There is a long tradition in Tower Hamlets that any election held here is accompanied by allegations of vote fraud. And so it is the case with yesterday’s events in Spitalfields and Banglatown.
While nothing can match the comedy of the general election when a large burkha-clad person with a suspiciously deep voice quickly legged it after being challenged as (s)he tried to vote in Poplar, there were still a couple of moments of high farce yesterday.
They have all been reported to the police and/or Returning Officer Kevan Collins. And all allegations are being made by Respect, which won the by-election, and against Labour supporters.
Concerned that Labour supporters might get up to dirty tricks, Respect placed polling agents with deep knowledge of the local area at the various polling stations. It was their job to spot suspected malpractice.
The first was at a polling station at Christ Church Primary School. There, according to Respect, a Bengali man giving the correct name for a someone registered at a flat in Chicksand House was challenged by a polling agent who knew that the named property was actually let to white students. The presiding officer then asked the man to name the other occupants of the flat. He could not and not only that, he admitted he did not live there himself! However, because he had already marked his ballot paper and because his name was on the electoral register, the presiding officer felt unable to invalidate his vote. I’m not clear whether the presiding officer asked for verification of the man’s name.
The second incident was described by Respect’s Rob Hoveman in an email sent to Mr Collins yesterday:
We are very concerned about attempted personation at Osmani polling station where an individual gave an address as XXX Arthur Deakin House. Fortunately, [Respect's winning candidate] Fozol Miah was aware that this is the address of his niece and challenged the individual. He was not given a ballot paper and left the area with some others quickly. Our concern is obviously that this may not be an isolated incident and that there may be a concerted attempt to corrupt the election. Is there anything that can be done to deter this?
The third incident at Canon Barnett Primary School polling station had a Keystone Cops flavour to it. When a man purporting to be a Mr Uddin of Brune House came to collect his ballot paper, the Respect polling agent looked at him and said, “I know Mr Uddin; you’re not him.” The imposter tried to scarper, but was detained under a “citizen’s arrest” by some Respect supporters. They then “escorted” him back to the party’s HQ and took a statement from him while they waited for the police to arrive. When the police did finally turn up – some 30 minutes later, I’m told – their concern was not whether the man had breached election law, but whether he had been unlawfully detained and kidnapped!
Respect’s supporters should, of course, have allowed the presiding officer handle the matter, but I suppose that in Tower Hamlets we’re used to the law of the jungle and their reaction was perhaps understandable. When the situation calmed, Respect say they offered the police the man’s statement, but the officers declined to take it. I expect it will now be passed on to the police through more formal channels. I understand that the statement names the man who put him up to the attempted fraud and that he was going to vote for Labour’s Abdul Alim. For the avoidance of doubt, Alim was not named in the statement.
Clearly, if Tower Hamlets council and the Met Police are serious about clamping down on electoral fraud, they will want to fully investigate these incidents. If they don’t – and the suspicion is that they won’t because such fraud is considered a “victimless crime” that costs money to examine – what message does that send out?
As an aside, there were also some interesting developments on the postal voting front in this by-election. As of Tuesday, according to Respect, some 500 postal ballots had been sent in and of those the council’s new electronic signature checking systems had rejected a huge 20 per cent. Another 137 postal votes came in after Tuesday, but the council has so far been unable to say how many of those were rejected.
Now, either the system itself needs examining, or people need to remember what signatures they actually use, or there was attempted electoral fraud on a relatively large scale. Remember that the turnout was barely 1,500…