The Birmingham Evening Mail claimed tonight that John Hemming had been silenced by the City Council when his evidence to an election court was censored. This court is investigating the events surrounding the City Council elections in Bordesley Green and Aston wards in June 2004.
The Mail report suggests the truth:
'The city's deputy leader admitted that his evidence of alleged corruption - ranging from a Labour vote forging factory to death threats to postmen, bribery, and setting alight a postbox containing postal votes - was based on hearsay'
More from the Telegraph:
'The rumour was...'
'Mr Hemming said that he had been told...'
No wonder that the Deputy High Court Judge said that 'Hearsay evidence cuts no ice with me.'
John has staged a long campaign to try and convince anyone that the Labour government conspired to create an electoral system from which it would benefit politically - specifically by extending the right to a postal vote. If that is the case, then the conspiracy involved the politicans (from all parties) and civil servants who sat on the Home Office committee that proposed the change. It also included the Liberal Democrat MPs who supported the bill and the independent Electoral Commission that later supported all-postal vote trials.
This idea was to increase democratic involvement and make it easier for people to vote. Ironically enough, there are Liberal Democrat councillors who have an interest in low turnout. They hold their seats by virtue of the fact that the Labour vote doesn't turn out in local elections in the volume that it does in parliamentary ones. If it did, there would be a number who would be out of a job.
John also found time to put the boot into Llin Homer, the Chief Executive and Returning Officer of Birmingham City Council, and also John Owen, the long-suffering head of the Elections Office in Birmingham. In view of some of the comments made at the hearing, I'd like to see John repeat his allegations outside court, as the ramifications could prove interesting.
The problem is that the electoral officers have no powers or resources to investigate fraud allegations at the time - that is a matter for the police after the event. At a local election in 2003, there were rumours (if that's enough evidence for John, it'll do for me) that there was a minibus travelling between polling stations to allow the passengers to 'vote early and vote often' as the old Northern Irish adage has it. Trying to crack down, the polling station officers started to ask questions of voters, but found that they are only legally allowed to ask two questions: 'Are you [insert name]?' and 'Have you voted in this election already?' If you can leap that hurdle and give the right answer to those two probing questions, you get your ballot paper and off you go.
Electoral fraud is as old as democracy and has been practised by villains of all political persuasions - even Liberal Democrats. If these councillors and their campaigners are shown to have subverted the democratic system, then they deserve to be expelled from the Labour Party and chucked out of office forthwith. There's still no reason to dismantle the whole system because of the behaviour of a few individuals, nor yet because low turnout suits some parties.