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Archive for June 18th, 2014

The investigations are piling up in Tower Hamlets. Today, The Times reported on its front page that:

Britain’s first directly elected Muslim mayor has been accused in the High Court of involvement in electoral fraud and illegally smearing an opponent.

Groups of people were paid to gather outside polling stations and persuade voters to back Lutfur Rahman on election day last month in Tower Hamlets, east London, an election petition claims.

The mayor’s supporters are accused of canvassing inside polling stations and accompanying voters to booths where they left election material urging people to vote for him, according to the petition.

Mr Rahman, who was born in Bangladesh, or his team cast postal and other votes in the names of people who were not entitled to be on the electoral roll, and acquired voting papers that they completed in favour of the mayor, the documents claim. If proven, the actions would be against electoral law.

The court documents allege that corrupt or illegal practices were so prevalent that they affected the result of the election. Mr Rahman, an independent social democrat, was the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2010, winning 52 per cent of the vote. Last month he won re-election in a closer contest, where he received 43 per cent of first-preference votes but beat Labour by 37,000 to 34,000 when second preferences were included.

If the petition is successful, the mayor faces a rerun of the poll. He could be banned from holding office if the High Court finds evidence of electoral mispractice by him. His agent condemned the petition as a waste of time and money. Gerald Shamash, the Labour party’s national solicitor, has been hired by the petitioners, a cross-party selection of local voters.

The petition claims that the Labour mayoral candidate, John Biggs, was wrongly smeared as a racist during the campaign. Deliberately making false statements about an opponent’s character is against election law. Mr Biggs, who is white, was accused of racism for saying that Mr Rahman’s primary focus was the Bangladeshi community.

The Labour candidate, a senior member of the London Assembly and former leader of Tower Hamlets council, said last night: “I was distressed by the accusations, which have no foundation. They were part of a cynical campaign to try to polarise community opinion.”

John Williams, the returning officer for the mayoral election, is also named on the petition in relation to separate allegations. The complainants blame him or his officials for allegedly letting Mr Rahman’s supporters enter polling stations, where they are accused of canvassing voters, accompanying them into polling booths and leaving campaign material around the booths.

It is alleged that the count was impeded by the large number of Mr Rahman’s supporters who attended.

Mr Williams said that the toughest measures were put in place at the election. He said that 84 allegations were passed to police. In most cases no evidence was found but eight were still under investigation.

The petitioners are Andy Erlam, an anti-corruption candidate, Debbie Simone, a Labour candidate who lost her seat by 28 votes, Azmel Hussain, a Labour supporter, and Angela Moffat, a Ukip supporter. The High Court is being asked to break the seals of the ballot boxes to check that votes were correctly cast and counted. A source said that Labour was not party to the petition but did not oppose it.

Mr Rahman’s agent, Alibor Choudhury, said: “All candidates in the mayoral election accept the results. The returning officer and the police pursue all allegations and complaints reported to them. This petition challenging the results does not raise any new issues or evidence.”

The court documents can be read in detail here:

On Iain Dale’s LBC radio show tonight, John Biggs said he supported the petition. Peter Golds, the Tory opposition leader, has made a small contribution to the petition’s legal fighting fund.

The petition has now been served on the Mayor, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Returning Officer; the petitioner’s must now apply to the court to fix a date with an election judge within 28 days.

If a hearing is granted, the first thing that will be asked for, as I understand it, is a recount and new scrutiny over the vote.

Again as I understand it, the allegations of corrupt electoral practices also apply to Lutfur’s agent, Alibor Choudhury. If proved against Lutfur himself, he faces being removed from office. If only against Alibor, then we face a rerun of the election. Alibor and Lutfur strongly deny any corrupt practices.

The other interesting deadline looming is the submission of election expenses by the various parties on June 26. During the campaign, Labour raised collective eyebrows about how well funded Lutfur’s machine was. But I’m sure Lutfur’s submission will suggest his expenditure was within the limits.

This is going to be a busy month for Lutfur and Tower Hamlets. The by election in Blackwall and Cubitt Town is preoccupying the political parties, but there are also various investigations that have the potential to build a head of steam, or running out of puff.

Here are just the ones I can think of:

  • Election petition
  • various criminal investigations into alleged electoral fraud
  • complaints to the police about using ‘fake’ addresses on nomination forms (thoroughly recommend this piece by Andrew Gilligan on Sunday, which refers to Kabir Ahmed, among others)
  • Review by Electoral Commission into the May 22 counting shambles
  • Interim or final report by the PwC auditors ordered in by Eric Pickles last month (deadline June 30)
  • Criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office into the so-called Panorama “whistleblower”

Arch-villain or superhero? Lex Luther or SuperRahman? Take your pick.

If anyone spots orders for Teflon and Kryptonite in the next set of Tower Hamlets supplier payments, you’ll know why.

250px-Luthor_bright

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