Pickles presides over electoral fraud probe

13 Aug 15

Former local government secretary Sir Eric Pickles has launched a government investigation into electoral fraud in Britain in order to tackle what he called “modern-day rotten boroughs”.

Pickles, who was named the government’s anti-corruption champion following the general election, said the country could no longer turn a blind eye to electoral fraud following controversial elections in Tower Hamlets.

Announcing the probe in an article in the Daily Telegraph, Pickles said that moves to accelerate the introduction of individual registration would help to remove “phantom voters”.

The review would now determine whether further changes were needed to make the system more secure, and make recommendations as to what those changes should be, he said.

“Over the next few months, I will be gathering evidence before reporting to the prime minister on what further steps are necessary to stamp out voter registration fraud and error; postal voting fraud; impersonation; bribery; and undue influence and intimidation.”

Pickles said the disqualification of Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman, which followed Whitehall intervention in the borough, had been made by the same judge, Richard Mawrey QC, who had presided over a similar case of widespread fraud in Birmingham 10 years ago.

“A decade on, we have yet fully to implement in Great Britain the system of individual electoral registration which has operated successfully in Northern Ireland for 14 years: no longer in the Province do the dead turn out to vote,” he stated.

“Yet under Labour and then the coalition, state officials on the mainland have gone slow on taking the necessary measures to stop postal voting fraud and false registration.”

Pickles, who as local government secretary sent commissioners into the borough last year following concerns that it was failing to meet its Best Value duties, suggested institutionalised political correctness led to the state turning a blind eye to criminal conduct.

Although reported incidents and allegations of electoral fraud in the UK do not suggest the practice is widespread, it is unknown how much goes undetected, he added.

“The problems go deep – despite years of warnings of misconduct in Tower Hamlets, the state watchdogs gave the borough’s electoral system a gold-star rating for integrity in inspection reports. We still have a series of tick-box inspections of town hall returning officers that are as ineffectual and useless as those once practised by the now-abolished Audit Commission.

“As a minister, I found within Whitehall a complete reluctance by officials to take action on the warnings from local councillors and journalists of systematic corruption in the Tower Hamlets mayoral administration. Yet when I subsequently sent forensic investigators into Tower Hamlets, they quickly found shocking financial irregularities.”

A call for evidence has now been issued as part of the review. Views will be sought from bodies such as the Electoral Commission and the Law Commission as well as those involved in running elections, lawyers, academics and law enforcement agencies.

Submissions can be made to electoral.fraud.review@cabinetoffice.gov.uk by 8 October.

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