Thursday, June 09, 2005

How to get on in the civil service

Remember all that kerfuffle about the 2004 local elections in Birmingham? When three Labour councillors were kicked out by a special election court because it turned out they'd been forging huge quantities of postal votes? When Judge Richard Mawsley said that the election "would have disgraced a banana republic"? Where the police discovered two of the men in question in a warehouse at dead of night, surrounded by piles of ballots they claimed to be "taking to the count"?

Well, the chief executive of Birmingham City Council at the time is now the director of the Immigration Service. The woman in question - the heir, if you will, of Joseph Chamberlain's municipal socialism - is one Lin Homer. She wasn't accused of rigging the vote herself. No. But she was named on the petition to the court, though. Alongside the councillors themselves, there she is (Hansard reference). What did the judge have to say?
BBC West Midlands: "The petitioners also accused the city's returning officer and chief executive Lin Homer of failing to discharge her duties in accordance with electoral law.

Judge Mawrey said that Ms Homer "threw the rule book out of the window" to deal with overwhelming numbers of postal vote application forms received."
Memo to IND HQ, Lunar House, Croydon: don't let the rule book hit you as it departs the window. Shall we have a concrete example of what she could have done to prevent the fraud? As it happens, I've got one here.
The Daily Telegraph: "Mr Mawrey said: "Postal ballot packages are sent out by ordinary mail in clearly identifiable envelopes. Short of writing 'Steal Me' on the envelopes, it is hard to see what more could be done to ensure their coming into the wrong hands."
Great, eh? What about this little beauty?
The Birmingham Post:"The elections officer for Birmingham was suspended last night after the discovery of a hidden box containing an estimated 1,000 uncounted postal votes from the 2004 local authority elections...."I went to the elections office with the head of the fraud squad, Dave Churchill.

"Lo and behold there was an orange crate high up on a shelf. When we took it down it was full of envelopes." Coun Hemming said the envelopes had not yet been fully examined, but he believed they contained postal ballot papers from between ten and 15 wards."
And there's more from the Post, which sounds like an impressive local paper:
Birmingham Post:"Mr Mawrey was critical of the council's elections office and returning officer, Lin Homer, who allowed "corners to be cut" when sorting and counting postal votes.

But he said her decision was understandable given the quantity of postal ballots, which Mrs Homer and the elections officer John Owen could not have foreseen.

Although Mrs Homer's decision to allow postal ballot papers to be transported to the count in plastic shopping bags was "the direst folly", it was not a serious enough breach to declare the result unsafe."
I like the bit with the carrier bags. But there was worse:
The Times: "Lin Homer, the city council’s chief executive, gave evidence that there was widespread anxiety about postal voting fraud during the campaign. Cheating reached such depths that a pillar box was set alight in an attempt to destroy completed ballot papers, she said."
Widespread anxiety, eh? Pity it wasn't anxious-making enough to induce her to actually do anything. But, of course, everything was cleared up in time for the far more important general elections, wasn't it?
The Times, Again: "
20,000 missing votes heighten Birmingham postal fraud fears
By Jill Sherman and Dominic Kennedy
SOME 20,000 missing votes became the focus of Britain’s biggest election count early today. Early indications showed that a third of postal votes issued for the 11 constituencies in Birmingham had not been returned.

Explanations include late delivery, fraudsters afraid of filling them in because of extra police attention, or low turnout. However, postal voting typically results in high turnouts of up to 80 per cent because voters are seen as more motivated. Birmingham is the scene of several marginals where the parties have used mass postal voting to try to capture or hold seats. The total number of postal votes issued in the city was 59,000 compared with 16,000 at the last election.

But Lin Homer the returning officer disclosed last night that only 37,000-43,000 arrived. She said: “It might be that people have thought again about postal voting because of the uncertainty. Some of it could have been because of the work we have been doing. We have conducted 700 door-to-door interviews and forensically examined data.”
Does anybody like the way she tries to make the disappearance of ~20,000 ballot papers sound like a good thing? Naturally, of course, even if there had been no time to make changes before the election, our darling Lin was right on the case as soon as the dust settled to ensure that nothing like this could possibly happen again. Or perhaps not.
The Guardian: "n the meantime, Mr Khan, who stood for the Liberal Democrats against former cabinet minister Clare Short in Birmingham Ladywood, is planning to meet West Midlands police and the returning officer for Birmingham city council to discuss his fears.

It follows claims that a Labour party activist in the constituency kept a ballot box at his home the night before polls opened. The activist, whose daughter was a presiding officer for one polling station, has strenuously denied any impropriety.

But Mr Khan, who brought a successful petition against postal vote fraud in last year's local elections, said he would be raising the issue of how the general election was run with returning officer Lin Homer. He said it was "alarming" that ballot boxes were kept with presiding officers who were not council employees, particularly if they have links to a political party."
Naturally, the activist had no intention of interfering with the ballot box in any way. Nuh. He felt sorry for it. It looked lonely. So he thought he'd take it home. As a pet. The children would love it..especially his daughter.

If you can't trust local government to run an election honestly or at least without letting it degenerate into a catastrophic farce through sheer incompetence, surely you can count on central government to weigh in. Surely the G-men will soon be on their way from headquarters to clean up our democracy's Sin City? Well, the people in question are the brand-new Department for Constitutional Affairs. But there's a problem. They may not even know what's going on in Birmingham. Why? A source at DCA, who can be identified only as "Shallow Neck", informs me that DCA staff are forbidden to read blogs. Not just this blog, but all blogs are barred by the DCA web proxy.

Desperate DCA staff mob local cybercafes every lunch hour like swarming filth ants, thirsty for blog. Exactly how they determine what is and isn't a blog is unclear. Tests conducted there show that even independently-hosted blogs are barred, so they aren't just blocking Typepad and Blogspot. Neck was told that "it was decided that blogs could be a problem". Strangely, though, the BNP's website is available. And so is Sinn Fein's. Terrorists - Yes. Blogs - No.

Lin Homer's new job carries a salary of £170,000 a year.


Anonymous said...

so I can kiss goodbye to a my career. please note I have never met Lin Homer I am sure that Lin Homer is a good person. I have never criticised Lin Homer, I am supportive of Lin Homer. Cary Grant playing a reporter in Germany at the outbreak of war was asked hisopinion of Hitler, and said what a nice guy he was, he said I am telling all you good folks at home, so that you cen tell it to your families in the services. Go tell it to the soldiers, go tell it to the sailors, go tell it to the airmen, but above all Go and tell it to the marines. Make of that what you will.

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