Exclusive: Baroness Warsi says electoral fraud cost Tories the election

The Tory chairman tells me that Labour “absolutely” benefited.

In my interview with Sayeeda Warsi, the chairman of the Conservative Party and minister without portfolio, in this week's New Statesman, she makes a remarkable claim about the extent of electoral fraud at the last general election.

From the piece (not yet online):

"At least three seats where we lost, where we didn't gain the seat, based on electoral fraud. Now, could we have planned for that in the campaign? Absolutely not."

This is the first time a senior minister has made such a blunt and specific allegation about the impact of electoral fraud on the general election result. Can she reveal the names of those seats? "I think it would be wrong to start identifying them," she says, but adds: "It is predominantly within the Asian community. I have to look back and say we didn't do well in those communities, but was there something over and above that we could have done? Well, actually not, if there is going to be voter fraud."

I asked Warsi if she believed the Labour Party in those three seats had benefited from the alleged fraud. Her answer?

Absolutely.

The BBC has followed up on my interview and spoken to a Labour Party spokesman who says the claims are "unsubstantiated" and urges the Tory chairman to share any evidence she has with the authorities.

Watch this space.

UPDATE:

Over on the Mirror site, Kevin Maguire writes:

If she has evidence of ballot rigging, Baroness Warsi has a public duty to produce it. Democracy is precious and must be protected at all costs. If a number of MPs are sitting in the House of Commons without electoral legitimacy, we need to rerun those contests. So Baroness Warsi must go public. And if she doesn't, I'll draw the conclusion that the petulant peer's just shouting her mouth off again.

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie has also blogged on the story here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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