George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, spoke in the House of Commons on Monday night during a debate on public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system. Here is the full text of his speech, extracted from Hansard, the official report of parliamentary proceedings (© Parliamentary Copyright 2007).
Mr George Galloway: Like the honourable member for Spelthorne (Mr David Wilshire), I wish that I had more than ten minutes, because much needs to be said. Complacency is a fatal flaw in politics, yet it has been the hallmark of the government's approach this evening – and, indeed, during all previous discussions and debates on this subject.
Listening to the minister tonight, one would not think that in addition to welcoming Polish plumbers, builders, bus drivers and vegetable pickers, we should now be forced to welcome a Polish parliamentarian to investigate large-scale voting fraud here, in the mother of all parliaments. There is no time for me to coverall the issues that I would like to deal with, so I shall stick to postal voting if I may. By introducing lifelong postal voting on demand, the government have fundamentally undermined one of the key democratic rights fought for and won in this country during the past 150 years: the right to cast the vote in secret. That was a central demand of the Chartists, forerunners of the Labour Party, precisely to put an end to the bribery, corruption and intimidation of voters by the rich and powerful.
When, hard on the heels of the Second Reform Act of 1867, Gladstone introduced the Ballot Act 1872 to enshrine that right in law, that was a vital step forward for democracy in Britain, but it is being recklessly tossed aside. The claimed justification for the changes to the postal voting system is that they will increase voter participation. Of that there is not one jot of evidence, but there is plenty of evidence of how wide open to corruption they have made the political system.
Bob Spink: Does the honourable gentleman believe that a better way to improve voter participation would be to reintroduce integrity to the government?
Mr George Galloway: I shall not go down that road, because the Conservative party started the deterioration of government integrity in this country. I would not want it to be thought that I am in any way sympathetic to Conservatives just because I shall be voting with them this evening.
Trade unions affiliated to New Labour sent out postal vote application forms by the hundreds of thousands to their members and others, and asked them to return the forms not to the town hall charged with managing the election, but to their trade union headquarters, to a post office box hundreds of miles away from the person filling in the form. There was no good reason for that, but there are plenty of bad reasons on which one could speculate. It is but a short step from that manipulation of the electoral process, which is none the less legal, to the fraudulent application for postal votes by people other than the voters themselves, with the instruction that the vote should be sent to an address other than the registered address of the voter.
In Tower Hamlets last May, we witnessed the most corrupt election held in Britain since 1872. Hundreds of votes were purloined by crooks applying for postal votes and getting them redirected to an address sometimes just doors away from the registered address of the voter. Whole blocks of flats woke up to discover that every one of their residents had applied for a postal vote to be redirected to another address without their knowledge. Some 2,800 postal vote applications were delivered to the town hall in Tower Hamlets in the last hours of the last day, and many were brought in by sitting councillors. A total of 18,732 postal votes were registered in Tower Hamlets: a vast increase on the vast increase that had occurred at the general election the year before. Almost 15 percent of those were delivered on the last afternoon. A total of 946 postal votes were redirected to addresses that were not the registered address of the voter, with considerably more as a percentage in the wards where new Labour councillors were under pressure.
For the entertainment of the chamber, let me say that, despite all this, our party defeated the Labour mayor, the Labour deputy mayor, the Labour leader, the Labour deputy leader, the Labour housing convenor, the Labour deputy housing convenor – I could go on, but the house would lose patience. In one ward, New Labour councillor Bill Turner, who won by just 38 votes, himself had postal votes redirected to the address at which he said that he was living. The system is so utterly without basic democratic protection that it is virtually impossible to detect fraud with a sufficient degree of proof to bring the matter successfully before an election court, where, as might not be known, one must demonstrate that the fraud would have changed the result of the election. Fraud can therefore be demonstrated on a significant scale, but if it is not enough to change the course of the election, the matter is simply thrown out.
Two petitions were accepted, and were prayed in aid by Labour members. But we were only allowed to have the postal votes for the winning Labour candidate examined, and the only check that we could carry out was a forensic examination and comparison of the signature. None the less, the handwriting expert agreed by all sides in the petition identified 30 percent of the postal votes as questionable, and believed that the signatures were probably from different hands in almost half those votes – and that was just sampling 300 postal votes out of almost 19,000.
On top of that – this is where the issue of complacency arises – a major police investigation into voting fraud in Tower Hamlets is ongoing, and has engaged four police officers full-time for the past ten months. No charges have yet been brought – I do not know if they will be, as it is so easy to subvert the system – but Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman has already commented, on the basis of that investigation, that postal votes are particularly susceptible to fraud. Despite all the talk of there not being many prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service has confirmed that 390 cases of alleged electoral offences have occurred over the past seven years, and not all in inner cities. In Reading, only two of 46 postal vote applications examined were found to be authentic. Richard Mawrey QC, who has been much quoted this evening, looked at ballots in the Birmingham city wards of Aston and nearby Bordesley Green. He said that there were at least 1,000 forged votes in Aston and 1,500 to 2,000 in Bordesley Green. The system of postal voting on demand is leading to a banana republic perception.
Like the minister, I am a former Labour Party official. I have been fighting elections for almost 40 years, almost always on the winning side. I know about elections. Now, for the first time in my political life, people ask me, 'How do we know that they are counting these votes fairly? How do we know they are not rigging the election?' I am not saying that that is happening, but there is a systematic undermining of confidence in the electoral process, caused largely by postal vote fraud.
Councils share the responsibility with government. Richard Mawrey QC considered our two petitions – the only two that we could get in front of the election court. I hope that the minister, who is laughing, will listen to what he said about a New Labour council just a few miles from Westminster, held by one seat that was only secured by this type of corruption. In response to our petitions, Richard Mawrey QC declared that the evidence that we presented showed 'disturbing' and 'suspicious' signs of 'classic postal voting fraud'. He went on to say that a regime that allows electors to acquire postal voting ballots 'on demand' has been 'an open invitation to fraud', which has proved to be 'distressingly easy'.
Yet in the wake of those comments by a Queen's counsel, Tower Hamlets council, with its Labour majority of one, issued a press release that was such a falsification that Andrew Gilligan – remember him? The minister shakes her head. He was the only journalist to tell us the truth about the government's lies on Iraq. He said in the Evening Standard that the council's press release was a pack of lies. Who presided over all this? A woman called Christine Gilbert, whose intimate connections to New Labour are so personal that I would not like to go down that route. Suffice it to say that her reward for presiding over the tower of corruption in Tower Hamlets was to be made the chief inspector of schools at Ofsted. God save our children. God save the integrity of their examination results.