Ex-minister blames political correctness for town hall votes fraud
Political correctness has led the Government to turn a blind eye to town hall corruption, the first review into election fraud has found.
The author of the report, Tory former minister Sir Eric Pickles, criticised councils, the police and the election watchdog for failing to detect and prevent the spread of electoral corruption in the UK.
The report was commissioned by David Cameron in the wake of a High Court hearing last year when Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London, was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices and forced to step down.
The case revealed that grants had been given to Bangladeshi or Muslim groups in return for support and council money had been used to pay a Bangladeshi language television station which provided supportive coverage.
The report said it saw evidence that pressure was "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".
It added: "There were concerns that influence and intimidation within households may not be reported, and that state institutions had turned a blind eye to such behaviour because of 'politically correct' over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion."
Sir Eric made more than 50 recommendations in his review, including forcing voters to present identification at polling stations and banning political activists from handling postal ballot papers.
The review has been handed to Prime Minister Theresa May.
Sir Eric 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 unscrupulous politicians who bullied them and wasted their money.
"There are sometimes challenging issues over divisive community politics, but this is no excuse for failing to enforce British law and protect the integrity of our democratic process.
"The law must be applied equally and fairly to everyone. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to uphold the rule of law and ensure British fair play.
"Our nation has a proud heritage as the 'mother of parliaments', yet the worrying and covert spread of electoral fraud and state of denial by some bodies threatens that good reputation. It is time to take action to take on the electoral crooks and defend Britain's free and fair elections."
The report also found that there were "clear links" links between electoral corruption and the "endorsement and funding of extremist causes".
It urged the Government to commit to a broader review of councils' executive structures to ensure scrutiny and powers of challenge by the press, public and councillors were possible.
While mayoral powers provide strong governance, they also presented greater risk of corruption and require greater transparency, it added.
It holds strong criticism for the Metropolitan Police, describing it as "astonishing" that no criminal prosecutions had been brought against Mr Rahman, who was prosecuted in an Election Court in 2015.
The "repeated inaction" by the police force sent a worrying signal that the police were soft on tackling electoral fraud, it said.
The report also warns that the Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog, is engaged in a series of tick-box inspections of town hall electoral registration departments which are ineffective.