TOWER HAMLETS, EAST LONDON – Tower Hamlets Council in East London has been accused of breaking its pre-election pledge to stop “enthusiastic campaigners” from standing outside polling stations, something the Returning Officer John Williams, who is in charge of electoral integrity, described as “intimidating for people”.
With voters going to the polls in the European and local elections today, Breitbart London went to the electoral district to find out just what was going on.
Yesterday the council official took to Sky News to claim that his borough had put in place some of the “most robust” systems in Britain. This included visiting houses with large number of number of registered voters, placing police at every ballot box and limiting each party to two ‘tellers’ per polling station.
However, when we toured the Stepney area, we discovered that large numbers of activists were outside almost all polling stations, crowding entrances. We witnessed them stopping voters on the way in, often blocking their route, and briefing them on who to vote for.
One local resident, who lived opposite Smithy Street School, told Breitbart London: “The big problem is people hanging around outside polling stations. When you go elsewhere there are two people, and they are very quiet.
“Across Tower Hamlets there are loads of people outside every polling station. Today I have been watching them since 8am, and they keep bothering people who are trying to vote.”
Metropolitan Police looked on as rules on interacting with voters were ignored. We spoke to police officers and Presiding Officers in charge of individual polling stations who all seemed unclear on what rules needed to be enforced. They were clearly unfamiliar with either the Representation of the People Act 1983, or guidelines by the Electoral Commission.
At one polling station in Smithy Street School a Labour Party activist with a rosette was acting as an usher to voters inside the polling station. When we asked her what role she was performing, she described herself as “working for the council as a volunteer”. After some questioning and deliberation the Presiding Officer threw us out, but allowed her to continue working inside the polling station as long as she took her rosette off.
Parker’s Law and Conduct of Elections, the seminal text on British election law states: “It is the duty of the presiding officer to keep order at his station. He must regulate the number of voters to be admitted at a time, and shall exclude all other persons except those permitted by the relevant rules…
“The presiding officer has no discretion to admit other persons into the polling station and therefore persons such as the ‘checkers’ or ‘tellers’ of candidates should not be admitted.”
The presiding officer at Ben Jonson School told us that activists were not being allowed into the grounds of the school as all of it was counted as the polling station. But these rules were breached a number of times, and on one occasion, Breitbart London witnessed four activists entering the grounds. The police officer on duty was nowhere to be seen.
The Returning Officer John Williams said of the problems in the borough: “[There have] been enthusiastic campaigners gathering outside polling stations and trying to convince electors as they are coming in to vote who they should be voting for and sometimes that can be intimidating for people.” He went on to say that he would stop this as it was “certainly a breach of Electoral Commission guidelines”.
A Green Party activist was also unhappy about how the polling station was being run. She told Breitbart London: “The problem here is poverty and lack of education. A lot of the voters can’t read and have no idea who they are voting for, that’s why people are out telling them what to do.
“The government has forgotten the Bengalis in Tower Hamlets. They spend their lives living next to a crack den on one side and with the local Islamist downstairs. Something needs to be done.”
Aside from the one Green Party activist, everyone at the polling stations were either Labour activists or from Tower Hamlets First, the party of the Islamist Mayor Lutfur Rahman.
The Mayor is likely to be re-elected, but he has caused controversy in the national press, standing accused of favouring the Bengali community over longer established communities; claims he strongly denies. The allegations against Tower Hamlets come after widespread concerns of voter intimidation and vote rigging amongst communities of South Asian origin.
As reported previously, the Electoral Commission has identified 16 “high risk” areas across the country that they feared would have high incidences of electoral malpractice. Tower Hamlets was on the list along with places like Blackburn, Slough and Oldham.