Britain may be home of the “mother of parliaments” but the country’s democratic foundations are being undermined by electoral fraud in communities of Pakistani and Bangladeshi-origin, a strongly-worded government report said on Friday.
Commissioned by former premier David Cameron in the wake of electoral fraud in the London borough of Tower Hamlets in 2015, the report by Eric Pickles, former communities secretary, called for unprecedented reforms to counter malpractices in the communities.
Politically correct over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion are responsible for state institutions turning a blind eye to such electoral fraud, the report said, detailing several instances in which courts had convicted people between 2005 and 2015.
"Evidence was presented of pressure being put on vulnerable members of some ethnic minority communities, particularly women and young people, to vote according to the will of the elders, especially in communities of Pakistani and Bangladeshi background," the report said.
In Tower Hamlets, with a large population of Bangladeshi origin, sitting mayor Lutfur Rahman was removed from office in April 2015 and his election declared void after he was found guilty of electoral fraud.
Pickles said: “Last year’s court ruling in Tower Hamlets was a wake-up call that state bodies need to do far more to stamp out corruption and restore public confidence. It was local residents who lost out from the crooked politicians who bullied them and wasted their money.”
The report mentioned evidence of people in the two communities facing intimidation and threats of “burning in hell”, or that they were “not a good Muslim” if they did not vote for preferred candidates, or according to directives issued by spiritual and religious leaders.
The report said: “Bullying a voter by asserting that they will ‘burn in hell’ for not supporting a candidate is ultimately no different from threatening physical violence or from an employer threatening to sack a worker.”
It added, “Freedom of worship and the right to vote are important and hard-fought British liberties. Britons should be able to exercise both those liberties without injury or intimidation.”
A political campaigning style unique to South Asia has been evident among people of Pakistani-origin:
Voting according to the ‘biraderi’ system of family and tribal patronage with roots to clans in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, from where many people of Pakistani-origin in Britain hail.
Clan and religious leaders from Pakistan also reportedly travel during elections to extend support to candidates of their choice in places such as Bradford, Rotherham and Birmingham. However, some opposition has been building up to the ‘biraderi’ system among young Pakistani-origin Britons.
Pickles said: “I believe electoral malpractice is far more common than one isolated London borough, thanks to the state’s collective state of denial. We should never be frightened to look under the rock when what crawls beneath threatens us all. It’s time to take on the electoral crooks and defend Britain’s free and fair elections.”
He added: “My work in the department for communities and local government during the previous Parliament highlighted some shocking issues and revelations: our well-respected democracy is at threat from unscrupulous people intent on subverting the will of the electorate to put their own candidates into power, and in turn, manipulate local authority policy and funding to their own self-centred ends.
“That is something that we must do our utmost to guard against and to have measures in place to discourage and prevent.”