Further to yesterday’s post about the report of the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police, I commend Andrew Gilligan’s blog on the matter here.
And since then the political parties in Tower Hamlets have issued their own press releases. Two recognise there is a problem, while the third….well….let’s say it takes something of an ostrich view.
Here’s Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s breathtaking take:
It’s official: Tower Hamlets has NO CASE TO ANSWER on electoral fraud
Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets Council vindicated after Electoral Commission finds “insufficient evidence” to back opposition claims of widespread deception.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman today praised Tower Hamlets’ electoral safeguards as “robust and highly effective” after an Electoral Commission report into allegations of widespread electoral fraud in by-elections in April and May 2012 were found to be groundless.
Opposition councillors made an astonishing 154 separate allegations of which 151 were dismissed entirely and only 3 offered grounds for concern. An investigation by the Metropolitan Police found that there was “insufficient evidence to prove an offence” had been committed on any of these.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “These allegations were nothing less than a systematic attempt to discredit our robust and highly effective electoral safeguards. The Electoral Commission report is a vindication for this administration and the excellent council officers who impartially administer the electoral process in Tower Hamlets.”
The report indicated that a “breakdown in trust” between certain opposition councillors and the administration, based on “local political disagreements” was at the root of the allegations.
Out-of-date electoral registers used by campaigners and an inability to differentiate between Bangladeshi names were also to blame, the report found.
Cllr. Ohid Ahmed, Deputy Mayor said. “I’m pleased, but not surprised, that these allegations were found to be baseless. I can’t imagine a clearer case of sour grapes than this – attacking the system when it doesn’t give you the result you want. I hope all those responsible will publicly apologise for crying wolf.”
This is not the first time that Mayor Lutfur Rahman has been accused and then vindicated of voter fraud. In 2010 his beaten rival Helal Abbas claimed widespread fraud after Mr Rahman’s landslide victory in the selection to be Labour’s Mayoral candidate.
Cllr. Ahmed further added: “It seems that Labour and Tory opposition councillors can’t process the fact that the people of Tower Hamlets have rejected their divisive and self-interested politics. Instead of looking to their own failings they repeatedly try to discredit the system and are repeatedly proven wrong.”
“At a time of huge government cuts, what I’d like to see is how much these frivolous claims have cost the ratepayer – that’s the real crime.”
Sometimes I do wonder whether his press releases are part of some massive operation to wind me up and that Lutfur will one day reveal himself as an east London version of Joaquin Phoenix.
If not, I suspect that press release will cause deep, deep divisions between the Mayor and his friends in Respect because George Galloway and his aide Rob Hoveman were forever questioning the robustness of the electoral system in Tower Hamlets (eg p113 on this link). And so were many their Respect councillors back then. Oh, hang on, didn’t they include the likes of Oli Rahman, Shahed Ali, Lutfa Begum and Rania Khan….?
My, how they’ve managed to clean up the system since they’ve been in power!
Here’s Labour’s view:
The Metropolitan Police Service identified three cases involving five allegations where they thought electoral fraud may have taken place in relation to the April and May 2102 elections in Tower Hamlets. Sadly the MPS concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove an offence or identify a suspect and no further action was able to be taken in these cases.
In those cases two legitimate electors may have been deprived of their right to vote, and closer election results could have been subject to challenge.
The Electoral Commission stressed the importance of recognising that even one case of proven electoral fraud can damage confidence in the integrity of elections. The Commission stressed that without taking steps now to begin rebuilding confidence and trust between the key participants in the election process, we are concerned that the May 2014 local elections will again be damaged by allegations of electoral fraud.
The Electoral Commission Report also made three key recommendations:
- that the Registration Officer and Returning Officer for Tower Hamlets should immediately commence a review of all current electoral registration and election integrity processes to identify opportunities for further improvements to monitor potential electoral registration or voting fraud; to increase their capacity to respond to allegations of electoral fraud; and to improve transparency about their electoral integrity approach;
- that elected representatives, political parties, candidates and campaigners in Tower Hamlets should immediately make a clear public commitment to following the Electoral Commission’s Code of conduct for campaigners, which sets out what is, and is not, considered acceptable behaviour at polling stations and in the community during the lead-up to polling day, and also recommends a process for raising and dealing with complaints or allegations about electoral fraud; and
- that the Metropolitan Police Service should review its plans for policing elections in 2014 in conjunction with the ERO and RO for Tower Hamlets.
The Electoral Commission will monitor closely the plans and approach of the ERO and RO in Tower Hamlets and the MPS during the 12 months leading up to the May 2014 elections, to ensure that what they propose will be an effective response to improve confidence in the integrity of future elections. They will review and comment on any plans published by the ERO and RO for Tower Hamlets, including actions.
Chris Weavers, Chair of Tower Hamlets Labour Party and local Agent said:
“We welcome the seriousness with which the MPS and Electoral Commission took the concerns raised by residents and councillors in particular in the spring of last year, particularly during the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election. Sadly, while it appears that there were incidences of electoral fraud, no charges or prosecutions have been possible.”
“Improved monitoring and transparency on the part of the Registration Officer and Returning Officer and increased scrutiny on the part of the police is welcome and necessary and has long been requested by the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets.
“However, the primary blame for this problem must lie with the individuals who believe that electoral fraud is a legitimate tool in fighting elections in Tower Hamlets. This report must be seen as a clear indication that such behaviour will never be acceptable and that the authorities will take action to prevent such abuses and to fully pursue legitimate allegations of fraud in the future.
“On behalf of Tower Hamlets Labour Party I am pleased to reaffirm our full commitment to the Electoral Commission’s Code of Conduct for Campaigners and urge the other political parties and Independent Mayor and councillors to do likewise without delay.”
Information for Editors:
The three cases involving five allegations where the MPS thought electoral fraud may have taken place were as follows:
- Allegation that occupant said that two electors, shown on register as postal voters, did not reside at property. Two postal votes were cast at by-election. The ballot papers were rejected but not suitable for forensic testing. Police called at the property and spoke to two occupants but were unable to identify a potential suspect.
- Allegation that postal votes were cast by two people who appear on the register as living at an empty property. Police confirmed that the property appeared empty and two votes were cast. The investigation concluded that the inclusion of these names on the register may be due to an administrative error. The names have been removed from the register. No further action – undetectable.
- Allegation that the two electors named on the register as postal voters were not resident at the property. Council pre-printed 2011 canvass forms were signed and returned. Both residents deny they signed the forms. This is an offence however the victims would not assist police and the offenders may be undetectable. Names removed from register.
And here’s the press release from Tory leader Peter Golds:
I welcome the detailed report by the Commission to concerns about the electoral process in this borough. Concerns that have been repeatedly raised by candidates, residents and the media over several years.
For too long these matters have been ignored or brushed aside. The Electoral Commission, in calling for significant changes to the management of elections in Tower Hamlets show that they have taken these matters on board.
More importantly are the criticisms of the Metropolitan Police in their “investigations” of malpractice. Even now it would seem that the investigating officer based responses from the council in reaching his conclusions.
My evidence was not based on outdated registers, it was based on the official register used on both election days and on the relevant official postal vote return.
I have previously submitted evidence to the police and received no response.
With regard to 2012 I had a single interview, which I personally requested, weeks after the election, when any trail of malpractice would have gone cold.
I had spent considerable time and effort in undertaking detailed research, and I reiterate, using the registers and postal vote lists that were operative on both the GLA election day and April 19th, polling day in the controversial Spitalfields by election.
Despite this single interview, until receipt of this report, I had never been informed about the conclusion of the investigation.
The Met needs to establish a unit that understands not only election law but the electoral process, just as they have specialists in fraud.
The West Midlands Police were eventually castigated for their inability to properly investigate electoral fraud. With this in mind the Met must accept the concerns of voters and take action to properly police electoral malpractice.
The fact that the electoral commission make such firm recommendations show how they appear to share local concern about the integrity of the electoral process.
Now both local officials and the police need to work on this and not dismiss concerns out of hand, as has been so common in the past. Both need to regain the confidence of the public in the electoral process in this borough.