WHEN a Liberal Democrat councillor posed a question regarding the recent election fraud fiasco at Thursday’s council, rattled leader John Kingsbury responded with a fiery verbal rhetoric.
At a special meeting of the council last week, Cllr Will Forster’s question involved two parts.
The first expressed concern over the high percentage of postal votes rejected in September’s by-election, to which Cllr Kingsbury had answered in writing in the papers.
However, the next part fuelled an angry reaction from the leader, as Cllr Forster had asked: “What actions are the council proposing to ensure elections in Maybury and Sheerwater are truly clean and fair in future?”
Cllr Kingsbury said: “It is the second part of your question that, when I read it, flabbergasted me, frankly. You are asking me what actions are the council proposing etc etc…
“Can I remind you that we have just been through an election court to try an election pet-ition brought against a formal Liberal Democrat councillor.”
He referred to the Electoral Commissioner Richard Mawry QC’s judgement, and quoted: “The Returning Officer, Mr Morgan, gave evidence before me. He was an impressive witness and I was left in no doubt that the electoral affairs in Woking are run as well as one could expect.”
Moving on to the Commissioner’s conclusions, he quoted: “Mr Bashir, by both himself and his agent, was guilty of the corrupt practice of personation, of corrupt and illegal practices.”
Cllr Kingsbury added: “I won’t go further into his other comments about a former Lib Dem county councillor.
“Why then are you asking me what the council propose to do at this stage? Should you not be saying what actions the Lib Dems are proposing to ensure that elections in Maybury and Sheerwater are clean and fair?
“We have done everything in our power – and the Commissioner made it very clear in his judgement that Mr Morgan (left) has done everything he can – to make these elections fair.
“We have just been through this process. A former Lib Dem councillor was found guilty.
“Let us make sure that never happens again. But I think your question should be directed the other way around and not to me as leader of the council. I am not trying to score points at all. I just could not understand why you put that question to me at this time.
“Furthermore, we hold a meeting before elections, where we invite all candidates to understand procedures. In the last borough election, no Lib Dem candidate turned up at all, I don’t believe, and it certainly didn’t happen this time.
“So I thought this was an inappropriate part of your question. Let us all look at ourselves and make sure all elections throughout the borough are clean and fair for the future.”
Cllr Forster made a point of thanking the leader for his ‘full answer in the papers, rather than his verbal answer’.
He too referred to Mr Mawry’s conclusions: “The Commissioner (right) said there were elements within the Maybury and Sheerwater community that have used all three parties as labels for the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour, and that it was not endemic in one party. We, as politicians, have been used by people wanting to commit electoral offences.”
Referring to Woking MP Jonathan Lord’s presence at the meeting, he said: “It is particularly relevant that our local MP is in the background.
“We have all been frustrated by the national rules on how elections are run that have tied the hands of this council and local parties of all sides to stamp down on this, whether it is postal or proxy voting.
“The purpose [of the question] is to ask how many times have you raised it with the MP?
“How many times have you raised it with ministers to ensure that the election rules are set nationally to enable local authorities to stamp on this practice?”
The leader replied: “We can only work within the rules. Some time ago the Returning Officer said that if he had his way, there would be no postal votes whatsoever in Maybury and Sheerwater.
“That is against the law. There are always representations being made in respect of elections. Until the rules change we will have to work within them, and I think the Commissioner made it clear that in Woking you could not find fault with the Returning Officer.”