Jonathan Freedland Posted June 12, 2004 Share Posted June 12, 2004 The "shadow" over these elections, admitted by the deputy prime minister John Prescott yesterday, was the war in Iraq. Muslim voters, a major force in Birming ham, were expected to punish the Labour party they had supported for so long by transferring their allegiance elsewhere. Iraq certainly informed the decision of Mohammed Amir. Twenty four years old and a security guard, he voted Labour in 2001. But not this time: he didn't vote at all. "If a million people marched through London last year and that made no difference, that shows there's no point to any of it." Liberal Democrats here and across England were banking on voters like Mohammed coming over to them: Lib Dem election literature pushed Iraq heavily, seeking to defy the conventional wisdom that says foreign policy never turns elections - and certainly not local ones. In Birmingham that strategy hit a roadblock. In many of those Muslim wards where anti-Iraq feeling was said to be running highest, Labour councillors were reelected - on thumpingly high turnouts: 54% in Bordesley Green, 45% in Aston. Lib Dems here had a simple explanation: they suspect electoral malpractice, citing the mechanism that has become one of the dominant themes of the 2004 elections: postal voting. "We've been cheated," said Ayoub Khan, a Lib Dem councillor who had just lost his seat in Aston, the place he described as the "jewel in the crown" of his party's strategy. He said local bigwigs had come into Asian homes, pressuring voters to cast their postal ballots in front of them - insisting they back Labour. "This is the politics of Pakistan or Bangladesh and they've brought it here," he said. He threatened legal action, a pattern that could be repeated across the country. Lib Dems in particular believe that postal voting may indeed have boosted turnout - by rigging the ballots. This could haunt Labour over the next few months, as even neutral observers accuse the government of ignoring pleas for caution in expanding postal voting so rapidly. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/elections20...1237077,00.html Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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