Last year, Sir Eric Pickles was named the Government’s ‘anti-corruption czar’ and tasked with investigating electoral fraud.
We wrote at the time that: “It is essential both that he is given the resources to mount proper investigations and that his recommendations, when they come, are acted upon by Parliament.”
A year hence and this morning’s papers have the headline findings of Sir Eric’s report: that ‘political correctness’ and fear of giving offence have led to people going soft on electoral fraud.
Having been finally commissioned to conduct his investigation after the furore surrounding Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets, the Times (£) reports that:
“Sir Eric warned that such fraud was more evident in communities of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background where “an individual’s right to vote in secret and exercise free choice may not be fully valued”.”
Amongst the proposals outlined in the full report, which has been published on the Government website, are:
- clamping down on postal vote ‘harvesting’ by party activists
- tackling the link between electoral and immigration fraud
- stronger checks and balances against ‘municipal corruption’
- piloting identification at polling stations
This last is especially important: Peter Golds, the leader of the Conservatives on Tower Hamlets council, has stressed repeatedly on this site the need for photographic ID at polling stations. At present Sir Eric’s proposals include non-photographic alternatives such as utility bills.
Writing from the front line of the extraordinary Tower Hamlets corruption saga – which has led the report to conclude that our “trust-based” electoral norms are no longer working – Golds has outlined the measures he thinks are needed to prevent recurrence.
Some, such as accelerating the introduction of individual voter registration, the Government has already delivered. Others, such as rolling back availability to postal votes on demand, are subject to fierce debate.
Then there are wider debates about the right balance to strike between an accessible system that encourages turnout and a secure system that prevents fraud.
In our view, the Government should spare no effort to safeguard the integrity of the ballot box – it was after all a manifesto commitment. Sir Eric’s report is the latest indication that Downing Street is continuing to take this challenge seriously.
Yet central government can only do so much. Electoral law can be as tight as you like, but that isn’t worth much if it is not properly enforced. Likewise, only the police can do necessary on-the-day work like preventing voters getting harassed outside polling stations.
Therefore no anti-fraud drive can be considered adequate if it does not address the fact that some forces have in the past – particularly with regards to the Rahman regime – behaved lamentably when it comes to upholding the rules.
Whilst at the Home Office Theresa May was unafraid to tackle police shortcomings head on. She must ensure her old department continues to follow that example.