When Richard Mawrey QC, who presided over the inquiry into electoral fraud in Birmingham, said the tactics used in the episode would ‘disgrace a banana republic’ he was, if anything, understating his case. It was shocking enough that six men, all of whom were subsequently elected councillors, were found to have committed electoral offences so grave that they have been disqualified and barred from standing for election. It was shocking enough that three of them should have set up a ‘vote-rigging factory’ where they doctored hundreds, and possibly thousands, of postal votes (the men were caught red-handed, yet preposterously protested after their punishment that what had happened to them constituted ‘a dark day for democracy’). But it is most shocking of all that, in the authorities’ attempts to expose this fraud, they were obstructed at every turn by the Labour party. This prehistoric act of electoral malpractice was therefore sanctioned by a party about to campaign in a general election on ‘trust’ and in which, alarmingly, anything up to 15 per cent of the votes will be cast by post.
Mr Mawrey’s anger is all the more understandable when one takes into account the reaction of the obviously embarrassed governing party. Ministers have attacked doubts about the security of the postal voting system as ‘scaremongering’, and the Prime Minister and his colleagues openly encourage people to use it in order to improve turnout, especially of Labour voters. Two things should, above all, be clear after this appalling case: that postal voting is not safe, and that anyone who uses it is inviting either the loss of their vote altogether, or its interception and doctoring so that support is switched to another party. The implications for the forthcoming elections are, indeed, salutary.