Political correctness to blame for Town Hall votes fraud says Eric Pickles

POLITICAL correctness has led the Government to turn a blind eye to town hall corruption, the first review into election fraud has found.

Sir Eric Pickles

The author of the report, Tory former minister Sir Eric Pickles, criticised councils, the police and the election watchdog for failing to detect and prevent the spread of electoral corruption in the UK.

The report was commissioned by David Cameron in the wake of a High Court hearing last year when Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London, was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices and forced to step down.

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Sir Eric, who is from Keighley, near Bradford, and who was leader of Bradford Council in the 1980s, made more than 50 recommendations in his review, including forcing voters to present identification at polling stations and banning political activists from handling postal ballot papers.

Sir Eric’s former council has been at the centre of several election fraud investigations. In 2010, five Bradford men, including two former city councillors, were jailed for their parts in a failed postal votes scam aimed at getting a Conservative Party candidate elected in the 2005 general election.

And in 2004, police were handed a detailed dossier alleging that dead people and others not even in the country “voted” in local elections. The dossier, drawn up by Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians in just one ward in Bradford, cited evidence of voters registered as living in empty properties, and claimed that some people simply visiting Bradford from Pakistan were “falsely entered” on the city’s voting register in the Great Horton ward.

The Tower Hamlets case revealed that grants had been given to Bangladeshi or Muslim groups in return for support and council money had been used to pay a Bangladeshi language television station which provided supportive coverage.

The report said it saw evidence that pressure was “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”.

It added: “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.”

The review has been handed to Prime Minister Theresa May.

Sir Eric said: “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.

“Our nation has a proud heritage as the ‘mother of parliaments’, yet the worrying and covert spread of electoral fraud and state of denial by some bodies threatens that good reputation. It is time to take action to take on the electoral crooks and defend Britain’s free and fair elections.”

The report also found that there were “clear links” links between electoral corruption and the “endorsement and funding of extremist causes”.

It urged the Government to commit to a broader review of councils’ executive structures to ensure scrutiny and powers of challenge by the press, public and councillors were possible.

While mayoral powers provide strong governance, they also presented greater risk of corruption and require greater transparency, it added.

It holds strong criticism for the Metropolitan Police, describing it as “astonishing” that no criminal prosecutions had been brought against Mr Rahman, who was prosecuted in an Election Court in 2015.

The “repeated inaction” by the police force sent a worrying signal that the police were soft on tackling electoral fraud, it said.

The report also warns that the Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog, is engaged in a series of tick-box inspections of town hall electoral registration departments which are ineffective.

Sir Eric was asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme if his report had concluded that Muslims were more likely to commit electoral fraud than other groups.

He said the report does “deal with other ethnic groups”.

“But it is fair to say that we’ve seen it probably at its most extreme with voting warehouses, with personation, than anywhere else,” he said.

Sir Eric was also asked if he believed the Metropolitan Police should look again at the Tower Hamlets case.

He said: “Yes. Absolutely.”