BREXIT FACTOR: Is by-election ‘scandal’ tosh in home of Posh?
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STEVE ANGLESEY on the claims of electoral fraud in the Peterborough by-election.
"False and baseless" is the Peterborough Labour Party's response to claims of voting irregularities in their upset by-election victory against the Brexit Party on June 6.
The 683-vote win is now being investigated by Cambridgeshire Police after they received five complaints of electoral malpractice, while Nigel Farage - who used to advise those on the wrong side of ballot box results to shut up and deal with it - fumed about "so many cases now where again and again we find - particularly in the inner cities - postal voting is producing the wrong results".
But "wrong" to whom? Opinion polls indicating the Brexit Party is likely to win a seat, as they did here, does not guarantee them to win it. And YouGov officials have also talked about how some polls have overestimated the Farageists' popularity.
The concerns in Peterborough, some of which were quickly dismissed by local council officials after they emerged on election night, have been magnified by the presence of convicted vote rigger Tariq Mahmood on the outskirts of Labour's campaign, as well as eye-catching quotes from former Lib Dem apparatchik turned independent election observer John Ault, who told the Mail On Sunday he had seen people photographing their completed ballot papers, perhaps to prove a "contract being fulfilled".
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He said: "I have observed many elections across Europe and only once in Kazakhstan many years ago did I see what I saw happen three times in Peterborough."
But this is pure speculation, and did Ault miss the local elections, in which many Brexiteers photographed their spoiled ballot papers and uploaded them to social media?
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While any claim of election malpractice should obviously be investigated (and, Met Police please note, investigated quickly), some of the related complaints from the public received by Peterborough council in the days after the vote do seem spurious to say the least.
These include "postal voters voting more than once" (the council responded: "We have no evidence to show that this has happened"); "apparently the official count numbers have gone missing" ("this is completely untrue") and "open bags of postal votes allegedly allowed at the count in contravention of electoral law" ("this did not happen").
There were also a certain type of allegation that, depressingly, you might have expected. These included "people wearing burkas and voting ten times in the name of other people - when the actual person turned up they were told they had already voted", to which the council replied: "None of the polling station presiding officers reported that anyone turned up to try to vote at a polling station to find that they could not vote as someone had already voted for them".
Another claimed "thousands of Muslims were bussed in to vote and paid £10 each to vote for the Labour candidate". The response was: "The council has not received any reports or evidence of this happening."
And then we had the work of the green ink brigade, one of whom wrote of "people seen at polling stations erasing people's papers and re-marking them - should be pens and not pencils so this can't happen". The council responded: "The pencils that are used in polling stations are actually made of a special lead which does not erase but just smudges. None of the polling stations reported witnessing anyone trying to delete and re-mark ballot papers."
Another tinfoil hat wearer claimed it was "too easy for people to vote online and then set up a new email address and vote again" (Response: "It is not possible for anyone to vote online in the UK").
In fact, much of the furore surrounding supposed election fraud in Peterborough seems to have stemmed from two social media messages: An obviously false Facebook post taunting Brexit Party voters with claims that thousands of their votes had been incinerated (impossible because of ballot box security), and a deleted but screenshotted tweet replying to the official national Labour Party account claiming that "many of us in the care profession 'helped' our clients with their postal vote weeks ago".
As the council reported: "This tweet was made in 2017 by someone that does not appear to have any connection to Peterborough and it does not appear to be related to this election."
All of which hysteria begs the question: If this is how the Brexiteers behave when they are in the ascendancy, what will they be like when their star starts to fall?
Last issue's Brexiteer Of The Week Lance Forman has been in touch to say the tweet which won him our illustrious honour has been misconstrued.
You might recall that the Brexit Party MEP-elect had posted, on his first trip to Brussels, a video of him practicing how to vote in the European parliament, but without success. This was accompanied by the text "Have only been here a day, but it's very clear, there is no democracy here," leading well-wishers to point out that to activate the device, he had to insert his ID card in a large slot at the top, as indicated by a graphic on the machine's screen.
Lance told me: "Some people have jumped to conclusions and drawn the wrong conclusion. I tweeted in jest. I did not give any indication that I did not know how to use the voting machine… The rest of my tweet was related to a lecture I had been given about how the EU parliament works.
He added: "Do you honestly think I am so stupid I either do not know how to use the device, or that I think the machine is rigged?"
Well, of course not! But if I posted a video of me trying to start my car without engaging a gear and taking the handbrake off, together with the phrase "I've only had this Skoda a day but I'm not very impressed", what would the natural inference be?
Certainly that I had misunderstood how to operate a Skoda rather than a.) I was joking and knew how to operate the car all along and b.) "I've only had this Skoda a day but I'm not very impressed" actually referred to a lecture on Skodas which I had attended earlier but not mentioned previously?
BREXITEERS OF THE WEEK
4. NIGEL FARAGE
The nicotine-stained man-frog called for Jo Brand to be sacked by the BBC and prosecuted over her milkshake/battery acid joke, despite saying in 2014: "We are heading down a road here where we would kill all humour in this country if we tear things to pieces. Enough is enough, let people tell their jokes.
If what they say is inappropriate they won't earn a living because they won't get booked again."
In 2017, after Farage threatened to "pick up my rifle" if Brexit did not happen, his spokesman commented: "Any attempt to take his jocular words out of context would be unfair."
3. ESTHER McVEY
Her dismal Tory leadership campaign ended in ridicule as she claimed foreign aid had funded an airport "built in the wrong direction" for crosswinds, making it impossible to take off and land. Asked to name names, McVey could only remember that it was "in one of the continents... abroad".
This turned out to be St Helena, a UK overseas territory rather than an unconnected country receiving foreign aid, where commercial planes have been able to take off and land since 2017.
2. NOEL GALLAGHER
The former Oasis guitarist told the Manchester Evening News: "There's only f***ing one thing worse than a fool who voted for Brexit. That's the rise of the c*** trying to get the vote overturned. You take part in a democratic f***ing process - if you don't like the outcome, go to North Korea."
So that's Noel in the Brexit camp, at least until archivists unearth a tape of John Lennon singing "you say you want a second referendum", when he will become a Remainer once more.
Who could have expected Liam would end up being the sensible one?
1. DOMINIC RAAB
"He is the clear winner of this debate. He has set out an impressive and optimistic vision for both Brexit and Britain's future.
Dominic Raab is the man to deliver it," declared his fellow former Brexit secretary David Davis on Sunday, less than 48 hours before Raab was knocked out of the Tory leadership election.
Raab's misfortunes, according to website Verdict, included seeing 52 of the 112 Facebook ads he booked in late May and early June at a cost of around £56,000 taken down by the social network for breaching its policies.
Perhaps Details Dom should have invested in maps of Dover and Calais instead.
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