Archive for May, 2014

This is a guest post by John Ware, the BBC Panorama reporter who fronted the Mayor and Our Money programme on March 31. This is the first proper response by the Panorama team to some of the accusations and smears directed towards them from senior officers and politicians in the town hall, both before the programme and since.


Lutfur-Rahman-and-John-WareThe former leader of Tower Hamlets Professor Michael Keith observes that the Mayor’s “popularity…speaks more to the strengths of community networks, Sylheti ties and the mobilising forces of his political machine.”

It is striking just how much The Facts have become flattened in this process – and how tenuous has been the relationship to truth in some notable cases.

Having now observed the sectarian politics of Tower Hamlets at close quarters, it seems to me that some of the poison might be drawn if those in positions of responsibility had a more scrupulous regard for facts and truth.

Yesterday, Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s adviser, Kazim Zaidi wrote on this blog:

“And then there was Panorama, aired just two weeks before the purdah period. Panorama claimed dodgy dealings with grants; it cited the Mayor’s car as an example of his profligacy.”

We made no mention of the Mayor’s car.


“.. and highlighted his apparent reluctance to attend scrutiny meetings..”

What we actually highlighted was the Mayor’s failure to answer questions in the council’s key scrutiny forum: Overview and Scrutiny. O&S minutes show this to be a fact.

The Mayor also seems to have been reluctant to attend O&S. Since the Mayor took office, we could find records of only four attendances: two as a non-speaking attendee, and two when he gave a verbal presentation on his work.


“…and answering questions in council, failing to point out that Rahman has attended more scrutiny sessions and answered more questions in council than his Labour counterparts in Newham and Lewisham.”

Mr Zaidi cites only “attendance” in respect of Overview & Scrutiny – presumably because he knows that the pertinent issue here is not attendance but willingness to answer questions.

And, as my commentary said:

“…In the last year Mayor Rahman is the only one out of all England’s 15 directly elected Mayors not to have answered questions at O & S.”

According to Newham Council, its Mayor “attended two overview and scrutiny meetings in the last 12 months and has answered questions at both meetings”; and according to Lewisham Council, its Mayor attended “on 20 June 2013” where there were “informal questions”.

The marked reluctance of the Mayor to answer questions at Overview and Scrutiny was especially relevant to our examination of his record on governance. After all, in firing the opening shots of the election campaign, the Mayor claimed to uphold the “highest standards of probity and transparency”.


“As for the rest, police found ‘no new credible evidence’ of fraud……”

As for the “rest”? Once again, as Mr Zaidi knows, we made no allegation against the Mayor of criminality or fraud in the programme. Like the Mayor and the Council, Mr Zaidi has conflated the Metropolitan Police statement of 16 April that there was “no credible evidence” of fraud or criminality in Panorama files (which the DCLG sent to the Met Police) with the quite separate contents of the broadcast Panorama programme.

The Police statement was not, as the Council’s misleading statement said, “in relation to recent allegations made in the BBC Panorama programme”, thereby quite wrongly implying that the Police had cleared the Mayor of fraud allegations “in the Panorama programme”.

The Mayor, the Council and Mr Zaidi know perfectly well that no allegations of fraud or of criminality were made against the Mayor personally by the BBC, nor in our files.

However, as the council also very well knew, Panorama’s files DID contain evidence that raised allegations of fraud in respect of a youth organisation that had been grant funded. The reason the Police did not attribute this to Panorama was because the council – not Panorama – had referred the case to the CID at Tower Hamlets.

What the council did not say, however, was that they only referred the case to the Police just days after we had submitted 25 very detailed questions to them about the alleged fraud, thus alerting them to the possibility the programme might disclose the fact that the council had known about the case for months – but not referred it to the police.

Our attempts to persuade the Council to correct the misleading impression from their partial statement at the height of the election campaign were ignored by the Council – the same Council which spent tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money trying to stop the BBC from broadcasting the programme in the first place by claiming it would “reduce the chances of a free fair and credible election.”

The BBC’s duty was not only to be fair, factual and impartial to the politicians contesting the election – but also to inform the electorate. Judging by the record turnout – which pushed up both the Mayor’s vote and Labour’s – the evidence suggests that far from undermining democracy the BBC might actually have helped reinvigorate it.

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This is a guest post by Kazim Zaidi, Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s adviser who was Political Assistant to the Tower Hamlets Labour group when Lutfur ran the council as a member of the party between 2008-10. He lives in Bethnal Green.

*NOTE: Thursday, May 29, 4pm: Kazim Zaidi has asked me if he can clarify that while he continues to advise Lutfur Rahman on a voluntary basis, he has not been a paid adviser (in receipt of public funds) since March.

Kazim ZaidiIn 2010 it was the infamous “dodgy dossier” submitted by his 3rd placed rival that claimed Lutfur Rahman had been “brainwashed” by fundamentalists. These claims led to Rahman’s summary deselection as Labour’s candidate but have never been investigated.

Then there were claims of electoral fraud in two by-elections in 2012. Over 160 separate reports were investigated in one of the most comprehensive investigations ever conducted by the police and the Electoral Commission. Not a single one was found to have merit.

Not long after came claims that Rahman had been using “bogus” canvassers pretending to be from Tower Hamlets Homes. Another investigation was instigated at public expense and once again no evidence was found.

And then there was Panorama, aired just two weeks before the purdah period. Panorama claimed dodgy dealings with grants; it cited the Mayor’s car as an example of his profligacy and highlighted his apparent reluctance to attend scrutiny meetings and answering questions in council, failing to point out that Rahman has attended more scrutiny sessions and answered more questions in council than his Labour counterparts in Newham and Lewisham.

As for the car (now scrapped) it is a shame it was a Merc, but Mayors and Council leaders across the UK use similar transport. As for the rest, police found “no new credible evidence” of fraud and there are serious questions as to the process followed by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles in sending in the inspectors.

Pickles claims to have had long-standing concerns about Tower Hamlets but chose to act weeks before an election. Not only that, these concerns were never raised with Rahman directly and repeated offers to meet went unanswered.

And now, despite securing 36,000 first preferences to Labour’s 27,000 on a high turnout, Rahman is again under the cosh with his beaten opponents claiming voter intimidation, harassment and fraud. Their hook for the story is the delayed European Election count – delayed, it appears, by the stringent Electoral Commission protocols put in place at the behest of opposition candidates to ensure the count was absolutely accurate and fair.

Those complaining in such lurid terms are beaten opposition politicians with a direct and vested interest in the story they’re selling to the national media. The fact they are complaining to the media, not the authorities, speaks volumes as to their motivation.

As Labour Group Political Assistant from 2008-10 I witnessed first-hand the party’s descent into civil war. The racial element has been massively played up, but for me it was a battle between Old and New Labour, between ex-student politicos, lobbyists and machine politicians on the one side and grassroots local campaigners who could actually mobilise a the vote on the other.

The fact that the middle class Blairites were almost exclusively white and the working class activists mainly Bangladeshi is an accident of history, as is the fact that Rahman came to power at a time when fear of Muslims and “Islamisation” is at an all time high.

It is these accidents, not his policy achievements that have dominated the narrative of his time in office, along with a resolute refusal by the Labour and the Tories in Tower Hamlets to work with him.

Lutfur’s not perfect by any means but all he’s asked is to be judged as any other local politician, with fair comparison to his fellow mayors and for people to judge him on his record. That has never happened or come close to happening.

In May 2010 as Leader, Rahman led the Labour Party to buck the national trend and gain councillors. He then won the Labour selection by a landslide. He won again as an Independent in the mayoral election in October of that year and last Thursday 37,390 people voted for him to be Mayor.

Rather than trying to ignore these facts or blaming the electorate or the system or making common cause with the Tories that are our natural foes the Labour Party needs to think hard on why that many natural Labour voters have consistently supported a man they so vilify.

One thing I can say for sure is that it isn’t an ethnic thing. I’m not a Bangladeshi and neither are many of the “Lutfurites” I know. I’m a middle-class north Londoner with Pakistani parents, a degree from a good university and a social conscience. I came to the East End wanting to work for the party I loved. I wanted to do some good. I wasn’t expecting a civil war, but when it happened, I went with my conscience. I’m still a party member and put my X next to the rose for the Euro ballot.

The last six years in Tower Hamlets has been nothing more than a civil war that got out of hand; it spilled out of the Labour Group room and into the Council chamber. If those who still seem unable to accept the result continue as they are, it will spill out onto the streets where even the cleverest machine politicians will not be able to manage it.

Lutfur has again said he’ll work with anyone who will work with him. One side in this ridiculous conflict has paused to stop and think.

It is time for the other to do the same.

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This is a guest post by Professor Michael Keith, the former Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council

Michael Keith(This post has been amended following later election results: see * and update at bottom)

Following a conversation at the vote counting, Ted Jeory asked for a personal reaction to the outcome of last week’s local elections. It followed what I think was a sense shared that regardless of party affiliation the divisive politics of Tower Hamlets had reached a particularly worrying moment.

Occasionally boisterous, too frequently threatening, the scenes at the Tower Hamlets mayoral count prompted a storm. Shut inside the Troxy venue when supporters of the independent mayor Lutfur Rahman and his party Tower Hamlets First began pre-emptively celebrating his re-election, the mass surge to access the vote count prompted anger amongst council officers and campaigners alike.

Some with a longer memory may cast their minds back to similar scenes outside York Hall that greeted the success of Peter Shore in 1987 and 1992 and fairly protest that mainstream parties commented on this less at the time.

But in 2014 it followed a day, a night and a campaign in which the sense of polarisation between camps was particularly disturbing, confrontations and intimidation of voters on the polling stations and a level of abuse that was particularly fractious.

It was hard to avoid a sense that tensions that border on worrying divisions were on show.

As with much in Tower Hamlets, geographical proximity and cultural distance may be inversely related.

The ability of Lutfur and his candidates to appeal to 30-40,000 voters across the borough is impressive. But it might be more worrying if the demographic of his support is as monochrome as that of his successful candidates.

The East End has seen the outcome of a polarised politics before and it is not pretty. The claim that Lutfur’s regime speaks to an agenda of the left is confounded by the policy agenda that he has followed.

His popularity instead speaks more to the strengths of community networks, Sylheti ties and the mobilising forces of his political machine.

The strengths of these solidarities represent much of what is both best and worst about East End politics.

The ability of strong family ties and community links to generate both a sense of a communal collective identity and an overbearing sense of peer pressure is long recognised.

And it would be foolish to ignore the numbers of non (British) Bangladeshi voters that supported an incumbent mayor with an established publicity machine.

But the results are stark. It is doubtless possible for the Tower Hamlets First group of 20 councillors (as as May 28) and one mayor–all but one men, all of Bangladeshi heritage–to represent the rich diversity of the borough. But it will be challenging to do so.*

The 2011 Census counted that 17 ‘minority ethnic’ identities had populations over 1,000 and 33 per cent of households have more than one ethnicity represented at home.

And just as it was widely considered unrepresentative to have diverse parts of London represented by old white men over the age of 50 in the 1980s and 1990s, the same logic might be thought to challenge the newly elected members of Mayor Rahman’s party.

Trotsky allegedly suggested that if people voted the wrong way it might be necessary to abolish the electorate, an option open to few democratic parties. And so the challenges for the Labour Party are also enormous.

As well as losing the mayoral vote by a narrow margin there are fewer elected Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets than at any time since the borough was founded in 1964.

Quite simply, this is the worst election result for the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets in 24 years.*

More women will be elected by Labour, but proportionately significantly more of the successful Labour councillors are white than was the case after the election four years ago.

The collapse of the Liberal party nationally and locally has left easy pickings in parts of Bow where candidates were barely opposed but across the rest of the borough the outlook was bleaker.

In the longer term things will probably balance out as people mix, things move on, old people move out and new people move in. Indeed it is at times alleged that some of the councillors move to the suburbs before they let on about it to the returning officer.

Party politics is a minority sport and council life just one aspect of East End life. But in the shorter term it cannot bode well for the borough to have social divisions paraded in this way.

For the new mayor a challenge that sits along with the result is whether his party and his rule can reach beyond his core electoral base.

For the Labour party there is a question of whether it can learn again to understand and connect with the dynamics of community life that underwrite Lutfur’s appeal.  It has to do more than tell the voters they made the wrong choice.

But for all of the borough’s residents, the hope has to be that all concerned identify the danger of the present moment.

People need to recognise that diverse roots that bring people to the borough must be respected whilst building a future that is shared.

To do so it will be imperative to develop a politics that transcends racial, religious or ethnic division or else the consequences for the East End could be serious.

UPDATE, Weds May 28

Following the late count result of the Bromley South ward last night, Labour now have 20 seats, an increase of two councillors from the 18 stated in the original piece. Accordingly, Prof Keith says this is the worst result for the local Labour party since 1990, ie 24 years, not the 50 as originally stated.

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The Count

WHEN even the Great David Dimbleby starts sighing live on the BBC about a “shambles” in the Muppet land of Tower Hamlets, we know we have a problem.

The Guardian journalist James Ball tweeted in the early hours of this morning: “There’s always one. And it’s always f***ing Tower f***ing Hamlets.”

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament was understood to be irritated.

Today, broadcaster Iain Dale devoted an hour of his LBC radio programme to it.

Delaying the results of the European Parliament elections by five hours last night wasn’t the best of PR moves.

A borough that had already been branded by some as a byword for sleaze is now (perhaps a little unfairly) a byword for incompetence.

If Eric Pickles was in need of any extra camouflage for a form of intervention when the PwC auditors hand him their report by June 30, he now has it.

There will be many reasons for the counting shambles of the past few days, but the most basic is that we have a dysfunctional local authority at a political level.

John Williams, by day the head of democratic services at Tower Hamlets (a job in which he largely excels, given the circumstances), is a very decent and straightforward man.

But I’m not sure he was the most senior employee available to act as Returning Officer.

My understanding is that he was thrust into the role because other more qualified individuals may have ducked the job or could not be trusted by some of the political parties.

And the reason the parties felt they couldn’t trust some of these candidates is because of previous political shambles.

The chaos and dysfunctionality that some of us have been writing about for years manifested themselves right at the heart of the democratic process at the weekend.

Clearly, we are now at a point where serious action is needed.

Which brings us back to the election and the results.

Maybe the words spoken in the aftermath of election war aren’t the best guide to future thinking, but they can reveal innermost thoughts.

At his press conference in the early hours of Friday morning, Mayor Lutfur declined to say John Biggs wasn’t a racist. I think that was a mistake and perhaps Lutfur also knows this.

Some time later, he tweeted this to John:

 I extend my thanks to ‪@johnbiggs4mayor for the work he put into his campaign and hope we can work together to better Tower Hamlets.

 John replied:

‪@MayorLutfur I am happy to repeat best wishes & offer support for nxt 4 yrs. Non-sectarian partnership always possible.

This was conciliatory and professional.

John, having been baited by Lutfur’s supporters, also tweeted these messages over the weekend:

3 tweets: 1 Thanks for the support. Pleased many know I’m a good guy. Not a racist. Proud to be here and of what we have achieved together.

2. & I don’t mind the abuse – it helps understand the polarised, dishonest, and often quite racist thinking behind the Mayors party.

3. Finally most of us in East End want to live together. We must continue to fight those who try to divide us. From right, or pretend left.

The more learned in Lutfur’s camp believe John was wrong to react to the thugs, but I disagree. I think he was quite right to take them on and he probably should have done so in similar language during his election campaign.

A worrying race-fuelled frenzy was whipped up by the Tower Hamlets First campaign. In the same way they believe the EDL came banging on the borough’s doors due to errant words and inaccurate labelling, they must now recognise similar dangers by their own words.

The mayoral election result and the campaign that went with it underlined the racial divisions in the borough. I’m fairly sure they’re mainly at the political level at the moment, but there’s a serious risk of that becoming part of a wider mindset.

Community cohesion, a phrase that has for so long been associated with Whitehallspeak, now has to take on real meaning.

Even many in Lutfur’s own camp, and in the Bengali media, recognise his victory was too narrowly based. He has a strong mandate, but mainly from one community. His Tower Hamlets First group has, at the time of writing, 18 councillors, all of them Bengali, 17 of them men. Just one woman.

He now has to show he can truly lead for the whole borough.

So how does he do that when there are so many dynamics at play?


My greatest criticism of Lutfur in his last term were his disregard for scrutiny and an insecure appetite for trappings of power.

With a bigger group behind him in council, I suspect we’ll see him become more confident and address some of these criticisms. In the council chamber, I think he’ll start to take more questions and I suspect he’ll ditch the chauffeured Merc and hire an eco car instead.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if he issued a call for reconciliation, a plea for everyone to work together to draw the poison from Tower Hamlets politics? He could ask Labour to supply members to his cabinet, he could form a group of resident advisors to act as a monthly sounding board; he could have public question times every six months.

But I think his overriding desire for readmission to the Labour party (on his terms) will drive him more than anything else. On Channel S TV tonight he said his door is open to the Labour group if they would like to cooperate.

He has a cabinet to pick by June 11, the date of the Annual meeting of the council. I’m sure he’d love to have the likes of David Edgar and Marc Francis serve with him, and quite possibly Rachael Saunders.

Whether Labour would allow that so soon after the election is doubtful. Personally, I think they should just get on with it and give him a go. Nothing wrong with a trial period.

But what would be Lutfur’s price…and also the cost to him?

He has a much larger group to please now, including a certain Abjol Miah, the former IFE-aligned Respect leader, who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to getting along with party colleagues. Those who served with him in Respect remember him as a rather malign influence in group meetings, someone who shouted at women members. Personally, I’ve always found him courteous, but there’s certainly a risk he could cause internal trouble for the mayor: I understand they’re not best buddies.

Lutfur could of course try to do what Sir Robin Wales is said to do in Newham and placate his group with artificial new committee/advisory positions that pay generous allowances. But because he doesn’t have a controlling majority of 23 councillors, that might be tricky.

Some Labour members might defect of course; but then again, those who lose out under Lutfur may be dangled a destabilising carrot back into the Labour stable.

So among the soft and fuzzy ideas of peace, a complex and hard-nosed game of realpolitik poker is about to be played.

On Lutfur’s side, he has many cards to play. He’s shown what a superb grassroots organiser he can be and he’s devastated Labour while even using many of their policies for his campaigning. What now worries them is whether he can suck in more of their councillors and whether he can mobilise his support in next year’s general election against Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali.

His sole female councillor, Rabina Khan, is said to be keen to take on Rushanara in Bethnal Green and Bow. That would be a close fight. In Poplar and Limehouse, Jim is probably safer, but the danger is there. Lutfur could offer to call off this potential war in return for his re-admittance, but he would no doubt demand all his councillors go with him. I think that would be too much for Labour to stomach. Could Lutfur agree on a certain number going with him? I doubt it; he’d be branded a traitor by the rump.

On the other hand, Lutfur may also overestimate his own victory. He’s very popular personally among Bengalis but his success was also due to a collective Bengali ‘patriotism’: many voted for him, not necessarily because they thought he was particularly good, but because they felt he had been wronged and he was fighting a non-Bengali in John Biggs. Had Labour fielded a popular Bengali in Biggs’s place, the story might be different today.

Labour’s post-mortem on its defeat is going to be painful. Next week, they have to elect their new group leader and this will give us an indication on their thinking.

But here’s one last thought. In a recent pamphlet of essays from the think tank, Demos, Max Wind-Cowie, a policy wonk, suggested Tower Hamlets was now so dysfunctional that it should be abolished as a local authority. He said it could be absorbed in parts by neighbouring Hackney and Newham.

I’m not sure Jules Pipe or Robin Wales would be thrilled at that prospect, but is there some merit in that kind of idea?

After all, Tower Hamlets as an authority is a fairly artificial entity, having existed only since 1965. Before that we had the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar.

Former Labour councillor Kevin Morton tweeted last night that David Owen, who lives in Narrow Street in Limehouse, once suggested a London Borough of Docklands. Kevin said it was perhaps time to revive that idea…a borough that took in Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs and parts of Poplar and Wapping.

Perhaps not as daft as it at first sounds.

In fact, I think a certain Ken Livingstone thinks we have far too many boroughs in London. Maybe he can help drive that campaign.

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I’m going to let the dust settle a bit before giving a fuller post on yesterday’s events. That’ll be tomorrow evening or Monday morning after we get a fuller picture on the council elections.

Many congratulations to Lutfur Rahman; throughout the count, he was a man barely able to speak due to the stress. He was chewing gum and had a glazed look about him whenever I bumped into him. But maybe that’s just the effect I have on him.

So no wonder the emotion came out during his early morning press conference at The Troxy. The audio is here. It’s well worth a listen. At about seven minutes in he mentions his car and justifies its need, but my hunch is he’ll give up the Merc and get a Prius or something else more Ken-friendly. George Galloway swears by the Toyota Prius as well.

A few seconds later, his voice breaks and he’s in tears as he talks about the personal attacks on him these past years. Ironically, a couple of minutes later he declines to say John Biggs is not a racist. This doesn’t augur well.

However, Lutfur is very pleased by how the council is shaping up. Forty-two seats were up for grabs last night (the three from Blackwall and Cubitt Town will be elected about early July).

Counting has been completed for 27 seats: Tower Hamlets First have 15, Labour 9, and the Tories 3.




The count was halted at 11am when it had become something if shambles, according to those there. Staff at The Troxy stopped serving any snacks, water or coffee after about 10pm, by which time the police had locked down the venue due to possible crowd trouble outside. I’m told two counting staff fainted, and one was in tears. It was clear that mistakes were being made.

So six wards are left to count tomorrow: Weavers, Bethnal Green, St Peter’s, Bromley South, Island Garden and Bow East.

I’d be amazed if Labour don’t take all three in Bow. But there could be some hiccups elsewhere. I understand Abjol Miah, the former Respect leader and now THF (which is Respect, let’s be frank) is trailing in St Peter’s, but at least one of his colleagues is likely to be elected.

There will also, no doubt, be some mixed results in Weavers and Bethnal Green, while Island Gardens is likely to be Peter Golds and Gloria Thienel for the Tories.

One scenario could be THF finishing on 19 seats, Labour 18 and Tories 5 from last night. When Blackwall is included, the controlling majority will be 23. So we could see a pact between the Tories and Labour to determine committee chairs etc, or we could see three defections from Labour to THF.

Longer term, Lutfur and many in his group want to return to Labour. There will now be pressure on Labour to move in that direction.

Don’t forget that Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali have general elections to fight next year…

Also, who will now lead the Labour group? After early scares in Mile End East, David Edgar and Rachael Saunders survived, but Motin uz-Zaman fell.

And thankfully, Shiria Khatun survived the false allegation of electoral fraud in Lansbury.

We’re yet to see if current group leader, the extremely likeable and dignified Sirajul Islam, is elected in Bethnal Green.

Josh Peck was comfortably reelected in Bow West, where Labour defector Anwar Khan was easily beaten by his sister-in-law Asma Begum. But I can’t see Josh hanging around for four years as an opposition councillor. Perhaps City Hall or Westminster beckon.

Of all those other bigger guns, I suspect David Edgar is the likeliest to be open to a deal with Lutfur.

More thoughts tomorrow.

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The ballot boxes at The Troxy in Limehouse have now been opened. Council officials will now start sifting through the ballot papers, rejecting any that are spoilt or invalid for other reasons.

They will announce the final turnout (with the number of postal votes added) soon after 11am.

Shortly after that, the count for the mayor begins. Council officials expect the result at about 3pm.

They’ll then have the task of counting for the councillor elections.

On turnout, Labour sources believe it’s much higher than the 25 per cent in October 2010. On that basis, they were hopeful last night. They don’t see how Lutfur Rahman can vastly increase the 23,300 votes he polled last time (which was 51 per cent of the turnout and meant he won on the first round).

If Lutfur fails to win on the first round today, then it’s difficult to see where he would pick up second preferences. His tally would then remain stable, and if he were in the lead, he would be relying on Tory and Ukip voters not giving John Biggs their second preferences.

Only a few hours until the speculation ends. I’ll update this thread as and when I can, but I may be doing more reporting on Twitter, so follow me there @tedjeory.

1245pm—still verifying ballot papers. Turnout seems high. Labour think in mid-40 per cent territory. Apparently in white middle class areas of Spitalfields, turnout at 60 per cent. That’s very encouraging for Biggs.

Seems count will now start after 2pm, result about 6pm.

A couple of pics of John Biggs at count and Lutfur’s favourite curry king Shiraj Haque.



UPDATE 1.24pm

Change in mood in Labour camp. More despondent. They think Lutfur could win on first preferences, that his votes piling up in traditional Labour heartlands.

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Photo copyright Owen Bennett

Photo copyright Owen Bennett

I’ll update this fully later when I’m not so rushed, but here’s the video report that I and my Express colleague Owen Bennet did today on Tower Hamlets.

What happened at the polling station in Shadwell is particularly illuminating. Watch the very genial Labour canvasser admit he voted for Lutfur.

The report is here.



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This has been fairly successful before so I’ll try it again.

This is an open thread for you to fill with your reports on turnouts, behaviour of party hacks, issues at polling stations, police presence and general atmosphere.

Over to you…

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This is a guest post by TIM ARCHER, who is standing down as a Conservative councillor tomorrow after eight years in the job. He was elected in 2006 and formed part of an exceptionally strong trio at the top of the local Tory party, along with Peter Golds and Simon Rouse. I asked him to write a piece reflecting on his time at the town hall. He sent it to me last week; I should have published it then, but I was on holiday…


They say a week is a long time in politics… I was elected to Tower Hamlets council 8 years ago but it seems like only yesterday!

I’m ‘retiring’ from being a local councillor in Tower Hamlets. We’ve recently moved house, I’ve got a busy day job and with a young family it’s time for someone else to have a go. But it’s with a mixture of pride and sorrow that I look back at my time on the council.

Pride at some of the things we’ve got done. In 2010, I led a scrutiny review into the causes of childhood obesity; the borough had one of the poorest records in the country on this measure. And why should we care? Well because it can lead to a myriad of other illnesses and complications and is one of the key determinants of success, opportunity and health in life. Our key recommendation from that review was the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children in the borough, something that all parties in the council (and the government) are now supporting.

To be frank, it’s not something that I ever thought 8 years ago that I’d be a supporter of. But having led the review and seen the facts, I know it’s something that stacks-up for Tower Hamlets and not just economically.

I worked with councillors from across the chamber to get agreement for the independent review of leaseholder charges. I got the future of the Council owned Henry Moore statue ‘Old Flo’ debated in the chamber and beyond. I’ve exposed waste and held the council to account, from eye-watering housing benefit payments to excessive use of consultants. And I got the council to put up a portrait of the Queen in the town hall, as virtually every other council does – a daily reminder of what good leadership looks like in a building where it is often lacking.

As a Conservative on the council I’m proud of the way that our small team has punched above its weight. It has shifted the debate budget after budget, and I’ve lost count of the number of our initiatives, which, at first were voted down to cries of indignation by the members of other parties, have then been quietly adopted. Examples range from the tens of thousands spent on pot plants in the town hall (scrapped this year), to saving millions from moving out of rented office blocks like Anchorage House (moved out of last year); alongside reductions in contractor spend, reductions in councillors’ allowances and the scrapping of free food for councillors to name but a few.

Sorrow too though. Sorrow at no longer having the privilege of representing Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward and, more widely, the residents of Tower Hamlets. Sorrow at the way certain aspects of politics work in Tower Hamlets. I’ve witnessed the unedifying sight of councillors, elected to represent people suffering some of the worst deprivation in our country, brawling in the council chamber.

Erroneous and unfounded accusations of racism being made – invariably when the debate gets too uncomfortable/accurate for some. And, sorrow that, despite all my, and my Conservative colleagues, hard work, so much more still needs to be done to make Tower Hamlets deliver the services, value for money and transparency deserved by its residents.

During my 8 years I’ve held many roles: deputy leader of the opposition; deputy group leader; chair of health scrutiny; and scrutiny lead for the chief executives department. I’ve also served on many committees and outside bodies. But being a councillor isn’t about collecting job titles. It’s what you get done that really makes a difference.

The things of which I am most proud are the cases where I’ve been able to help people – individuals – the unspoken achievements that make a real difference to people’s lives. Like the housing association who I convinced to let a family stay in their home when they were actually, needlessly in my view, taking them to court to turf them out. Or the lad who got into his first choice school after I pointed out that the council had incorrectly calculated how far he was from the school gate (they’d missed the small matter of a bridge over a dock that just ever so slightly changed the total distance to walk to the school). The alternative school being offered was 4 miles away…Or perhaps the saplings that I got planted on a street that did not have a single tree.

Of course, my 8 year stint is very much a tale of two halves, with the introduction of a directly elected Mayor in 2010. It was a move I was sceptical of at the time, but having been introduced we’ve all had to try to adapt to the new reality. Sadly, the council’s wider structure hasn’t really changed, when it must – full council must now be more about holding the mayor to account, and in that sense needs to work more like the GLA. The reduction in the number of councillors is a step in the right direction and recognises that councillors have less responsibility under a mayoral system but what is the point of Overview and Scrutiny when the Mayor decides he can simply not bother attending?

On a personal note, knowing that I was elected as a Conservative, in an area where it was said for decades that it couldn’t be done, it is with a heavy heart I step aside. I won’t miss the late night meetings and I will enjoy having more time to spend with my family. But I will miss my constituents, the many local community activists I have had the pleasure of working with, and the strong team spirit of my Conservative council colleagues, led by Peter Golds.

Finally, in an era where trust in politicians seems to be at an all time low, it is important to remember that most councillors are there for the right reasons; they work hard and are trying to build a better future. A few are not and they should be exposed but not used to dismiss the positive contributions of the rest. I maybe saying farewell to Tower Hamlets politics, but not to Tower Hamlets. I still work in the borough and after 8 years of being a councillor and many more campaigning in the area, I am sure I’ll be keeping an eye on things for a while to come (and I’ll certainly be following Ted’s blog….).

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Booking a holiday a week before election day was a bit silly. So what did I miss while I was away?

1. Death of Hifzur Rahman, Tower Hamlets First candidate in Blackwall and Cubitt Town

Mr Rahman’s death was announced this morning and it must be awful for his family. My condolences.

Under electoral law, this means the election for the three council candidates there has been countermanded, ie anulled. A separate by-election will be held there within 35 days. Lutfur’s aides claim some residents in the ward have been told the entire election there is off. That’s not the case: residents in that ward on the Isle of Dogs will still be able to vote in the mayoral and European Parliament polls tomorrow.

2. Labour’s Cllr Shiria Khatun cleared of electoral fraud

As I blogged here 10 days ago, she had been accused by an elderly couple in Rifle Street (in the Lansbury ward) of an offence under electoral law. The couple claimed Shiria’s husband (whose name is Lutfur Rahman) had pretended to be the mayor and taken away their blank postal vote. This account was relayed with great fanfare on Lutfur-supportinmg Bengali TV stations.

The police told me last week they’d be interviewing Shiria. It was also my understanding they’d also be examining the CCTV footage of the block where the couple live to see if Shiria or her husband had been there. I was also told the couple had been warned that any false statement could lead to their own prosecution for perverting the course of justice.

Having been in the air while today’s events unfolded, I haven’t yet got the full picture. However, Tower Hamlets Labour have issued this statement:

Police say no case to answer in allegations against Labour Councillor
– Labour call for investigation false allegations

Police in Tower Hamlets have today dismissed all allegations against Labour councillor Shiria Khatun after concluding there was no case to answer.

Labour have called upon the police to investigate public comments made by Tower Hamlets First candidates and campaigners amid concerns they had publicly made false statements about Cllr Khatun to damage her electoral chances.

Last week Cllr Khatun was falsely accused of interfering with a postal vote ballot by a supporter of Mayor Lutfur Rahman in what has been labelled by Labour as a ‘disgraceful dirty tricks’ campaign from Tower Hamlets First.

Speaking after the news came through, Cllr Shiria Khatun said: “The last week has been a living nightmare for me and my family. I cannot believe that someone would be willing to lie like this just to try and smear me ahead of the elections. Despite all this I am totally focused on fighting for every vote in tomorrow’s election so we can consign this kind of dirty politics to the past.”

A Labour Party Spokesperson, said: “We’ve got used to these kind of disgraceful dirty tricks from Lutfur Rahman’s team but this is a new low. With momentum building behind John Biggs and Labour’s campaign Rahman’s candidates are getting increasingly desperate. This kind of behaviour from Rahman’s camp gives yet another reason for people to come out and vote for Labour’s John Biggs tomorrow.”

I’ll try and find out whether there is a further police investigation into any possible false statement. I suspect there’ll be more to come on this.

3. One of Lutfur’s favourite journalists, Dave Hill of the Guardian, today wrote he would vote for John Biggs if he lived in Tower Hamlets. Dave gives his reasons here.

4. After spending some time talking to people on the doorstep on the Isle of Dogs a couple of weeks ago, it was clear very few people understood the second preference voting system used for the mayoral election. I contacted the East London Advertiser to see if they’d be explaining it and offered to write a guest column. They asked me to write it as a letter for publication instead. So this in the current issue of the ELA (how I miss my former paper!)

Letter Te

5. John Biggs yesterday issued a campaign video It’s not the most exciting and I don’t think it’ll ever set the world on fire. But it’s solid and honest. It fits in well with the theme of his campaign, that it’s time Tower Hamlets stopped making the wrong kind of headlines. It’s here:

It compares to Lutfur’s latest campaign video here (much slicker, less personal, and no words from the man himself, which is a theme of his campaign). Watch it here:

6. John Biggs has issued an eve of poll rallying call by email to the Labour database.

Dear Resident,

One day to go until Tower Hamlets votes for a better future

This has been an incredible campaign thus far with tens of thousands of people telling us they are ready for a change to how our borough is run.

For too long Tower Hamlets has drifted, missing golden opportunities and leaving the borough in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As we build up to polling day tomorrow (Thursday 22nd) I want to thank you for all your support and to make one last ask. Any time you can give, however small, to help on polling day would make all the difference. Please let us know by replying to this email.

You will know as well as I do how important this election is. It’s going to be close but together we can do this.

– John Biggs, Labour’s Candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets

Our manifesto: Building a better future

I am really proud of our plan for the borough. Clean streets, cleaner politics, cutting crime, tackling the housing crisis and help with the cost of living.

Here are some of our key pledges: 

* Greater transparency and accountability – We will restore trust in Tower Hamlets by being accountable to residents in public meetings, answerable in the Council Chamber and showing respect for scrutiny.
* Free school meals for every child – Labour has drawn up a fully funded and sustainable plan to fund free school meals for all primary school pupils in the borough, to help hard pressed families and allow well-nourished kids to focus on learning.
* A 24hr noise and ASB hotline to help tackle rising crime – Nuisance noise doesn’t sleep, that’s why Labour will introduce a 24h hotline to report noise and anti-social behaviour at weekends to ensure people’s complaints are addressed.
* A council-run lettings agency – Labour will establish a council-run lettings agency to help people in private rented homes to get the best deals, cut their costs and clamp down on rogue landlords.
* Clamp down on missed bin collections and scrap bulk waste charges – Over 25,000 bins have gone uncollected under the current mayor. We pledge to get a grip on missed bin collections as well as scrapping the current bulk waste charges which have led to more mattresses and junk being dumped on our streets.

I hope you will agree these are the kind of ideas which will help get Tower Hamlets back on track, improving the things that matter most to local people.

Only one vote to beat Lutfur Rahman

For four years now the current mayor Lutfur Rahman has left the borough in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether scandals, investigations or sleaze its bringing our community down and we believe Tower Hamlets deserves better.

The election for Mayor will be a two horse race:


You may not normally be a Labour voter but the only person who can beat Lutfur Rahman is Labour’s John Biggs.

Make sure your vote counts, vote Labour’s John Biggs on 22nd May. #BackingBiggs

“You may not normally be a Labour voter but the only person who can beat Lutfur Rahman is Labour’s John Biggs.”

That’s the paragraph that stands out. The message is clear and simple. Labour should have used it publicly earlier. Whether it’s too late or not, we’ll find out on Friday night.


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