporters had rigged the selection ballot.

The Labour National Executive Committee investigated but found no wrongdoing. Mr Mahmood’s majority at the general election was halved by a swing to an anti-sleaze candidate protesting against the alleged vote-rigging. Mr Mahmood said that there was no substance to any of the allegations about his selection.

Bitterness over last June’s vote rigging festers. Six supporters of the grassroots People’s Justice Party, which organised the election petition against Labour, have been arrested on suspicion of forging witness statements, which they deny.

Shah Jahan, facing ruin, believes that lessons may be learnt from the scandal. “Although I am going to suffer,” he said, “this may be a good thing for the community. The community will learn to do in Rome what the Romans do.”


June 9, 2004 The Times uncovers widespread intimidation and postal voting fraud in local elections

June 11 allegations of postal vote fraud in Birmingham first surface

June 25 the Government defies advice from the Electoral Commission and says that it will press ahead with all postal ballots for three referendums on regional assemblies

July 23 Tony Blair decides to abandon referendums in two regions after postal vote fears

August 26 the Electoral Commission publishes a damning report that calls for all-postal voting to be scrapped

December 10 ministers agree to tighten the law to guard against safeguards but says that all-postal voting should go ahead.

February 22, 2005 Richard Mawrey, QC, accuses the Labour Party of seeking to delay the Birmingham trials into alleged postal vote rigging until after the general election

March 23 Mr Mawrey says that Britain’s electoral system is now and open invitation to fraud

April 4 Mr Mawrey found six Labour councillors guilty of fraud “that would disgrace a banana republic”

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