Politics can be a rough old game. The highs are high and the low can be very low. We’ve had some fantastic highs in UKIP over the past three years, such as the local elections in 2013, winning the European Elections in 2014 and then going on to win a number of by elections. As for the lows, it hit rock bottom for me in the early hours of Friday morning in Oldham.
For the first time I actually questioned whether I wanted to stay involved in politics. This wasn’t because I was depressed about the UKIP result and victory for Labour’s Jim McMahon (pictured above with Jeremy Corbyn), as I actually predicted that we would get around 25 per cent and finish second at the start of the campaign. It was because I witnessed an absolute affront to British democratic traditions.
At the count on Thursday night, I had UKIP counters coming up to me literally in a state of disbelief after witnessing box after box come out almost exclusively for one party – the Labour Party. Some boxes were literally over 95 per cent Labour.
The local Conservatives who we were chatting to were a frustrated bunch and have complained before about the situation, but equally they are resigned to the fact that “this is how it works here.” A local Lib Dem by election organiser, who I have known on the by election circuit now for over five years, also said to me: “Well what do you expect Paul? It’s Labour and it’s Oldham.”
Personally I felt physically sick and actually did a couple of interviews where I think I was still in a state of shock.
After a few good sleeps and a lot of reflection, I no longer feel depressed about what happened, I feel angry.
Angry that democracy in our great country could have stooped so low. Angry that we allow this kind of manipulation and don’t kick up more of a fuss. Angry that an alien form of politics has been allowed to highjack our political system and angry that the politicians at Westminster on the red side condone this and the blue seem to turn a blind eye.
Well I’m going to make it my political life’s goal to do something about it because people died for the right to vote and moreover we fought two world wars at a great price in the last century to uphold British democracy.
I think we can make the changes we need because postal voting ‘on demand’, which allows for this kind of manipulation, is a recent phenomenon.
We first allowed for voting by post in 1948, but people had to apply and the criteria was strict. You either had to be working away from home, in the Armed forces or infirm. In 1985 this was amended to include those who were away on holiday.
Tony Blair’s New Labour government came to power in 1997 and were concerned about the fact that there was a downward trend in general and local election turnouts since the 1950s. They therefore looked at ways of increasing it and fell upon the idea of postal vote on ‘demand’ rather than ‘application.’ The idea was that more people would vote if they didn’t have to leave the comfort of their home and did it by post instead.
Now I will give the Blair government the benefit of the doubt here because I believe they were doing this through a genuine concern about voter turnout; but they didn’t foresee that one of the consequences would be fraudulent behaviour and the dilution of our democracy. Thus, they pushed ahead with the 2000 Representation of the Peoples Act, which superseded the 1948 legislation and led to the situation we have now.
The signs however were not good from the beginning.
The Electoral Commission was warning as early as 2002 that the new system was open to fraud. By 2005 six Birmingham Labour councillors of Pakistani origin were found guilty of ‘massive, systematic and organised’ postal voting fraud. In 2008, the Council of Europe highlighted the fact the Britain’s postal voting system made it vulnerable to fraudulent practices. In 2009, ex-Tory candidate, Eshaq Khan, was jailed with five others for using ‘ghost’ voters to win a council ward Slough.
And of course we then had the case earlier this year of Lutfur Rahman, former Mayor of Tower Hamlets who is of Bangladeshi origin, who was guilty of ‘personation’ where people were literally voting in the name of someone else.
It has led Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey to describe the “lax rules” and the postal voting system as that befitting “a banana republic” and not Great Britain.
Actually, I will go further and say that certain communities — and yes I will name them because I’m not hamstrung by political correctness, it’s primarily the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities — are importing alien electoral practices that belong in Karachi or Dhaka and not here. And the 2000 Representation of the Peoples Act is allowing this to happen.
Indeed, it is no coincidence that in 2014 when the Electoral Commission named sixteen areas which they believed were susceptible to election fraud, all had high south Asian populations, including Tower Hamlets and of course, Oldham.
On the BBC’s Any Questions on Friday night UKIP Yorkshire MEP Jane Collins told of the time she was contacted by a young Pakistani man from Rotherham who claimed to have been part of a team from that community that industrially filled in postal votes. Of course, he said, all voted Labour.
This is utterly appalling. In the nineteenth century working class people died at Peterloo and Chartists were deported for fighting for the principle of one person one vote. We also did away with rotten boroughs with the Great Reform Act of 1832, but it’s clear to me from what I witnessed in Oldham the other night that Labour’s Representation of the Peoples Act has given us rotten wards in 2015.
In addition, voting in secret was enshrined in Britain as far back as 1872. Prior to that elections took place by a show of hands or a public vote. Voting in secret is a vital pillar of a true democracy because it ensures that voters are not intimidated and can place their cross against the name of the candidate that they alone want to vote for.
However, this fine old Victorian principle cannot be upheld if people are voting by post. We do not know what goes on behind closed doors and we don’t know who is filling in the ballot paper, thus rendering this principle a farce.
Now finally, and here’s the rub, the experiment of postal voting on demand has failed. General election and local election turnouts were bigger in the 1980s and 1990s than they have been since the start of this century.
So if it has failed in its ultimate aim, why keep it? We know it leads to corruption, we know it denigrates our democracy, we know it prevents people from voting in secret and we know it doesn’t increase turnout.
It’s now time to consign postal voting on demand to the dustbin of history and I am going to do everything I can to make it happen.