Among the many traditions instituted under New Labour is the tradition that, when an election is imminent, someone (usually Labour) is caught rigging the vote. It happened in 2002, it happened in 2003, it happened in 2004, it happened in 2005, it happened in 2006, and now it’s happened in 2007. Yesterday’s Sunday Times revealed that Cllr Keith Wakefield, leader of the Labour group on Leeds City Council, knowingly and deliberately broke electoral law.
Last week, an undercover Sunday Times reporter recorded Wakefield and fellow Labour councillor Graham Hyde encouraging Labour-supporting students to knock on voters’ doors, and ask them whether they had filled in their postal vote form. If they had, but had not sent it off, then the students were told to volunteer to post the vote on behalf of the voter. If the voter had not yet completed his or her ballot, the students were instructed to offer to ‘assist’ with this task. So much for the secret ballot.
It is certainly a breach of the Electoral Commission’s code of conduct for an activist to assist a voter in voting, or to volunteer to post the ballot for the voter. It may also be that the Labour Party has been in direct breach of the law, and the Sunday Times has now passed a dossier onto the police for investigation. Hyde appeared to acknowledge this:
Student 4: It’s illegal to collect, isn’t it?
Hyde: Yes it is, but we’ve done 25% already, so…
Ah, the Macbeth defence: "I am in fraudulently completed ballots/ Stepp’d in so far that, should I rig the vote no more/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er". Or as Magnus Magnusson had it: "I’ve started, so I’ll finish".
Also interesting to note is the extent to which all three main parties are alleged to be complicit in breaching electoral rules, in relation to one particular community:
[Wakefield] also told the students about the Asian voting networks — whereby senior figures in the Asian community either collect and fill in postal voting papers or press people to vote a certain way. The Labour candidate in the ward is Asian.
“All the parties use the Muslim connections…while there is paranoia in the country about the use of Asian voting systems… They have a brilliant network: they pass it on; they all want to use the postal,” said Wakefield.
This "paranoia" would probably have something to do with the fact that the overwhelming majority of vote-rigging cases involve Muslims. In these circumstances, the words "they all want to use the postal" are cause for concern, to say the least.
Prior to 2000, you simply couldn’t get a postal vote unless you had a good reason for not being able to vote in person. Then Labour changed the rules, so that you could get a postal vote on demand. The aim was to increase voter participation. And it has certainly worked. Many voters now participate again, and again, and again in the same election. Democracy might be suffering, but participation certainly isn’t!
All rather worrying, isn’t it? Although, I would prefer to think that I live in a country where the government rigs the vote, than that I live in one where the majority would actually choose to vote Labour.