diamond geezer

 Friday, April 24, 2015

It turns out we didn't have a mayoral election in Tower Hamlets last year, we had fraud. While the rest of London trooped into polling stations to choose councillors and European representatives, electors here ran the gauntlet of intimidation and illegal practices. But because four residents had the tenacity to collect evidence, and the balls to stand up and point the finger, the unduly elected Mayor has been found guilty of electoral malpractice. I bet this sort of thing doesn't happen where you live.
The evidence laid before this court, limited though it necessarily was to the issues raised in the Petition, has disclosed an alarming state of affairs in Tower Hamlets. This is not the consequence of the racial and religious mix of the population, nor is it linked to any ascertainable pattern of social or other deprivation. It is the result of the ruthless ambition of one man.
Until yesterday, councillor Lutfur Rahman had been the first directly-elected Bangladeshi mayor in Britain. He won the first or second preference votes of over half of those who voted in last year's borough elections, and there's no indication that his winning margin would have been overturned had all been fair and square. But a lengthy inquiry has now confirmed what many had long suspected, that his Tower Hamlets First party won power under suspect and illegal circumstances.

The judge's statement confirms that some THF candidates gained their place on the ballot paper by naming a house they didn't live in as their place of residence. At least one THF candidate registered on the electoral roll twice within the same ward, and somehow managed to cast his vote twice too. THF agents visited certain housebound residents before polling day and persuaded them to hand over their blank postal votes, presumably to complete in Lutfur's favour. Meanwhile Lutfur's council has made questionable decisions over financial grants to ineligible local groups, and council buildings have been sold off to friends of the Mayor for below expected market value. A picture is painted of a leader trying every tactic to remain in power, and if this meant disregarding electoral law so be it.
Mr Rahman’s election as Mayor on 22 May 2014 was void, that is to say, it is as if it had never taken place. He has not lawfully been Mayor since that date. It is declared that Mr Rahman shall be incapable of being elected to fill the vacancy for the office of Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets under s 164(1)(b) of the 1983 Act.
So, in case we weren't sick enough of elections already, voters in Tower Hamlets will be invited to return to polling stations on June 11th to elect a new Mayor. Technically we haven't had one for the last eleven months, and yet decisions have still been made (for example on the relocation of the Town Hall) that will shape the face of our borough for years to come. Lutfur won't be allowed to stand, and it's unlikely that his party could find as charismatic a candidate to sweep the electorate along. A Labour victory thus looks likely, most probably John Biggs who came second in 2014, although Tower Hamlets politics is quirky enough that nothing is ever a foregone conclusion.

In a secondary decision, mayoral aide Alibor Choudhury has been found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices and has been forced to vacate his position as councillor. In consequence a by-election will have to be held in the Stepney Green ward at the same time as the mayoral vote is rerun, which could dramatically change the face of the council. At present no party has more than half the seats, but if Mr Choudhury's place is taken by Labour they'd suddenly command a majority. Not that this matters, because under a mayoral system the Mayor takes all and majority politics is void, but it's perfectly possible that Lutfur's downfall will end up handing everything to his main opponents.

The murky world of Tower Hamlets politics has once again thrown up a situation that those of you who live elsewhere must find incredible. It's a reminder of how easy it is for one ambitious person to manipulate the electoral system to their advantage, and almost get away with it. I thank the campaigners who had the courage to risk bankruptcy to bring the case to court, and I wait to see what June's trip to the ballot box throws up next.

Still, it could be worse, I could live in Barnet.


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