Six Labour councillors in the Bordesley Green and Aston wards of Birmingham have been accused of mass vote-rigging in last year’s local elections.
The case in Bordesley Green has been brought by the People’s Justice Party (PJP) — a local party which has taken up issues like housing and opposition to war, winning several council seats around Birmingham.
Salma Yaqoob, the Respect parliamentary candidate for the Birmingham constituency of Sparkbrook and Small Heath, and Raghib Ahsan, the secretary of the PJP, spoke to Joseph Choonara about the case.
There are many challenges we face in the general election — we’re a very new party and it is crucial that we get our message out to as many people as possible.
I’m starting to get invited to places and there’s been interest by some sections of the media.
I’ve been meeting with local Sikhs in the gurdwara, with churches and with different mosques. And at every meeting I’ve also raised the anti-war demonstration on 19 March.
On Friday of last week we brought together representatives from most of the different mosques in Birmingham to talk about the demonstration — it’s unusual for them all to meet together.
Students have invited me into their colleges.
In the constituency itself we sent out an A3-sized Respect news sheet to about 40,000 homes. I’ve been following this up by going round to meet people on the doorstep every day, making sure that there are cells of people who will support Respect everywhere.
About a fortnight ago we started sending out groups to go canvassing each weekend.
Wherever we go we get a great response. We have to show we are a credible alternative — we can do this if we combine people’s local concerns with the big national issues.
The scale of the fraud that is alleged to have taken place in Birmingham is appalling.
People have complained about intimidation in previous elections. This takes away people’s right to vote and damages democracy. I definitely support the PJP’s decision to bring this case.
We think that, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, postal voting should be abolished. I’m planning to start up a campaign to “clean up the vote”.
There are complicated boundary changes going on in Birmingham, but most of the Bordesley Green ward will be in the constituency where I am standing as the Respect candidate.
THE PJP brought the case in Bordesley Green to court, while in Aston it was the Liberal Democrats who brought the case.
We lost our two councillors in Bordesley at the last election. The postal vote in the ward rocketed from about 600 to over 8,000 — the highest in the country. Labour were worried about losing votes because of the war, so they went out nationally to organise postal voting.
We are convinced we can win our case that fraud took place. Our agents sat at polling stations on the election day last year. They met people who turned up to vote, only to be told they had already cast a postal vote. We knew some of these people and, as soon as the election was over, we pinpointed places where the vote was diverted.
One woman found that someone had cast a vote for her. There were about ten votes at her address. Someone had signed her postal voting declaration and someone else had signed as the witness. Her signature was given as the witness for another voter from the house! She has now given this evidence to the court.
An 83 year old woman told us that she liked to go to the polling station and was surprised when a postal vote came for her. Then someone came and picked it up from her. A number of people told us they had voted PJP, but that someone had collected their vote. When it got to the ballot box it had become a vote for Labour.
We collected around 260 such witness statements from people. Some did not apply for a postal vote, but received one—and people came to collect it. Some applied for postal votes, but they never arrived.
The Labour Party knew about the court case from June 2004. They were asked to put forward a defence but kept delaying it.
Eventually the Labour Party withdrew legal representation from the six councillors involved. The three councillors from Bordesley Green have walked out of the court. Damning evidence against them has been heard and no one has defended the case.
We hope the elections will be re-run. My view is that postal voting is designed so that it cannot be policed. In Birmingham there are 70,000 postal voting registrations for the general election. We want these postal votes to be scrapped.