The Job is Done. After almost 4 years of battle, we have restored Democracy to Tower Hamlets

Posted on | Monday, 4 May 2015 | No Comments

The Times Editorial from 24 April 2015 sums up our victory

Rotten Borough

A campaign of electoral fraud and intimidation in east London has been rebuffed

A free people requires a safeguard against the destructive power of factions. This argument, advanced by James Madison in the federalist papers of the emerging American republic, remains one of the finest justifications of representative democracy. Its vindication is the sole redeeming aspect of a squalid, fraudulent and corrupt episode in the municipal government of east London. 

Lutfur Rahman was returned in May for the second time as mayor of Tower Hamlets. He secured this result through vote-rigging, bribery and fraud. At the end of a High Court hearing, Judge Richard Mawrey, an election commissioner, laid out a catalogue of malpractice more reminiscent of the rotten boroughs preceding the 1832 Reform Act than of a modern democracy.

Mr Mawrey found evidence of corrupt and illegal practices in the election. He ruled that Rahman must leave his post immediately and ordered him to pay £250,000 in costs. The election that Rahman “won” will now be conducted again; Rahman is barred from standing as a candidate. 

The evidence of Rahman’s fakery and bribery is expansive, and is enough to make the most world-weary observer of local politics gasp. Rahman, the first British Muslim to be directly elected as a mayor, used religious intimidation to secure support. More than 100 imams declared a few days before polling that it was a religious duty for voters to support Rahman. It was intended to exercise undue influence on the borough’s Muslim voters. 

In a grossly calumnious charge, Rahman and his supporters claimed that John Biggs, the Labour candidate, was a racist. And in one of his most shameless acts in public office, Rahman bribed voters by siphoning money from public-spirited organisations, including the Alzheimer’s Society, to “lunch clubs” serving the local Bangladeshi and Somali communities. Mr Mawrey further found that the behaviour of Rahman’s supporters had been “deplorable, even indefensible”. 

While Rahman has been exposed as a figure of duplicity, disrepute and permanent disgrace, there remain deeply troubling implications of this case. First, the fraudulent manner in which he secured his election would never have been exposed if it been left to the police. The court hearing took place because of a brave campaign by four local residents, who brought an election petition against Mr Rahman. Why did the Metropolitan police conclude last year, on reviewing submissions from government auditors, that there was no credible evidence requiring a police inquiry?

Second, Rahman’s supporters beyond the borough should explain themselves. Last November, Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, spoke in support of Rahman and urged that Labour adopt him as a candidate. At the same event George Galloway, with characteristic demagoguery, declared action against Rahman to be “a racist, Islam-hating witch-hunt against the most popular and best mayor in the country.” 

Third, Rahman’s corruption shows how a peculiarly destructive form of factional politics can insinuate itself. Voters have all manner of affiliations, of ethnicity, language and faith, but the only identity that matters for civic purposes is common citizenship under the rule of law. Rahman and his supporters hold that identity in contempt. Their inflammatory, bigoted and corrupt campaign to subvert local democracy has been rebuffed, and must never again be enabled to flourish.

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