There is an electoral problem: low turnout. Uppal's plot to make sure that the students (thousands of them, hit by £9000 fees and the withdrawal of the EMA) and the poor (disabled children's support cut, school building cut, SureStart cut, housing benefit cut, libraries closed etc. etc.) don't vote will make this worse. That's what he wants. These groups don't vote in large numbers as it is, and putting more obstacles in their way to 'solve' an non-existent 'problem' is just a ploy to make sure that the electorate is skewed towards the rich, aged population in the West of the city: the Conservative voters.
Why? Uppal has a majority of 691, at the high point of Labour's unpopularity, with the most ridiculed Prime Minister in living memory. With everything the Conservatives have done, there's no way he can win… unless he makes sure that the victims of his policies don't get to vote. It's that simple.
Luckily, it's not just me who's noticed: a couple of Labour MPs had a good go at him in Parliament recently. Wayne David and Frank Dobson are trying to amend the Tories' vicious legislation to make sure the right to vote is protected. They demonstrate that not only is electoral fraud almost non-existent: instances are decreasing, and the Tories' supposed concern is just a trick. Wayne David said this:
My concern is that this legislation does not recognise the reality; the Government construct Aunt Sallies and then knocks them down, without coming forward with a legitimate basis on which to make its proposals.Uppal's reply:
I have found from my experience as a constituency MP that many black and minority ethnic communities, particularly migrant communities, came to this country because they wanted to live in an environment in which there was a belief in a robust democracy. Although this issue of highlighted cases of electoral fraud is important, the impression is being given that there is a laxity on this issue and that there is a question about how robust the system is. By putting forward this argument, the hon. Gentleman is undermining a lot of the faith and belief that we have in the robustness of the current electoral system.Which is purest humbug, and very hard to believe, too. Made-up testimony (a feature of Uppal's rhetoric) and no actual substance. Frank Dobson and Wayne David appear to have Uppal's number: I pointed out a long time ago that for all his bluster, he has never complained to the police about the fraud he goes on about, and both the police and the Electoral Commission both told me that there was no fraud in the constituency:
Frank Dobson: Does my hon. Friend agree that what really undermines confidence is when people make smeary remarks and no prosecutions follow because the remarks turn out to have no facts behind them?
Wayne David (Caerphilly, Labour) Indeed, and that is one of the things to which I alluded earlier, as have ACPO and the Electoral Commission. Many people make complaints, be it in the heat of the moment or otherwise, but are then unable to substantiate their allegations, which often fall by the wayside, completely unproven.Uppal's response is - as usual, and ironically for a man who referred in a speech to the 'McCarthyite race relations industry' - to play the race card.
I remember being in a radio studio for “Beyond Westminster”, where I heard a young lady of Pakistani descent talking about the amount of courage she needed to go live on radio to discuss this issue. She said that many dozens of her relatives would like to speak about this issue and how they had been pressured on voting, but did not wish to raise it because they felt it was too controversial and doing so would cause their communities harm. I actually heard her give this interview on radio.Now we all know that Paul has an active imagination and a very poor memory, but let's accept that this is true. It's plausible, and the Bradford by-election revealed that Labour relied for far too long on a habit of embracing 'community leaders' who ensured that ethnic groups voted the right way - but do we really believe that Uppal wouldn't do exactly the same if he could manage it? Furthermore, he's deluded if he thinks that there's a tidal wave of aspirational young Asian voters out there desperate to vote Tory. They all want a degree, or a job: the Tories have made sure they'll graduate with £50,000 debts if they take the university route, and that there's no chance of a decent job if they can't get to university.
I wish I wasn't the only person paying attention to Paul Uppal's machinations, but it appears I am on my own. The local paper is a slavishly Tory rag which - even if it bothered doing any parliamentary reporting or investigative journalism - is entirely uninterested in holding the powerful to account, especially when it's their own side in power, and the people of this city seem, for one reason or another, not to care very much.
Promoted from the comments: Ewarwoowar's comparison of two recent statements by Paul Uppal:
Paul Uppal MP, 11th June 2012:
"Some years ago, a prominent immigration lawyer told me that the two main drivers of immigration are, first, the perception—right or wrong—that we have an overtly generous welfare system in the UK; and secondly, lax human rights legislation."
Paul Uppal MP, 18th June 2012:
"I have found from my experience as a constituency MP that many black and minority ethnic communities, particularly migrant communities, came to this country because they wanted to live in an environment in which there was a belief in a robust democracy."
691, readers. That's the magic number. Keep it in mind.