Sebastian Payne

Tower Hamlets — London’s rotten borough

Tower Hamlets — London’s rotten borough
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What is going on in Tower Hamlets? Three days after the counting began, the borough has yet to return a complete set of results from Thursday’s elections. Counting for the Bromley South ward has been stopped for a second time today, resuming in the morning. Tower Hamlets Council explained in a statement ‘the result is looking very close in this ward and accuracy is of paramount concern’. Few would probably have noticed, were it not for Tower Hamlets holding up the rest of London announcing its results for the European elections.

While the rest of the country reported its results hours before, Tower Hamlets was delayed due to a new ‘local protocol’ introduced to address the Electoral Commission’s fraud concerns. A council spokesman said this evening:

'This protocol produced the most stringent set of electoral measures in the capital, if not the country, to ensure that elections could be held in a transparent and fair manner. However this need for transparency has lengthened the time taken to count the vote and our view is that accuracy is more important than speed'

Is the explanation that simple? Not according to Peter Golds, a Conservative councillor in Tower Hamlets, who in a statement posted online, alleges there was odd behaviour during the count:

'I was, for obvious reasons, at both omnishambles. We were asked to attend the Mile End Leisure centre at 2pm, Sunday for the council counts with the European count commencing at 4pm. We were let in at 3pm and then the chaos started.

'Any checks on people attending soon collapsed, particularly when the Supreme Ruler, Mayor Lutfur, was instructing his fan club from across London to walk in and enjoy the panto.

'However, ex Councillor Kabir Ahmed (Tower Hamlets First, Weavers ward) was barred from entering the count as he had revealed details of the first figures on his Facebook page. Presumably he stayed at home in Gants Hill, Redbridge.

'There were arguments, threats, and chaos at the counting tables. Tower Hamlets First supporters were challenging vote after vote, forcing supporters of other candidates away from the tables. They often made their points ( excuse the pun) with pencils and pens, against ballot papers. The supreme ruler smiled, whilst checking town hall staff were not stopping his supporters from doing exactly what they wanted.

'Former Cllr Mohammed Shahid Ali (defeated Mile End) was bawling in Bangla down a mobile phone at a counting table. He was asked by a (female) officer to stop and he shouted that she ( emphasise she) had no right to tell him to stop doing anything and that she (emphasise she) should go away. I drew this to the attention of the returning officer and Shahid Ali then needed to be restrained from attacking me.

'Tower Hamlets has interesting rules on the media at counts. Mainstream journalists can only be on the counting floor if they are escorted by a member of the town hall staff at all times.

'The special media, that supports the supreme ruler, is excluded from this, so , far example everywhere I went I was stalked by a weird old trot who kept taking flash photographs of me in my face and then grinning. He declined to say what organ he reported for.

'He was not afraid of expressing his views as he shouted the short version of "see you next Tuesday", during one of the declarations.

'Despite everything we had been told, the count was a shocker. There was a 21% discrepancy in the votes in Island Gardens between the first two counts.

'Issues regarding our count process that I raised as far back as 2009 were ignored and there was no change at all; despite the fine words of the electoral commission.

'I will be writing to them on Tuesday, with more details and will make my letter public.'

I asked whether the council had any comment on this statement, but did not receive anything back. Councillor Golds may be disgruntled due to the reelection of Lutfur Rahman, the controversial directly-elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Golds is a long time critic of the mayor and although Labour gave Rahman a run for his money, he was reelected on second preference votes. At present, it appears no party will have overall control of the council — Rahman's Tower Hamlets First party has 18 seats, as do Labour while the Tories have four.

The counting situation adds to the impression I received when visiting the area last month — the politics of Tower Hamlets are simply rather bizarre. The Electoral Commission warned ahead of these elections there was a 'high risk' of electoral fraud and placed police officers at every one of the borough's 125  polling stations. With the continued delay, those who believe Tower Hamlets is a rotten borough may have their fears confirmed.