The widespread and systematic assault on the ballot box by disgraced mayor Lutfur Rahman and his acolytes has prompted a sea-change in the way elections may be handled in future.
Mr Rahman was booted out of office in 2015 after the High Court heard about the industrial scale attempts to manipulated the result of elections in Tower Hamlets, including postal vote fraud, ghost voting and intimidation.
After the conspiracy – which has still seen no-one face criminal charges – corruption czar Sir Eric Pickles made a number of recommendations in a report about the scandal which have been taken up by Government. Essentially, he concluded that the "trust-based" system was no longer tenable.
Tower Hamlets has been hand-picked for a trial in the 2018 local elections. Voters will be required to show proof of identity before casting their ballot. The trial will focus on areas with high concentration of Bangladeshi or Pakistani populations where people struggle to speak or understand English well.
Sir Eric said that election fraud had a foothold in areas with large Muslim populations because of “political correctness”.
The Met Police, in particular, have been condemned for their inaction over complaints about the action of Mr Rahman’s now disbanded One Tower Hamlets party.
Constitution minister Chris Skidmore said: “I want to protect the right of everyone to have their say and participate in our democracy.
“That is why the new measures we are announcing today will protect anyone who is at risk of being bullied, undermined or tricked out of their vote - and their democratic right.
“By eliminating fraud and tackling improper practices, we are ensuring the integrity of our electoral system while building a clear and secure democracy that works for everyone.’’
Different council areas will trial different types of photo ID including driving licences, passports or utility bills to prove addresses. The Government has ruled out the creation of a new form of photo ID for voting.
Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam, one of the petitioners who brought the case against the former mayor, said: “Photo ID has been tried and tested in Northern Ireland for many years. Let’s apply it nationwide.”
But some Labour figures say that it discriminates against poorer voters, who are less likely to have photo ID.
Labour former London mayor Ken Livingstone – a key Rahman supporter who poured scorn on the High Court case against him – said the move was an overreaction to a very small number of electoral fraud cases.
He said: “Just think the uproar there would be if we said, ‘There’s an awful lot of shoplifting going on, we are going to search every customer as they leave’.”
“It is really bad to make life more difficult for the vast majority of people just when you are dealing with a handful of dodgy council candidates.
“And the real problem is, the people most likely not to have a passport, or a driving licence, are going to be the poorest, and that, I suspect will hit the Labour Party.’’
Mr Skidmore said: “We have been very carefully calibrating those, so that there will be two models. One will be based on a driver’s licence, passport, photographic ID. The other will be based on utility bills and even also proof of electoral registration.
“So, when it comes to the level of documentation, it will ensure that everyone gets the chance to vote.’’
Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement Cat Smith said: “Labour supports measures to tackle electoral fraud.
“However, requiring voters to produce specific forms of photo ID risks denying millions of electors a vote.’’
Electoral Commission chief executive Claire Bassett said: “Having undertaken detailed work, the commission’s view is that the use of photographic ID is the most effective proof against personation.
“However, we look forward to working with the Government and other partners to further explore the options in order to ensure voter confidence in the system.’’
Electoral Reform Society chief executive Katie Ghose said: “There is no evidence to suggest that electoral fraud is widespread. Where it has occurred it has been isolated.
“Raising barriers to democratic participation could just put people off voting - and it’s those already most excluded from the political process that are worst affected by strict ID laws.’’