I've resisted blogging on this issue until the verdict of the electoral court was in.
As somebody who was involved with the 2004 electoral campaign in Birmingham and worked my socks off (I can remember the blisters on my feet), I'm disgusted by the behaviour of the six councillors.
They and anybody involved with this stain on the party should be expelled forthwith.
I understand that they have already been suspended from the Party, along with one of the agents - Zoe Hopkins has posted the official statement here. Quite frankly, I hope that the CPS and the police investigate the matter with a view to criminal prosecution. The message also needs to go out to the Labour Party regional team and to the senior councillors in the Birmingham party that they must keep a closer eye on the behaviour of some of their campaigners. I want Labour to win, but not at any cost.
While elements of the Labour party were at fault here, I must stand up in support of the thousands of decent campaigners and candidates who pound the streets to make the argument. We must all stand up and expose those who try to subvert our hard-won democratic systems.
Postal voting on demand was brought in to try and increase voter participation. It received broad support from all parties through Parliament and has been backed by the independent electoral commission. This case has highlighted the difficulties involved in identifying and prosecuting instances where the system is abused and that's what needs to be addressed. Don't forget that these are not the only ones involved in ballot fraud, as serious doubt has been cast over candidates from other parties in the same elections. Elsewhere, vote theft has been identified in Bradford by Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians, while a Labour councillor in Blackburn faces prison on April 8 for conspiracy in the 2002 local elections. Voter fraud predates the postal vote scandal, though, as the Liberal Democrat and Tory councillors jailed in Hackney for their efforts in 1998 would demonstrate. There have been persistent rumours surrounding the Tory victory in 1992, against all the odds and the exit polls, with fingers pointed at the number of proxy votes cast in key constituencies.
Returning officers need to be given the powers and resources needed to randomly check registrations and to investigate anomalies. I agree with John Hemming (another rare event), that postal votes should be counted and recorded separately. Were it possible, I'd like to see postal voting suspended, except for those with a demonstrable reason.
If voters don't have faith in the system, they won't have any faith in the products of that system.