On the one hand, I'm pleased to see that the police are digging into the murky goings-on in other parties when it comes to dodgy votes. There's a fair bit of history behind the latest shenanigans in Bordesley Green, where a LibDem candidate for Nechells and his wife have both been arrested and bailed in connection with a police investigation into postal vote fraud. For the record, of course, no charges have been laid at the moment.
The Liberal Democrat response is a bit weak, given their track record in attacking electoral fraud. The candidate will continue and will face suspension from the party if elected. The LibDems also point out that the case is nowhere near as serious as the one affecting the Labour Party in 2004, as it only affects a handful of votes. I don't think that the fat lady has even started tuning up on this particular case. There were accusations flying around after the Aston by-election last year, caused by the earlier electoral fraud case, and Labour raised some interesting questions about the activities of certain Liberal Democrat members and candidates then. Curiously, the Liberal Democrat champion of electoral justice, John Hemming, the MP for Yardley, has remained silent on the issue. Surely he doesn't only attack fraud when it comes from the Labour Party?
On the other hand, this sort of behaviour devalues the whole political system and can lead to voters deciding 'a plague on all your houses' and not bothering to vote. That doesn't solve anything. I have no time for any candidate, activist or agent who seeks to pervert the system. Hang 'em out to dry is my policy.
I can say is that I am absolutely confident that my campaign is straight down the line. The Labour Party in Birmingham has taken a very strong line on the issue - just as in 2004, all candidates, campaigners and agents have been warned that if you are involved in fraudulent behaviour, the party will not defend you in any way. We've signed up to a tough protocol that we won't go to an elector on the postal voting list once the postal forms have gone out (which they have). Sadly, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats didn't agree.
It isn't just in Birmingham that something fishy is going on - George Galloway is rumbling about Lib Dem behaviour in London.
If you live in Birmingham and have any knowledge of any illegal practices, please contact West Midlands Police or the Electoral Fraud hotline on 0121 275 6219. If you have any problems voting on the day - if your vote has been stolen, then please contact the elections office or advise the police. We can't let this continue. There has to be public faith that our elected representatives are in office with genuine public support.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Birmingham still maintains the practice of hanging political poster boards on lamp-posts around election time. Coventry and Solihull have recently decided to stop it and I think that's a little sad. It isn't the ego thing - although I defy anyone to look me in the eye and tell me that they don't get a little spark from seeing their name plastered along roads.
It is hard work stripping and glueing new posters to boards. It is nothing short of graft to have to trudge around the ward sticking them on lamp-posts and we could probably use the time better to talk to more constituents, but it does add something to the campaign when you see the boards blossoming along the road. I think that it reminds people that elections are around the corner - quite important when you realise that local elections don't get anything like the national focus of parliamentary polls. The number of people who stopped us today and asked what the posters were for just reminds us that there are an awful lot of people for whom politics has no relevance to their lives. Part of our job as politicians is to try and explain that link - that local elections can decide vitally important (if unexciting) issues. Your local council is responsible for things that directly impact on your life - schools, roads, pavements, rubbish collection, pest control, social care, parks and planning, to name but a few. So who runs that council is key to setting policy in those areas.
May 4 is a chance for you to have your say over who governs this part of your life. It isn't an opinion poll on the state of the government or the opposition. It should be about local issues. Are your roads in good order? Are the walls of the park covered in graffiti? How's the library service doing in your area? Whatever the issue that is bothering you, now's the time to raise it with your candidates.
Things have been surprisingly positive out there on the doorsteps. Sure, there are the voters who see this as a chance to kick the government, but there are also a fair few who are deeply upset with the performance of the Liberal Democrat/Tory council that's had a grip on Birmingham for the past two years.