Tower Hamlets really is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s always delightful to return from holiday to find a large inbox of issues to write about…and the usual brown envelope on my doorstep.
So where do we start?
Well, in journalism school they teach you to begin with the freshest news, so how about a bit of electoral fraud for you? Joe Churcher, of The Press Association, reports this evening:
A police investigation has found no evidence of widespread voting fraud in a London borough but action is needed to “restore trust and confidence” in future polls, a watchdog said.
The Electoral Commission called in Scotland Yard amid scores of allegations of postal vote scams in Tower Hamlets – including reports a dead person had cast a ballot in 2012 local elections.
Detectives found evidence of possible bogus postal votes in three of 64 cases they investigated but none was sufficient to identify suspects or bring prosecutions, the Commission said.
It called however for “significant changes” to address both a ”breakdown of trust” between senior election officials and some councillors in the East London borough as well as “scepticism” about the Metropolitan Police inquiry.
Officers received nearly twice as many reports of fraud from the borough alone than the total for any other force in the country – mostly from local councillors – sparking an investigation that involved inquiries at more than 60 properties.
One from which postal votes were sent was empty, another no longer housed the people whose votes were considered suspect and those at a third denied applying for postal votes and would not assist further.
It was decided there was no prospect of tracking down suspects or getting sufficiently concrete evidence.
Many of the other complaints appeared to have been sparked by people referring to out of date registers.
The investigation also looked into media reports that a prisoner and a dead man had also “voted” but found no crime had been committed – the second individual having died after returning his postal vote.
In its report, the Commission suggested that some of the allegations may have been sparked by the “very diverse” nature of the local community – where a third of residents are Bangladeshi.
Some false claims of multiple entries on the register at the same address were found by the police to relate to people “who had identical first names and surnames but different middle names”, it suggested.
The Commission demanded an urgent review by the electoral registration and returning officers to find ways by May to improve fraud detection, transparency and systems for dealing with allegations.
Elected representatives “should make a clear public commitment to follow the Commission’s new code of conduct”, it said.
And Scotland Yard needed to review its plans for policing the next elections there in 2014.
The Metropolitan Police should review plans for policing elections in 2014 and improve its communications strategy to ensure an “appropriate balance” between keeping complainants informed about investigations and “more general assurance that the police are responding to concerns about electoral fraud and thoroughly investigating”, it said.
Commission chair Jenny Watson said: “Even a small number of cases of fraud can damage public confidence and there’s clearly been a breakdown of trust. Steps must now be taken to begin rebuilding trust to avoid future elections being damaged by allegations of electoral fraud.
“All politicians and campaigners in Tower Hamlets, including independent candidates, should also make a clear public commitment to follow the Commission’s new code of conduct. This code includes commitments about campaigning outside polling stations, handling postal votes and dealing with allegations of electoral fraud.
“We will be monitoring the situation closely and will publish our first progress report in July 2013.”
She also used the report to renew the Commission’s call for ministers to consider requiring photo ID at polling stations.
“Only so much can be done to give people reassurance when the system we have at the moment is largely based on trust.
“That’s why we called in 2010 for the Government to review the case for requiring photo ID in polling stations.
“We are disappointed they have not taken this forward. But last autumn we started a comprehensive review that will consider this alongside a number of other options for strengthening our voting system. We will publish our findings in in time to introduce legislation in the life of this Parliament.”
Of course, all this relates to complaints made during last year’s Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election in which Gulam Robbani romped home by 43 votes. While the investigation by Scotland Yard and the Electoral Commission found “no evidence” of fraud, they have pretty much said “we think it is dodgy and we’ll get you next time”.
The report is damning about the democratic state of Tower Hamlets where it recognises a breakdown of trust between councillors and senior election officials, one of whom is the currently absent monitoring officer, Isabella Freeman (the town hall’s press office refuses to say whether she is currently performing that role; so let’s just say she’s away from duties at the moment).
And note the specific reference to “independent candidates” in the Commission’s warning to behave at polling stations in 2014. I wonder if that’ll be mentioned at Mayor’s next election strategy meeting.
Yes, he does have them. That brown envelope contained the extremely interesting minutes of their first meeting last May. Here they are:
So the “campaign leader” is Shazid Miah, a youth worker who I listed here as Lutfur’s £44,000-a-year “community liaison officer”. His main task was to get the independent councillors to find 10 “support people” in each of their wards who would help tap into local mosques and other “multifaith groups”. I wonder who they found? Surely none would double up or be linked to the 17 “Mayor’s Community Champions Coordinators“, a recruitment scheme launched by Lutfur in January in which each ward will be given £10,000 to spend on various projects before the election.
I’m sure all would declare any interest.
Also, note the language in point 1, that each ward councillor should identify local “multicultural” issues and deliver. What exactly does this mean? What’s a “multicultural issue”? Surely by inserting the word “multicultural” they believe there are non-multicultural issues…and these are to be ignored. Maybe Lutfur’s councillors can explain. Surely they can’t mean “Bengali issues” can they…
And in point 4 on page 2, how generous of our cabinet members to donate £100, presumably monthly, of their taxpayer-funded allowance towards campaign funds. Still, they do get their taxis for free, I suppose.
And how interesting on page 3 that they considered forming a group. Presumably, they decided against such a move. Maybe they couldn’t decide on a name.
What would you have called them? Answers in a brown envelope please.