As the electoral commission prepares to publish its report into May’s famously slow East End count, others too have been seeking clarity about recent events
There’s been a bit of time slippage in the considerable list of probes and challenges surrounding Tower Hamlets council and some of its politicians. A report by inspectors sent into the Town Hall by communities secretary Eric Pickles back in April following a Panorama programme alleging favouritism in the allocation of community grants was originally scheduled for June 30, but I’m told the number crunchers from Pwc are still conducting interviews, with at least one scheduled well into July.
Pickles’s department has failed to respond to my request to confirm that the report’s delivery date has been put back, but I’m not the only one who thinks it looks that way. Meanwhile, those behind the election petition challenging the outcome of the mayoral election on May 22, which saw ex-Labour independent Lutfur Rahman win a second term, are still gathering material and, having initially had hopes of moving to the next stage in the process next month, are now aiming for September.
We can, though, be confident that the Electoral Commission’s review of the slow, slow, five-day count of votes for councillors and MEPs as well as mayor will be with us, as promised, in advance of next Thursday’selection of three councillors in the Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward. (This contest would have been held with all the others for council seats on May 22, but had to be delayed because of the death of one of the candidates).
Given the criticisms of the conduct of Rahman supporters at the count publicly expressed by Conservative and Labour rivals alike, the commission’s review is likely to attract much media interest, especially if its findings are damning. If they aren’t, expect talk of bottle jobs and cover-ups. After all, such things are not unknown in Tower Hamlets politics and expectations of scandalous findings could be high.
Soon after the elections a Telegraph article headlined “‘Stolen election’ in the heart of London” and written by Andrew Gilligan, the former BBC journalist who is now also Boris Johnson’s part-time advisor on cycling policy, said that a Labour candidate, Sanu Miah, had initially been placed top of the poll in his ward with 2,270 votes but seen this number fall to 1,722 following a recount. The result was that he finished only sixth and was therefore not elected.
Miah was quoted as follows: “I think this election was stolen from me”. But then again, maybe not. “One of Mr Miah’s opponents had the same surname,” the article allowed. “The counters might have got them mixed up”. Indeed, my information is that that is precisely what happened. Further reassurance – not least for Telegraph readers – that the counters got it right in the end has come from Carlo Gibbs, another Labour candidate for the same St Peters ward, who also failed to get elected to one of the ward’s three seats.
In a guest article for local journalist Ted Jeory’s blog, Gibbs expressed many concerns about the count in general, which he describes as “a shambles”. But he also wrote that there is “no question” in his mind that the votes in St Peters ward were eventually counted correctly, and that the initial count was “way off”. The poll was topped by Abjol Miah of Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First (THF) party, with another Labour candidate, Clare Harrisson, coming second and Muhammed Ansar Mustaquim of THF finishing third.
I’ll write more on the Electoral Commission review after it’s published. Until then, I recommend followers of the Tower Hamlets saga read Carlo Gibbs’s article. With media coverage of the borough for so long focussed on claims and anxieties about sinister Muslim plotters, financial irregularities and allegations of electoral malpractice and even fraud – the police are now investigating ten complaints relating to May’s polls – there’s been too little attention given to why Rahman and Tower Hamlets First have drawn huge numbers of voters away from Labour, which has dominated the borough’s politics for most of its history.
Gibbs doubted that any electoral misconduct could explain Rahman’s victory, pointing out that the elections were “conducted under the most intense scrutiny”. He is highly critical of the Rahman campaign’s tactics, but had firm views about his own party’s approach too:
The fact is our campaign didn’t connect with a large enough portion of the Bangladeshi community (a third of the electorate) in a significant enough way. Those who feel Lutfur has been treated badly again outlined their support for him. This isn’t just because he is Bangladeshi; the Bangladeshi community are smarter than that, they are some of the most politically aware people in the country. It was because they, on balance, felt that he has done a good job in difficult circumstances.
Many felt the attacks on his record were harsh: some acknowledged them and even agreed, but voted for him anyway as they felt the good outweighed the bad. Additionally, he didn’t just receive support from the Bangladeshi community. The Labour party did receive a lot of support from that community and Lutfur must have, to make the numbers match, received support from other communities as well.
As for the future, Gibbs believes the Labour group must understand that, for all the bitterness of the election, it is now time to de-escalate tensions with Rahman, begin “the process of renewal” and “focus on working in the community”. Read the whole thing.
via – http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2014/jun/29/tower-hamlets-election-reviews-of-more-than-one-kind?CMP=twt_gu