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Election tainted by strong suspicion.

Many will be aware that the Sparkhill election petition was struck out of court last week because one of the papers was served on the winning candidate a day late.

The issues raised in the election petition cannot now be considered in court. Many of those issues are unlikely to be considered without court action and they go to the core of Birmingham politics.

The election was an odd one in that Jagdip Rai was imposed on Sparkhill Ward Labour Party. This resulted in three Labour Party members fighting the election as Independents. Following the election a number of Labour Party members came to me with evidence of electoral malpractice and asked for support for an election petition. I agreed to work on this with them.

An election petition was raised. The timing on this is quite precise and cannot be varied. The petition has to be served on the returning officer, the winning candidate and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The RO and DPP were served by post, but it was felt that handing it personally to the winning candidate was necessary. Attempts were made on a number of days although, oddly enough, the inquiry agents responsible made no attempt to serve the papers on June 6 (the day of the last full council meeting - which was attended by Cllr Rai).

The end result is that the papers were served on June 7 - one day too late. The candidate's solicitors decided to use this to have the petition declared null and void rather than go to court on the issue. Albert Bore had a copy on May 25, but this is not legally relevant.

We have no evidence that Jagdip Rai organised any of the personation and have not alleged any of this. The fact is, however, that people who were in jail and abroad on the day of the election are marked down as having voted. Around 22 people were identified as such and the majority was only 28.

We are also aware that the city council has a list of people that it is aware are dead but also on the voting register on the day of the election. The council has refused to give me a copy of this list. Without this it will be difficult to identify how many dead people 'voted'.

Passing the evidence of election overspends to the police and DPP occurs as part of an election petition. We don't have much confidence in this, however. We passed detailed allegations of bribery as part of the 1999 elections to the police and are not confident that these were properly investigated. No action has been taken.

One of the key areas of the election petition is one which libel law prevents me detailing at length. Suffice to say that a number of Labour councillors were positive about having one aspect investigated. Certain issues have substantial impact both in the balance of power within the Labour Party and the community as a whole.

It is an 'open secret' to many people in Birmingham, but not something I can write about here.

New rules will be coming out later in the year about political parties. Some changes will be coming in as a result - particularly of Michael Crick's evidence to Lord Neill about abuse of election expenses during by-elections.

It will be interesting to find out whether or not smaller political parties may be prevented from fighting elections through being unable to satisfy the new conditions.

We do need to work to protect honest democracy. It is a pity the issues in the petition have not been heard.

John Hemming is leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Birmingham City Council.
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Author:Hemming, John
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 31, 2000
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