“There’s been lots of noise in the press about what may or may not have happened during the [Peterborough] by-election,” announced party chairman Richard Tice MEP at a press conference announcing the challenge.
“There’ve been allegations of impropriety, and allegations of vote-rigging, and question marks about the presence of a particular individual in the count room, and what he was doing in the Labour campaign,” he said, referring to Labour activist and convicted vote-rigger Tariq Mahmood, and revealing a short video showcasing his criminal past and involvement in the Peterborough campaign, alleging that he acted as an “agent” for Labour candidate Lisa Forbes.
“There are all sorts of significant questions about the Peterborough by-election,” said Mr Tice.
“How much did Lisa Forbes, the elected MP, know that she had a convicted electoral fraudster in her team, who would count as an agent?” he alleged.
“Why did the Labour Party deny his involvement, when clearly one can see he was significantly involved?” he asked.
“Why was Tariq Mahmood, unauthorised, in the inner count room? Why did the council initially deny that he was in the inner count room until we presented clear photographic evidence?
“There are so many questions; we need answers — and the only mechanism available to us to get those answers is to lodge a petition under the Representation of [the] People Act 1983… but also to shine a light on the postal vote system,” he explained, noting that 29 per cent of ballots cast in Peterborough were postal votes under the present system, where it was just 2 per cent under the old one, where it was much harder to be issued one.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who joined Mr Tice on stage for the announcement, also denounced the postal vote system as “wide open to corruption, to intimidation, to bribery, to abuse on a whole number of levels.”
The veteran campaigner described having once seen a postman delivering postal votes in a previous election, with “a party official a hundred yards behind the postman, knocking on the door, [saying] ‘Hello, I’ve come to collect your postal vote’.”
“I’m not completely opposed to postal votes; I think if you’re 94 and in a wheelchair or serving in the Army overseas, there is legitimate reason, if you ask for it to have a postal vote, [as] we had for years… [although] there are other countries, such as France, who see postal voting as so open to corruption they don’t allow any of it,” he added.
“Case after case we’ve seen, haven’t we — Tower Hamlets, Birmingham, Glenrothes in Scotland, Peterborough, and many others… It is time we changed politics for good, and my ambition would be, by the next general election, to get rid of this current postal voting system, to get back to postal votes who really need it, and to stop the abuse that we’ve seen growing year on year since 2001 when it first began.”
While Peterborough Borough Council has tried to play down the growing storm around Tariq Mahmood’s involvement in the by-election, its deputy leader Wayne Fitzgerald has repudiated Labour’s claims he was not involved in their campaign and indicated that they had received many reports of impropriety.
“Tariq Mahmood is a villain and he was front and centre of the Labour campaign within the Muslim community,” he alleged.
“We receive repeated reports of postal fraud and personation within the largely urban central parts of the city where the Labour vote is strongest.”