diamond geezer

 Friday, October 22, 2010

Yesterday was Mayoral election day in Tower Hamlets.
Alan or Helal or John or Lutfur or Neil.
Tough choice.

My polling card arrived several weeks ago along with an information pamphlet, and that was it. None of the candidates sent me anything else - not a leaflet, not a mailshot, not even a bar graph with arrows labelled "Cannot win here". There might have been some further background in Tower Hamlets' weekly council newspaper East End Life, but they don't bother sending me that any more. There was definitely some virulent propaganda in The London Bangla - a blatantly biased freesheet targeted on certain neighbourhoods in the borough. But I saw nothing targeted at me. It's a good job I remembered to vote anyway.

I normally vote on the way into work but this time I thought I'd vote on the way home. Rush hour, before it got dark, I emerged from Bow Road station to a barrage of leaflets. OK, so there were only two people handing out leaflets, but I made sure I took both. Only then did I discover I'd been given the same leaflet twice, once face up, once face down. Still, all credit to Labour for reminding homebound commuters that there was an election on, because I suspect most of them wouldn't have remembered otherwise.

My polling station's in a nearby school on Bow Road. Again there were canvassers outside, this time supporters of independent candidate Lutfur Rahman. But they were far too busy chatting to notice me wander up to the entrance, and completely failed to hand me one of their huge wodge of leaflets they had to give away. I picked one up out of the gutter on the way out, and saw that one side of the leaflet was an approximate copy of the ballot paper with a thumping big cross showing me precisely where to put my vote. A perfect pictorial representation for voters who don't follow written instructions, or spoken English, particularly well.

The polling station was not crowded. Indeed I was the only voter present, which I found surprising given the time of day. I was completely outnumbered by the five council scrutineers, two of whom dealt with me, and the rest of whom continued overseeing nothing. While they tried to cross my name off their list, I noted that only one other person on my sheet (out of about 50) had bothered voting during the previous 10 hours. Turnout up the slightly more affluent end of Bow looks likely to be rock bottom.

Not so nearby in Bromley-by-Bow. I passed the polling station in St Leonards Street at the end of the rush hour, after dark, and the pavement outside was seething. Canvassers, supporters, supporters of supporters, and a single policewoman keeping an eye on the lot. There was no unpleasant atmosphere and I was allowed to pass quite freely (indeed some of the folk with rosettes looked very disappointed when I didn't turn into the school playground as they'd hoped). But the contrast with my own polling station was stark. This was lively and animated, with the local Bangladeshi community considerably more engaged in the electoral process. Maybe that's because Helal Abbas lives just around the corner, but it wasn't only his followers massing outside.

I passed by one more time, half an hour before the polls closed. There were still umpteen political souls milling on the pavement outside the primary school, but now accompanied by two policemen. And a police van. And an unmarked police van. And even the Tower Hamlets CCTV van, parked up opposite to keep a recorded eye on proceedings. Did something kick off while I was away? Was there a big row between the Abbasers and the Rahmanites? No idea, but I've certainly never seen quite such a uniformed presence outside a polling station before.

Whatever the final Mayoral result, one thing seems clear. The final outcome will be decided by specific neighbourhoods that took great interest, and the apathetic will have do make do with whichever candidate those enthusiastic supporters select.

2:30am - results update
Lutfur Rahman (Independent) 23283 (51.8%, elected)
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11254 (25.0%, humiliated)
Neil King (Conservative) 5348 (11.9%)
John Griffiths (Lib Dem) 2800 (6.2%)
Alan Duffell (Green) 2300 (5.1%)
Turnout: 25.6%

Yesterday Labour ruled Tower Hamlets, with 63% of the councillors.
Today they still have 63% of the councillors, but no power.
Radical triumph, or shadowy disaster? Time will tell.


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