diamond geezer

 Monday, May 26, 2014

I don't know what it is about Tower Hamlets and voting. A few years ago everyone else in London had normal MPs and we had George Galloway. Our Mayorship came about because a minor party fancied wresting control of local politics from Labour, and succeeded. Our Mayor isn't from one of the three main parties but a peculiar left-wing offshoot. Votes for certain candidates in certain wards are split on racial lines, or so it often seems. There have long been rumours of electoral fraud, and dodgy electoral registers, never quite substantiated. And we cannot organise a count of ballot papers to save our lives.

The plan was to have Tower Hamlets' local council results counted by Friday evening. There'd be a delay while votes were verified, but that was all part of the plan to make sure everything was above board and transparent and absolutely not in any way fraudulent. The Mayoral ballot was counted first, because he's the one who controls the budget in Tower Hamlets and the election of councillors is mostly for show. And the Mayoral count went on, and on, and on. At ten o'clock the caterers at the venue went home, because nobody had been expecting things would still be going by then. Crowds of supporters of the existing Mayor thronged the streets outside, forcing police to lock the doors of the count and keep everyone inside. Sometime after eleven o'clock came the announcement that the decision would be based on second preferences, so thousands of ballot papers were counted again. And finally at around half past one in the morning came the announcement of Lutfur Rahman's victory.
» election count liveblog from East London Lines
» Analysis from TH politics-watcher Ted Jeory

The plan had been to have all of Tower Hamlets' local council results counted by Friday evening. Instead the Mayoral election took precedence, and little had been sorted by the early hours of Saturday. Counting continued in the morning, with results of certain wards dripping through occasionally. But towards noon came the news that the task had been too huge, and the tellers were too tired, and the remaining six wards would be counted on Sunday. Every other local authority in the country had finished announcing everything by then, bar the occasional spectacular recount, but Tower Hamlets dribbled onwards into a third day.

Sunday was of course the planned day to count the European election results, so the leftover council wards had to be fitted in alongside this. Some of the six managed completion late afternoon, others into the evening, until by eleven o'clock there was only one persistent recount (in Bromley South) to go. And all this of course held up the European election count, which was perhaps not taking place particularly efficiently in itself, meaning that Tower Hamlets was soon the only London borough not to have its Euro votes tallied up. Our apologies to the rest of the capital for keeping you hanging on like this, but we cannot organise a count of ballot papers to save our lives.

Anyway, because the Tower Hamlets website doesn't have one, here's my map of which councillors from which party were elected in which ward .
(Updated as of Tuesday evening, but not yet complete because of the death of one of the candidates in Blackwall & Cubitt Town, to the bottom right of the map, where no election has yet taken place)
(n.b. we have a strange system this year where wards may elect one, two or three councillors depending on their size)

Tower Hamlets First is the Mayor's party, previously a grouping of councillors defected from Labour, now elected on their own personal mandate. You'll see the party has a particular stronghold to the west of the borough, specifically in and around Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Shadwell and Stepney. There's always a nagging feeling that Lutfur cares more for E1 and E2 than for E3 and E14, a feeling reciprocated by the distribution of THF seats, and it is perhaps not a coincidence that Tower Hamlets Town Hall is to move to Whitechapel, specifically the old Royal London Hospital site, in a few years time. Meanwhile Labour's heartlands are to the north of the borough, perhaps more specifically the northeast, where wards in Bow have yet to succumb to the Mayor's charms. And the Conservatives maintain a thin foothold along the Thames, which is where the majority of the borough's most expensive properties are, and of course Docklands and Canary Wharf.

What surprises me the most is how many wards split their vote to elect candidates from more than one party. You'd think it wouldn't happen. You'd think voters would cast their crosses along party lines, for example all three crosses for Tower Hamlets First, or all two crosses for Labour. The two Bow wards went roughly like this, with all the Labour candidates getting roughly the same number of votes, and well ahead of all the other parties. The vote in Whitechapel was even more consistent, with all the candidates from the same party polling very similar numbers of votes. But in about half the wards the honours have been split, with at least one candidate from the second party sneaking through to overtake. Bethnal Green (top centre of map) is a good example of this, with one of the THF candidates nudging out the third Labour candidate by a mere ten votes.

There are a number of cases where candidates on the same ticket scored very differently. The two Conservatives in Island Gardens polled 150 votes apart, allowing Labour to sneak through and claim the second seat. The two Labour candidates in Bromley North polled 400 votes apart, allowing THF to grab the second place. Meanwhile in St Peter's the THF candidate whose surname begins with Z was overtaken by the Labour candidate whose surname begins with H, as if alphabetical order really is a key factor in who gets elected. Indeed maybe some people never realised they were allowed more than one vote, so stopped after one cross, which is why several candidates further down the list never got elected even though their colleagues did.

I don't know what it all means, and there are enough mixed messages that any underlying peculiarities could be the result of suspicious practice or merely random. As I write there's still one more ward's election to go, as well as one more to count, and this could make all the difference to who finally comes out on top. On the bright side, there's so much other stuff going on in Tower Hamlets that UKIP are pretty much nowhere to be seen. But sheesh, it's now four days after election day and we still haven't announced our local election results yet. I don't know what it is about Tower Hamlets and voting, but we cannot organise a count of ballot papers to save our lives.

3am update: Tower Hamlets finally announce the results of their delayed European Election count, five hours after they were supposed to do so, and five hours later than every other London borough. Labour have 54% of the vote.
3am update: "The count for the Bromley South ward will resume on Tuesday at Mulberry Place – time to be confirmed later." (sigh)
Tuesday update: Five days after the election, the final ward has finally been counted. End result Labour 20, Tower Hamlets First 18, Conservatives 4

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