Stuffing ballot boxes is illegal, so is threatening voters or bribing them. If Lutfur Rahman is guilty as charged of doctoring postal ballots, or intimidating opponents, or allocating council funding in order to buy votes then it was right he should be removed from office and the police ought to be bringing charges. But the Electoral Commissioner’s judgement went way beyond a finding on facts of this sort – if there were facts. He objected to Imams telling people how to vote and accusations of racism and Islamophobia against opponents.
The Electoral Commission’s Guidance for Candidates and Agents rules out false statements about a candidate’s ‘character or conduct’ and incitement to racial hatred. It doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t rule out statements about what candidates supposedly stand for, or arguments about racial advantages/disadvantages. And it doesn’t rule out opinionated churchmen of any creed – more usually Anglican and Catholic – pronouncing on what the faithful should or should not support. There is more than a whiff of racism and Islamophobia about the judgement which must be cleared up.
When the Electoral Commission has finished with that could it look at the blatant corruption of mainstream politics? The Tories propose to sell shares in currently state-owned banks at a 5% discount for ‘small investors’ a key Tory target group and a transparent ideological pitch to present the Conservatives as the party of the ‘strivers’. Then there is the proposed sale of housing association properties at a discount to tenants, a repeat of the sale of council houses and another example of the shameless use of public money to buy votes.
OK, it is border line corrupt because the direct link between money and votes is not easily demonstrable. And other parties make plenty of spending pledges designed to win support. There is a degree to which all democratic politics is being reduced to ‘pork-barrel’ politics. But subsidised shares and houses is surely worthy of investigation. The charge sheet against Dame Shirley Porter, convicted of using public money to buy votes, wasn’t that different, was it?