Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.
In the bumper elections held on the 6th May, Tower Hamlets residents voted by referendum to retain the position of executive mayor. The poll was 41 per cent and the proposal was carried with 77.8 per cent of votes cast being in favour. The choice for voters was between retaining the Mayor or moving to a Leader and Cabinet system. In next door Newham, voters chose to retain the Mayor over the committee system with 55.8 per cent voting in favour in a poll of 37 per cent. Elsewhere, in Sheffield, the electorate voted to move from Leader and Cabinet to the committee system with 64.8 per cent support. A number of residents and local groups in Tower Hamlets would have preferred a return to the committee system. There was a cross-party group established to support the change, but as it was led by politicians and the campaign may have become drowned out in the midst of the complex London Mayoral and Assembly election.
The campaign to retain the mayoral system was led by groups close to Lutfur Rahman, whose five year disqualification from office has now been completed. With no involvement in the London Mayoral and Assembly election, his supporters concentrated entirely on the referendum. Literature resembling his Tower Hamlets First material was widely distributed and his campaign was helped by the endorsement of the local Bengali print and TV media. The pro mayoral leaflets were well written and included endorsements for the mayoral system. These began with support from Rahman himself, Ken Livingstone, and Baroness Uddin, a somewhat interesting trio of supporters. Three people protested at their inclusion in the leaflet, the family of one, a local centenarian who is a notable charitable campaigner, being extremely annoyed at his being included without permission, which he would not have given.
Rahman was regularly interviewed by his chosen media and the local newspaper. His repeated claim was that his removal from public was as a result of a “report” from a “tribunal.” There is precedent in this as the Metropolitan Police themselves in a press release issued by a senior officer described the Judgement delivered in the Royal Courts of Justice as a “report.” Rahman and his supporters cleverly, at least to their core support, emphasised that he never faced criminal charges.
Letters from the police regarding this have been widely distributed and there is no doubt that his supporters believe that he was the victim of a “fix.” Comments on Facebook and Twitter go well beyond this into the world of conspiracy and worse but that is a factor of social media. One intervention was a much viewed contribution on YouTube by the Imman, who in 2014 had informed Bangladeshi voters that it was their “Islamic duty to support Lutfur Rahman.” The translation suggests that he was more restrained this time.
In the event, whatever the question, or indeed date of the referendum, the result was overwhelming and this result must be respected. in 2022 there will be a combined mayoral and council election. Rahman will be standing and he is already recruiting a team of candidates.
One apparent hopeful is former councillor, Shahid Ali, who served a term of imprisonment for housing fraud. Despite moving from the borough he is enthusiastic about getting involved again, to the extent of being nominated to attend the referendum count. In 2014 he voted twice at the same polling station from two different addresses, one of which was the address that he had corruptly obtained from the housing register. He was named as committing this fraud in the judgement; unfortunately the police declined to take any further interest or action in this obvious and provable fraud.
Having downplayed the result of the election court, the Rahman supporters have, like the Bourbons “learned nothing and forgot nothing.” Before election day, Cllr Andrew Wood, myself, and representatives of other parties received complaints about Bengali postal voters being targeted by the group supporting retention of the Mayor and attempts made to collect their votes.
Those contacting us after events of 2014-15 are genuinely reluctant to contact the police and expose themselves publicly. It is well known that in 2015, one witness was threatened in the High Court itself. Another, provided by the court with confidentiality having been sworn in as a witness after the court was cleared, discovered that a Tower Hamlets Council officer had remained behind, obtaining his details. The Met have strict rules regarding hearsay with regard to allegations. Presumably instituted following the disaster of Operation Midland. This creates a problem when potential witnesses are in fear of the consequences of coming forward.
What happened on election day is certainly not hearsay. It is an example of what has gone on in previous elections and a foretaste of what can be expected next year unless the police and the Electoral Commission assume the responsibilities they have within the law.
In May 2018, an Independent Organisation, Democracy Volunteers, described intimidation at polling stations. In previous elections, there have been newspaper reports of incidents at polling stations. In 2010, a delegation from the Commonwealth commented on how intimidating polling stations in this borough can be. One member, from South Africa, subsequently wrote a detailed letter to the then returning officer expressing his concern at the level of intimidation at polling stations that he observed.
With covid restrictions and social distancing, most local campaigners anticipated a harassment free election. From early morning at polling stations across the borough, groups of male, almost entirely Bengali pro mayor supporters, were positioned at the entrances. When Bengali women joined the queues, they would be surrounded and the group did not move until they took a leaflet with a facsimile of the ballot paper showing where to put the mark to retain the mayor. The local GLA candidate for Reform took film on his phone of at least two polling stations, one in Bow and one on the Isle of Dogs. The station at Bow, where, unfortunately the Labour Party joined in the “campaigning” was uploaded in Guido by lunchtime.
At mid-afternoon, at an Isle of Dogs station, a young woman of 24 filmed “campaigning” as people waited to vote. She was told by a leading supporter of the mayoral campaign that if she did not stop he “would smash her camera.” Later she was threatened by another aggressive man also associated with the campaign. I was inside the same polling station and in a short period saw incidents of men instructing women how to vote. Elsewhere, on an estate in Poplar, a well known local resident along with her husband filmed ongoing intimidation at their polling station.
Numerous people standing in the queues noted people walking in the polling station with bundles of postal votes.
On Friday morning, a resident in my ward copied me into a formal objection he had sent the returning officer regarding men interfering with female voters in the relatively short time that he was inside his local polling station.
The young campaigner, the TA leader, the voter and myself, were all more than willing to provide statements to the police regarding what was going on. In some cases there were photographs and in some cases those causing the harassment are well known. I sent names, phone numbers, and details of these potential witnesses of incidents to the police officer who had appeared helpful earlier on. This was not hearsay. I was giving names and contact details of people who wished to provide evidence of malpractice. I also suggested that the officer contact the Reform candidate who had publicised incidents on polling stations on Twitter.
The response from the police was silence until two weeks later when I received an email from another officer asking me not to contact officers directly but to tell those who had contacted me to use a generic email address.
The question has to be asked – just how serious are the Metropolitan Police Service in even scratching the surface of voter fraud? Despite being provided with names and contact details and confirmation that I had permission to provide them, the Metropolitan Police have again retreated to their now customary position of indifference and a generic email address.
Two years ago, I was asked by a lawyer in practice in a major city legal firm to brief colleagues within the practice on voter fraud. I took them through polling day practices, personation, register packing, and postal vote farming, and then showed them the information that election practitioners have access to. It was fascinating to see how their mood changed when they realised just how open to corruption our electoral system is to anybody with an interest in voter fraud and an understanding of the system. These highly qualified legal practitioners were shocked at how easy it is to commit fraud.
The Queens Speech promised reform of electoral law. This is extremely welcome, although we await details in the published bill.
The fuss regarding voter ID is nonsense. Every poll shows overwhelming support for the proposal. Since being introduced into Northern Ireland by the Blair government, voter ID has helped reduce fraud and suspicion in elections. Opponents cite that prosecutions are low. The reason for this is that the police only act when a voter has complained having gone to a polling station and registered a complaint that their vote has been “stolen.” At any point, 20 per cent of the registered electorate do not vote. Non voters are unlikely to know whether their vote has been stolen and therefore will not complain. Finally, the Government has confirmed that, as in Northern Ireland, a voter without ID can obtain a voter ID card at no cost from the local authority.
We understand there are to be regulations on intimidation. I hope that this will extend beyond social media, which is needed, to include electors being able to approach their polling station and vote free from harassment.
The Government has intimated that there is also the likelihood of tightening the regulations relating to postal voting and the handling of postal votes. This should also include the storing of information from and copies of postal vote applications.
Another matter is that when a person is discharged from being a candidate or voting, following a conviction for corruption, this discharge should include not being permitted to attend the counting votes, sitting at polling stations, or handling any postal vote. Readers in Peterborough will have experience of this matter.
It is unlikely that the new Act will be in force before May next year. Both the police and the Electoral Commission have been witnesses and bystanders of elections in this borough that are an embarrassment and a shame to democracy. In 2014 their solution, after years of complaints, was a protocol that they hoped everybody would sign and observe. It collapsed within days and was forgotten in the embarrassment of the election petition.
Quite simply the police need to promise to enforce election law as it stands. By this, I mean enforcement, not offering serial fraudsters “words of advice.” This means investigating false nominations, investigating false returns of election expenses, taking action regarding intimidation and race hatred and using their existing powers to ensure that polling takes place peacefully without intimidation inside and outside of polling stations. The police must, for example, accept that it is an existing criminal offence to interfere with a voter inside a polling station. This needs to be understood and enforced. The police need to train officers in election law and procedures and to be prepared to take statements, assemble evidence from residents and voters, and investigate when they are provided with examples of malpractice. The excuse for inaction that “people were spoken to and words of advice given” can no longer be acceptable.
I have read Sir Richard Henriques on the appalling failures of the Metropolitan Police regarding Operation Midland, which took place at the same time as the Met were supposedly investigating fraud and corruption in Tower Hamlets. Worryingly, names appear in his report that are familiar to those of us involved with election fraud in this borough. In an ideal situation, Sir Richard would be invited to report on the handling of voter fraud in Tower Hamlets; I suspect were this to happen it would be a very interesting report.
As for the Electoral Commission, this was the organisation that registered the Lutfur Rahman vanity party, yet did not bother to establish whether it had either a bank account or constitution. They do have the power to investigate election returns. Despite evidence sent to them, they did nothing about the false return of expenses recorded in 2014 by Rahman’s agent and even registered an overdue donation of over £30,000 whilst the election court was sitting. I am not surprised that when they “investigated” Darren Grimes after 2016 they got it completely wrong and their vindictive campaign against Darren collapsed in court.
The Electoral Commission, despite being repeatedly advised in writing about Tower Hamlets using unsuitable counting venues and a unique and bizarre counting system, signed off the arrangements – that then resulted in a count that spread over five days and caused international derision because of the delay Tower Hamlets caused to the final results of the 2014 European elections.
I have written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Electoral Commission regarding Tower Hamlets 2022 and will update readers as to how this progresses.