TOWER HAMLETS, London, United Kingdom – Riot vans cruise menacingly through the streets and uniformed officers guard the entrances to polling booths. These are familiar sights at elections in any politically turbulent third world country, but they were quite alien to British democracy until now.
Thursday the 11th June was an historic day for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Residents had the opportunity, today, to elect a new Mayor in the wake of the much publicised High Court action against former Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his aide, the ex-Councillor of Stepney Alibor Chowdhury.
And this is no small, local role. The Mayor of Tower Hamlets controls a budget of over £1bn a year, in an area of widespread social deprivation, and where mass immigration has turned White British people into a minority of only 30 per cent of the population.
Rahman was re-elected as Mayor in May 2014 amid widespread accusations of voter fraud and intimidation at polling booths. But the result was declared void by the Electoral Commission in April this year. Voters accused him of using “corrupt and illegal practices” and he was ordered by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey to pay £250,000 in costs. He was also removed from office with immediate effect and barred from ever re-standing.
Mawrey said that Rahman had “driven a coach and horses through election law and didn’t care”. He also suggested that Rahman had played racial and religious cards to evade criticism. As far back as 2010, documentaries and journalists reported that the allegedly extremist-linked Islamic Forum of Europe had helped Rahman gain the leadership of Tower Hamlets Council. These scandals have made the area a topic of national debate, and a byword for corruption and political and religious extremism.
Rahman’s replacement will be decided in the next few hours, but despite the fact that his party Tower Hamlets First has been removed from the register, it appears that the threat of fraud remains – never more evident in fact, as warning signs adorn polling stations, making it abundantly clear that those who commit voter fraud will be prosecuted.
Rahman’s former colleague Rabina Khan – who is running for Mayor as an independent candidate – and both Rahman and Chowdhury, who was also found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices, have endorsed “youth leader” Abu Talha for Stepney Councillor. Rather than trying to distance themselves from Lutfur Rahman, each of these candidates have publicly advertised their connection to him on their campaign flyers. This indicates an enduring support for the corrupt fraudster despite his crimes. Khan has admitted that Rahman was involved in her campaign although she also claims that she remains in charge of it.
There was a heavy police presence across the borough throughout today, with officers posted at polling booths in an effort to prevent intimidation and fraud. At the last election there were claims not only of fraudulent postal votes but also that groups were congregating near polling booths in an effort to sway voters.
“Police officers will intervene to stop large groups of people from obstructing or intimidating voters if this happens,” a statement said.
The visible police presence appears to have worked but may also have deterred voters. One police constable told Breitbart London that voter turnout had been far lower than expected. In any case, police at polling booths cannot solve the serious problem of fraudulent postal voting.
Mayoral candidate Andy Erlam – of the Red-Flag Anti-Corruption party, who spearheaded the High Court action against Rahman – has claimed that scores of voters are registered in what appear to be empty flats in Poplar. Scotland Yard is investigating at least 16 new allegations of electoral malpractice relating to this election.
Tower Hamlets is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Europe but the majority of Lutfur Rahman’s supporters are ethnic Bengalis. Of all the boroughs in Britain, Tower Hamlets has one of the smallest indigenous populations, while Bengalis are the largest demographic at 32 per cent according to the 2011 census. Somalians make up the second largest ethnic group in the borough which under Rahman’s rule, spent a sizeable amount of its budget on translation services to cater for the numerous residents that don’t speak English. Even road signs are translated into Bengali in parts of the borough.
Voters who hoped that Lutfur Rahman’s eviction from office signified the end of corruption in Tower Hamlets may find their optimism ill founded. Whether corruption is now endemic to the culture of the borough remains to be seen, but the election results and the findings of the ongoing Scotland Yard investigations will go some way toward determining this.