Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Another ‘rotten borough’? Allegations of electoral fraud in Peterborough

Timothy Peace and Parveen Akhtar discuss the allegations of electoral malpractice in the recent Peterborough by-election in which Labour won by 683 votes. While an initial police inquiry found that no offences were revealed, they explain why certain areas are more susceptible to such claims.

After its success in the European Parliament elections, many expected Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to follow this result by electing its first MP at the subsequent by-election in Peterborough, held on 6 June. Called because the sitting Labour MP Fiona Onasanya was forced out of office following a conviction, few expected Labour to retain the seat. So when their candidate Lisa Forbes won the contest by just 683 votes, many observers were surprised even if nothing untoward was initially mentioned as a reason for her victory.

Fast forward just over a week after the result and Nigel Farage was claiming that Peterborough was a ‘rotten borough’ and that postal voting was producing the ‘wrong results’. Out of the 33,998 ballot papers counted, 9,898 were postal votes, with approximately 400 of these being rejected because of discrepancies in details including signatures and dates of births not matching the council records. Cambridgeshire Police subsequently confirmed that it was investigating five allegations of electoral irregularities, three of which related to postal votes, with one allegation of bribery and corruption and another involving a breach of the privacy of the vote. Speculation about potential malpractice was also suggested in various media reports and the social media rumour mill went into overdrive.

Electoral malpractice is relatively rare in the UK, but the allegations of irregularities involving postal votes, bribery and corruption in the Peterborough by-election have once again thrown the spotlight on this issue and its relation to voters from the South Asian community. A report by the Electoral Commission published in 2014 identified 16 local authority areas, including Peterborough, where there was a greater risk of cases of alleged electoral fraud being reported. These were all areas which are known to have a significant South Asian presence and the authors reported receiving strongly held views about electoral fraud being ‘more likely to be committed by or in support of candidates standing for election in areas which are largely or predominately populated by some South Asian communities, specifically those with roots in parts of Pakistan or Bangladesh.’

The Electoral Commission subsequently commissioned a report about Understanding Electoral Fraud Vulnerability in Pakistani and Bangladeshi Origin Communities. The authors identified seven main sources of vulnerability to fraud and recommended several solutions including stricter and more transparent guidelines to political parties and candidates on postal vote handling. Just a few months later, this issue became national news when the Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was removed from office after he was found guilty of electoral fraud. The case also prompted the government to ask Sir Eric Pickles to carry out an independent review into electoral fraud. A series of 50 recommendations were outlined in the report, including clamping down on postal vote ‘harvesting’ by political activists. Subsequent research also outlined how community leaders or elders can ‘take advantage of the postal voting on demand system to commit personation and tamper with ballots.’

In our research into British-Pakistani communities and local politics in Bradford and Birmingham, issues of electoral fraud were regularly invoked by research participants. In the constituency of Bradford West, one political activist recounted how people would often go around houses to collect people’s postal votes. However, it was also stressed that this fraudulent practice was not only committed by supporters of the Labour Party. Indeed, back in 2010, five men, including two former councillors, were jailed for their part in a failed postal votes scam intended to benefit a Conservative candidate.

The introduction of postal voting on demand in the early 2000s certainly provided a very clear opportunity for anyone tempted to influence electoral outcomes through dubious means.  Labour  councillors convicted of fraud in Birmingham’s 2004 local elections continue to maintain their innocence, with one blaming instead South Asian family structures where the male head of the household fill in postal ballot papers on behalf of wives, sons and daughters. It is clear that postal voting strengthened the hand of community or ‘biraderi’ leaders who view this as a convenient way to deliver a bloc vote. However, rather than illegal practices such as vote rigging, many people we spoke to were more concerned about the legal means through which these biraderi connections can still influence local politics.

This was noted in relation to the candidate selection contests, despite repeated attempts by the Labour Party to improve the transparency of its selection contests in the wake of the Bradford by-election result in 2012. According to those we interviewed, the local Constituency Labour Party in several locations is dominated by key biraderis and candidate selection is influenced by the mobilisation of biraderi members who are signed up to the Constituency Labour Party to ensure they have a vote in the selection process. This despite the fact that the influence of such community leaders has been waning and that young people in particular are more likely to reject practices which are either corrupt or seriously disenfranchise them from the political process.

The allegations of irregularities in Peterborough centre around the potential misuse of postal votes although the initial police inquiry found that no offences were revealed with the allegations relating to postal votes. If any misconduct is proven to have taken place, it will be particularly embarrassing for the government given that it had selected Tower Hamlets and Peterborough as the locations for postal voting pilots at the local elections of May 2018 to test measures to improve the integrity of the postal vote process.

The Brexit Party have now announced that they will challenge the Peterborough by-election result and lodge a petition under the Representation of the People Act 1983. It is to be hoped that the results of any such investigation can be announced sooner rather than later as the current debate is dominated by hearsay. What is certain is that more work needs to be done to ensure that the integrity of the electoral process is maintained. Postal voting can be a tool for enfranchisement and inclusive democracy. It should remain an option for those who require or desire it. At the same time, robust mechanisms of countering possible malpractice would help to restore confidence amidst recurrent allegations of fraud.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ published work in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

About the Authors

Timothy Peace is Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Fellow at the University of Glasgow.




Parveen Akhtar is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University.





All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

Jeremy Hunt: EU playing hardball because it wants UK in customs union

LONDON — The EU refused to accept workable alternatives to the Northern Irish backstop because it wants the U.K. to stay in the customs union, Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday.

In an interview with the BBC, the U.K. foreign secretary argued the bloc was playing hardball in the talks to negotiate “the best outcome” for itself despite the technology being there to eliminate the need for the controversial mechanism.

He also took aim at his rival for No. 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson, whom he branded untrustworthy and accused of setting a “fake deadline” on Brexit.

Both Hunt and Johnson have vowed to renegotiate the backstop and use technology to keep tabs on goods flowing across the Northern Irish border to prevent a hard frontier.

Hunt said he was loyal to Theresa May on the backstop — the insurance policy designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland — but “never thought that was the right approach.”

He said the technology to approach the border puzzle in a different way was “ready” to go — despite Brussels and other critics repeatedly insisting the necessary measures do not currently exist.

Hunt added: “But the EU have not wanted to accept this kind of solution because the hope is that we might stay in this thing called the customs union where we have to stick to [their] tariffs. But I think they know now that won’t get through parliament.”

Pressed on his claim that the EU was not prepared to listen, Hunt added: “Well this is a negotiation and they obviously are going to negotiate for what is for them the best outcome.”

Johnson this morning vowed to take the U.K. out of the bloc by the current October 31 Brexit deadline, “do or die,” but Hunt has said he could accept an extension if a deal was close.

Hunt told the BBC he would make the call on whether or not to go for a no-deal Brexit before the end of October, but failed to spell out exactly when.

His rival published a letter Tuesday in which he demanded to know what deadline Hunt will ask for if he applies to the EU for a further extension.

“For my part, I have been clear that, if I am elected leader, we will leave on October 31 with or without a deal,” Johnson said in the letter. “If you will not, voters deserve to know what alternative deadline you will set.”

But Hunt told the BBC: “I think that October 31 come hell or high water is a fake deadline, because it’s more likely to trip us into a general election before we’ve delivered Brexit, and that would hand the keys to [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn and then we’d have no Brexit at all.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at Johnson, he said getting a deal done with Brussels was “about the personality of our PM.”

“If you choose someone where there’s no trust, there’s going to be no negotiation, no deal,” Hunt said.

Brussels chastises UK over barriers to EU27 citizens voting

EU27 citizens residing in the U.K. faced “a number of obstacles to participation” in last months’s European election, wrote European Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová in a letter to the British government.

The letter, addressed to British Parliamentary Secretary Chloe Smith and seen by POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook, lists the bureaucratic hurdles that prevented many from voting.

“EU citizens were not informed of the fact that the national registration procedure comprised of two steps and required the completion and submission of a separate ‘Electoral Registration form’ in addition to the ‘EU citizens — European Parliament voter registration form,’” Jourová wrote in the letter sent on Friday.

She noted that some EU citizens had requested but did not receive the “EU citizens — European Parliament voter registration form.” And some who did submit the form found it “was not processed by the authorities,” so when they attempted to vote, they were not on the electoral roll.

The U.K.’s Electoral Commission blamed voting problems for EU27 citizens in the election on the “very short notice” from the government that the ballot would take place.

But Jourová pointed out in her letter that similar issues have happened before. “The same problems were encountered by Union citizens who sought to participate in the 2014 elections,” she wrote. “In January 2015, the U.K. authorities informed the Commission that they intend to remedy these issues through legislation or practice with the aim to have a solution in place before the elections to the European Parliament in 2019.”

The link between the framing of election results and expectations about government performance

Based on a survey experiment, Ekaterina Kolpinskaya, Gabriel Katz, Susan Banducci, Daniel Stevens, and Travis Coan find that victories depicted as narrow in the media increased scepticism about the incoming government’s ability to deliver on its promises. The opposite was observed when the victory was presented as decisive – especially among the less politically knowledgeable.

Although it may be heart-warming to win by a landslide, under the First-Past-the-Post system, a handful of votes can decide the fate of a parliamentary seat: ‘getting over the line’ in the majority of seats is all it takes for a party to form a government. Yet governing – and winning subsequent elections – is another matter entirely.

Previous research has shown that the magnitude of victory for a government determines the public’s expectations and confidence in that government’s ability to enact their manifesto promises. Put simply, if the governing party wins big, then voters can be more confident the government can deliver, whereas if they have a tiny majority (or, like the current Conservative government, no majority) voters are more sceptical about that ability.

Less is known, however, about how the public develop their assessment of the magnitude of a new government’s victory. Our research set out to look at what role the media played in shaping this assessment: we used experiments to look at how different ways of framing the Conservatives’ victory in the 2015 election affected voters’ views of the magnitude of that victory. We found that the way the media frames an election victory is very important in this respect, and it is even more important in close elections (such as that in 2015), as well as for less politically knowledgeable voters who are more susceptible to media framing.

The 2015 General Election offered an excellent opportunity to explore how media framing of electoral victories influences citizens’ confidence that the new government will enact their policy programme. That is, considering the widespread expectation of a hung Parliament and a coalition government that opened doors to multiple post-election interpretations of how decisive the Conservative victory was. Indeed, the descriptions of the Tory majority varied from ‘slender’ and ‘slim’ to being a ‘crushing victory’ for David Cameron, conveying a ‘strong endorsement from the electorate’. Different interpretations of the electoral outcome led to different readings of the policy implications. At the same time that The Telegraph readers learned that the Prime Minister’s party would ‘have a free hand’ to craft policy, The Economist reported that Cameron would find little support to push a divisive government programme.

Using these conflicting interpretations of the size of a Conservative mandate, we examined how alternative media interpretations about the decisiveness of the electoral victory affected people’s beliefs about the incoming government’s policy performance. In a survey experiment conducted three weeks after the election, we presented participants with news articles portraying the Tory victory as either ‘decisive’ or ‘narrow’ using two real-life news stories from The Telegraph and The Guardian, and two further articles communicating the same messages but without attribution to a news source. We then estimated the effects of exposure to these competing descriptions – while accounting for individuals’ political, attitudinal and socio-demographic characteristics such as vote choice, trust in media, interest in politics, age, education, etc. – on expectations about the government’s ability to honour its policy commitments.

Overall, when the incoming government’s victory was portrayed as ‘decisive’, subjects were more likely to believe that they would be able to deliver on their campaign promises. This is particularly true for less politically knowledgeable participants who were significantly more prone to believe that the Conservatives would honour their commitments when exposed to ‘decisive’ victory frames. The magnitudes of these differences were quite sizable – with those who got a ‘decisive’ victory news story (even without a source) and did not regularly follow the news having been three times more likely to believe that the Conservatives would implement their policy programme than more knowledgeable participants who received the same message.

Partisanship too affected expectations about government policy behaviour by pre-disposing Conservative identifiers and non-partisans to believe that the government would deliver on its campaign promises, but only when the news story was attributed to The Telegraph. Unsurprisingly, Labour identifiers who read the article from The Guardian were 3.4 percentage points less likely to believe that the Tories would be able to deliver on their promises than those in the control group. Finally, trust in media/news source plays some role too. On average, those who do not trust newspapers in general were 7 to 15 percentage points less likely to believe that the Conservatives would deliver on their campaign promises compared to those with higher trust levels. However, this did not affect people’s receptivity to information about the decisiveness of the Tory victory.

In general, we show that decisive victories enhance expectations of government performance, and the (perceived) decisiveness of the electoral victory influences voters’ expectations about government policymaking. The effects from media framing of electoral outcomes shape expectations of those with low levels of political knowledge in particular, though a lack of trust in media and partisan motivated reasoning play a role too.

These are important findings when we consider the need for voters to be able to hold government to account in subsequent elections in a democracy: voters who believe that governments could and should have implemented their full manifesto (because they felt the margin of the government’s victory made that possible) are more likely to be critical of that party in the next election if it fails to do so, whereas those who felt that the government was less likely to be able to keep all its promises (because its majority in the House of Commons was small, or non-existent) might be more forgiving. The way the media presents and frames an election result is vital for shaping voters’ expectations of the government delivering on its promises – meaning it may play an important role in determining those voters’ decisions in future elections.


Note: the above draws on the authors’ published work in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties.

About the Authors

Ekaterina Kolpinskaya is Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Swansea University.



Gabriel Katz is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Exeter.




Susan Banducci is Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter.




Daniel Stevens is Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter.




Travis Coan is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Exeter.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

UK Tory MP kicked out by voters, setting up key by-election fight

A Conservative MP has been booted out of his seat by voters after he was convicted of expenses fraud — teeing up a by-election battle that will test the state of the U.K.’s Brexit politics.

Chris Davies pleaded guilty in March to two counts of making false expenses claims, which triggered a recall petition in his Brecon and Radnorshire constituency.

More than 10,000 voters signed the petition, way over the required 5,303 threshold to have him kicked out, meaning he automatically loses his seat.

Davies seized the constituency from the Lib Dems in 2015 and secured a majority of more than 8,000 at the snap general election called by Theresa May two years later.

The Lib Dems are odds-on favourites to win the Welsh seat at the upcoming by-election and have a candidate, Jane Dodds, already selected. They will aim to boost the momentum they have built up in last month’s local and European elections. The by-election will also be a test of Labour’s support if they have not moved to a less equivocal stance on Brexit — something a majority of their members are demanding.

Davies is the second ever MP to be kicked out by the recall process, after former Labour member Fiona Onasanya was booted out of her Peterborough seat earlier this year. She was convicted of lying to police about a speeding offense.

Labour managed to retain the seat at the subsequent by-election on June 6, with new candidate Lisa Forbes.

Leo Varadkar: No Brexit transition without a deal

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar delivered a blow to Conservative leadership candidate Boris Johnson Thursday as he insisted the U.K. will not be granted a Brexit transition period if it leaves the EU without a deal.

Johnson, who is the favorite to clinch the Tory crown and become the next British prime minister next month, argued during a televised TV debate on Tuesday that Brussels would grant a transition to smooth the U.K. departure from the bloc, even after a no-deal Brexit.

He has also put renegotiating the controversial Northern Irish backstop arrangements at the heart of his campaign to win the backing of Conservative Party MPs and members.

But arriving at the European Council summit in Brussels, Varadkar said neither proposition is possible. “There is no Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop and there is no implementation period without a Withdrawal Agreement,” said Varadkar, using the alternative terminology for a transition period.

Varakdar’s comments echo those of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who also said this morning there could be no transition without the Withdrawal Agreement, which Brussels has insisted will not be reopened.

Varakdar also made clear that Dublin would not be willing to negotiate bilaterally to avoid the backstop, insisting “European unity” would be maintained if talks continue on the so-called Political Declaration — which outlines the future relationship between the U.K. and EU.

The proposal was put forward by British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who was knocked out of the Conservative leadership contest Thursday afternoon.

Varadkar said: “Negotiations can only happen between the U.K. and EU. We are not going to allow negotiations to move to an intergovernmental level in any way.”

Elsewhere, Varadkar insisted there could be no further extension to the current Brexit deadline of October 31 — unless it is for a snap general election to shake up the deadlocked parliamentary arithmetic in Britain, or even a fresh EU referendum.

Johnson has insisted he will take the U.K. out of the EU by the end of October, deal or no deal. But the two remaining candidates in the race — Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt — have said they would prefer an extension to the negotiations if a deal might be clinched soon after the deadline.

But in a blow to their hopes, Varakdar said there is “very much a strong view across the EU that there shouldn’t be any more extensions.”

He added: “While I have endless patience, some of my colleagues have lost patience, quite frankly, with the U.K., and there is enormous hostility to any further extension.

“So I think an extension could only happen if it were to facilitate something like a general election in the U.K. or perhaps even something like a second referendum if they decided to have one.”

“What won’t be entertained is an extension for further negotiations or further indicative votes. The time for that has long since passed,” he said.

Sajid Javid knocked out of Tory leadership race

LONDON — Sajid Javid was knocked out of the Conservative Party leadership contest in the third and penultimate secret ballot of MPs.

Boris Johnson retained his commanding lead, taking 157 votes, while the race is now on between Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove to take second place in the fourth and final ballot later on Thursday. Gove has narrowly moved into second place for the first time in the contest.

For the first time in the contest there were two spoilt ballot papers.

Gove took 61 votes and Hunt 59 votes, and both will now be desperately seeking the backing of Javid voters and other last-minute switchers before the final ballot, which opens at 3:30 p.m. local time and closes two hours later. The result is expected at around 6 p.m.

The final two will face a monthlong campaign before a ballot of around 160,000 Conservative Party members will decide the new leader and next prime minister. Polls suggest Johnson is the firm favorite among members.

Javid, who came fourth with 34 votes, will not endorse another candidate today, an official on his campaign said after the result. Most expect him to swing behind Johnson’s runaway campaign. His comments on the favorability of a no-deal Brexit have hardened in recent days, moving closer to Johnson’s position and an endorsement would also place him in a good position when Johnson, if he does succeed, allocates jobs in his new Cabinet later this summer.

Environment Secretary Gove and Foreign Secretary Hunt’s positions on Brexit are not far apart, with both saying they would seek to renegotiate Theresa May’s deal, in particular the Northern Ireland backstop, and would be prepared if necessary to delay Brexit again, beyond October 31, to secure a new agreement.

Neither has ruled out leaving without a deal, but they do not say, as Johnson does, that the U.K. must leave with or without one on October 31. Hunt in particular has argued that Johnson’s position does not take into account the likelihood that parliament would block a no-deal exit, potentially paving the way for a general election that he has warned could be disastrous for the Conservatives.

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