Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming British general election on May 5 – and the latest polls all indicate another thumping Labour Party majority – this is likely to be one of the most perverted and dishonest democratic experiences in British political history.
The UK prides itself as the cradle of democracy and takes credit for spreading this gospel across the English speaking world. Yet the media, the electorate and outside observers are all united in accusing it of perverting democracy in the most hideous of ways.
The rot was evident a year ago in the city of Birmingham where the misuse of postal ballots in local council elections led to the sacking of six Labour councillors.
The election commissioner described the existing system as “inviting fraud”, adding that vote rigging in Birmingham was so widespread it “would disgrace a banana republic”. In some city wards the vote went up by an astonishing and impossible 650 per cent, with all the votes going to the same six men, all of Asian origin and all Labour Party councillors.
Bizarrely, this fraud took place in safe seats where the leading candidates did not need to cheat in order to win. Yet they couldn’t resist the temptation of manipulating the results by manipulating the postal voting system immediately after it was introduced for the first time throughout the UK.
The comments of the election commissioner and the subsequent sentencing of the fraudsters has been hugely embarrassing for the Blair government, which acknowledges the limitations of postal voting. But rather than reforming the system, or doing away with it altogether, Mr Blair's advisers have decided to tackle the issue only after this coming week’s election. Their reluctance to take action means then system will be open to fraud in key constituencies where 40 to 50 per cent of voters are expected to use the postal ballot. Why are so many people applying for the postal vote? The reason is local party officials who prey upon the elderly, the unemployed and the vulnerable by offering them inducements to apply for the relevant voting form that is then filled in on their behalf. There is no verifiable proof that the signature at the bottom is valid.
Prime Minister Blair ensures that he does not come face to face with the electorate or the politicians. He achieves this by refusing to advertise in advance where he will be campaigning on any given day. Like all great dictators he hides behind the excuse that his security is the issue, and that he is not trying to avoid questions from hostile voters or acerbic members of the Press.
When Mr Blair turns up at some pre-arranged meeting place, the party makes sure that the crowd consists exclusively of loyal supporters who have been bussed in specially. For the most part they consist of canvassers in a particular constituency who are told not to bother putting leaflets through doors, but to turn up at the local town hall for a special event. From there they are taken to where Mr Blair will be present.
Labour's successful pre-election tactics are now being copied by Conservative opposition leader Michael Howard. What neither Mr Blair nor Mr Howard want is for their appearance at a school or a factory to be hijacked by the Press asking uncomfortable questions about the issue of the day.
Analysts believe Mr Blair's tactics are modelled on those of US President George Bush whose own pre-election strategy was to avoid any possible ambush by hostile voters. Each audience before whom he appeared was allowed to be filmed, but no reporters were allowed to ask questions.
In the UK some journalists alerted by friends within the Labour Party have managed to get to a few key locations where Mr Blair is likely to be present. But they are faced with the same rent-a-crowd of loyalists who form a human shield between the Prime Minister and the Press. Sometimes there are literally 12 lines of people blocking direct access.
Labour also have what are called orchestrators. If a journalist from behind the room asks what is deemed an embarrassing question, Mr Blair pretends not to hear it and the orchestrator gets the crowd to start shouting “Tony Blair, four more years”.
The technique is incredibly sophisticated. This tactic has again been inspired by America. For ordinary voters denied the opportunity to debate real issues face to face with their rulers, the May 5 election has become the most flaccid, boring, non event in their country's political history. It is likely to result in the lowest ever turnout on polling day – less than 50 per cent – with Mr Blair and his party elected by only a few million voters. Years from now historians will conclude that this was the election in which ideas and principles were killed off by politicians who did not have the guts to stand up and defend what they believe.