The four Tower Hamlets election petitioners are due to defend a ‘strike-out’ application (submitted by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Returning Officer John Williams) before a judge on July 28 but they way things are progressing they might literally be laughed out of court.
For very many people, the shambles around the count, the poison of the campaign, and the unusual campaigning methods used in Tower Hamlets on polling day (unusual to outsiders at least), meant there was a good argument to have a case heard in court. It would help clear the air, one way or another.
But amassing evidence of wrongdoing is a painstaking business and it certainly helps if you have people who have been there before. Gerald Shamash, the Labour party solicitor nationally, falls into that category.
It was he who helped Andy Erlam file his petition with the Election Court last month.
But a couple of weeks ago, he was sacked. Andy decided he wanted a new team. He won’t say why but it may be because Gerald was too expensive or because he took the initiative on certain matters.
Even prior to this, there had already been a degree of tension among the petitioners, whose number include a two Labour party members and a Ukip activist. But the sacking inflamed matters, largely because Andy did not, apparently, consult the others about it.
In the background, they have all been very busy compiling witness statements and there are, as I understand it, some potentially quite interesting pieces of evidence.
But credibility is also a powerful ingredient and that requires calm and sensible statements as to the facts and arguments.
Which brings me to the developing row between John Biggs and Andy Erlam.
Andy kicked all this off last week when he wrote an “open letter” to John urging him to declare his stance on their case. I’m told Andy never consulted John before sending this letter. I blogged about it on Wednesday when I also printed John’s reply to Andy. (In that blog post, I questioned Andy’s claim that up to 15,000 votes in the mayoral election were affected by forgery or intimidation; he now says that was an error and the 15,000 relates both the council and mayoral elections. Quite why the European polls are omitted is unclear.)
I thought, and so did most who read it, that John was pretty clear in his response…that he’d do all in his power to make the case work, including lodging a witness statement.
But in his reply, John also referred obliquely to the Gerald Shamash issue, something few knew about beforehand; I didn’t.
However, this reference seems to have riled Andy and yesterday he sent me another statement by way of reply to John. Again, John wasn’t consulted and he has in turn sent me his reply to that reply.
It’s great having such transparency from politicians and I wish far more discourse was made in public, but I do wonder whether this is the best way of securing the strongest case to put to a judge.
Andy’s (quite lengthy) statement below, I’m afraid to say, does somewhat tilt towards the truther lands of conspiracy theories, particularly over the ballot boxes and THEOs. I hope he doesn’t say that to a judge.
My personal view is they don’t have a hope on proving industrial scale electoral fraud, but if they were to focus their minds and arguments on the issue of “false statement”, ie the deliberate portrayal of John Biggs as a racist, then they have more of a chance. After all, this is what did for Phil Woolas in 2010: he breached s106 of the Representation of the People Act, which says it is an illegal practice to make a false statement about a candidate “for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election”. Funnily enough, Gerald Shamash does have experience of this: he was Woolas’s solicitor.
Anyway, here’s Andy’s reply to John’s reply from Wednesday (and for what it’s worth, you have to admire Andy and the others for putting their money where others’ mouths are by fighting this):
I find it incredible that John Biggs continues to disbelieve that there may have been an industrial-scale fraud in the Mayoral and Local Council elections on 22nd May, despite mounting of evidence which is steadily accumulating and being turned into statements fit for the court, which is in itself a massive task. Respectfully, I look forward to receiving John’s own promised statement please at the very earliest opportunity, namely this Sunday. It is the least he can do in the circumstances.
If true, the irregularities are so extensive that a scrutiny will show that the election results can not be relied upon and that a new election for Mayor will have to be held. Where that leaves the local election results is unknown legal territory. It is interesting that the Tower Hamlets Labour Group in the Council has been silent on the subject of the Petition.
Incidentally, there was an important error in my original article. It should have read: “I estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 votes were forged or affected by intimidation across the Borough in the Mayoral and council elections.”
Is this a “wild” allegation? We know from Tower Hamlets First sources that each THF candidate was ordered to each obtain 250 postal votes by fair means or foul. Guess which technique was most used?
The reports and statements that we have so far received show that there were very many illegal practices with postal votes across the Borough. I mean bullying, stealing postal ballot papers and opening completed postal ballots, re-sealing envelopes and posting.
Added to that we know from the work of Andrew Gilligan and our own informants that postal ballot applications were made for people not in the UK at the time and for ghost voters who don’t exist.
Furthermore, there are reliable reports of crowds of THF activists systematically intimidating some voters, mostly Bangladeshi Brits, outside many and possibly most polling stations throughout election day.
There are also numerous reports of people, Bengali women in particular, being accompanied, bullied and intimidated to vote for Mayor Rahman and THF.
Even more allegations have now emerged about the use of council resources and staff in the election by THF and even the illegal access to voters’ private mobile numbers from council records.
At the same time, the police and polling station staff were unable or unwilling to control the situation. It is also alleged that the vast majority of Imans in the Borough told their flocks that to vote other than for Lutfur and THF would be “Un-Islamic”, which if proved is an illegal act.
The stream of allegations is endless and, in fact, the stream is turning into a river and the river a torrent.
John was at the count. Can he have failed to notice the hundreds of THF supporters, the chaotic conditions, the delays and the hugely varying figures in the votes counted in some wards, always changing the results from Labour to favour THF? Did he not see Mayor Rahman take control of the local council counts, often over-rulling the hapless John Williams, who was effectively humiliated as the Returning Officer. This was not chaos, it was organised chaos.
It doesn’t end there. Tower Hamlets Council refuses to answer Freedom of Information requests about the ballot boxes, on the false claim that Returning Officers are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner doesn’t agree, but Tower Hamlets is desperately playing for time.
So LBTH won’t say where the ballot boxes were stored from the close of polls, how they were transported, by whom and whether they were guarded by the police. The lack of transparency and respect for the law of the country beggars belief, but it’s not new and it’s now getting more and more irrational in Tower Hamlets Council.
That leaves rumours to run wild. Some allege that the Theos accompanied the ballot boxes. These Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers accountable to the Mayor, (the Mayor’s “private army of LBTH policemen”), are not impartial and, if true, their role in the election would be yet another deeply worrying matter. The council is also refusing to say exactly where in the town hall the ballot boxes were stored and whether the rooms were locked and if so, who had access via the swipe cards.
Further concerns have also emerged recently about the robustness of the police investigation currently taking place. It is known that suspected fraudulent votes have not been forwarded to the police and that complaints made to the police have not been followed up. Furthermore, even the very serious allegation that a car-load of postal ballot papers was discovered by the police seems to be being talked away by investigating police, incredible as it may seem. Andrew Gilligan reported that the car bootfull of forms were completed and has verified this fact but the policeman leading the investigations claims that the forms were blank and thus no criminal offences had been committed. It appears that the police are involved in a cover-up whether by inefficiency or worse. Was Andrew Gilligan wrong about Iraq?
And what is the Electoral Commission doing with its near £16 million budget? Disgracefully, it is looking the other way when it comes to Tower Hamlets.
John refers to accepting unpleasant results in a democracy. His comparison of Rahman with Thatcher is wholly inappropriate. A far better comparison is with the 2004 US Presidential Election which we now know had very extensive corruption that changed the course of American and indirectly international history. Ironically, Kerry was also a good looser.
The point is that if you live in Tower Hamlets, you don’t live in a democracy. How confident can we be that our votes in the next General Election will be respected? Given the likelihood of a very close General Election contest in 2015, this is of huge significance nationally.
One last point, the very big losers in the catastrophic Mayoral and local elections of 2014 are the Banglashi-Brits in Tower Hamlets. Culture, language, literacy problems, the community power structures, poor housing and difficult individual situations mean that the population is very vulnerable to bullying, intimidation and financial and other pressures. Tower Hamlets First does not represent the Bangali population, as it claims. It is a small clique, like any other, seeking power for its’ own reasons.
Lutfur was a Labour man and wants to be one again. He is a politician bred in the Labour Movement of East London. Presumably he knows a lot of what has happened over the years – the compromises and the errors of Labour and in the forthcoming trial much will come out.
Mayor Rahman, whom I’ve never met and have no personal opinion about, claims many good policies and achievements. Whether these are accurate or not, I can not judge. But what I do know is that the means never ever justifies the end and that, if morality is cast aside, the means become the end.
There needs to be a revolution in politics in the East End. Political corruption has been seen as the norm here for decades. But corruption is not normal. Nor is it unique to Tower Hamlets, it’s just that irregularities here have been so extensive and so arrogantly displayed that, this time, things have gone too far.
John Biggs knows perfectly well, although he would prefer otherwise, that Gerald Shamash, the Labour Party solicitor, is no longer our solicitor and that Gavin Miller is no longer our barrister and that Francis Hoar is. We do not wish to comment on this decision.
There are two points of principle here. We will not allow any donor, however large, to steer the Petition, nor will we allow any political party to pull the strings.
Given that John Biggs is the likely beneficiary of a re-election, as things stand, I’m surprised that he describes the Election Petitioners as “mavericks”. The dictionary definition of a maverick is: “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” I guess I and the 3 other Petitioners, Azmal Hussain, Debbie Simone and Angela Moffat, will willingly plead guilty to that charge. Only with massive support from the good people of Tower Hamlets can we change the area for good. Further specific allegations must be sent very urgently to us to help us all win the case.
Tower Hamlets Election Petitioner
And here’s John’s reply:
Everything that Andy Erlam says about the election may be true but that doesn’t mean that it is true or that if it is true it is possible to prove that it is true in a court without sufficient evidence. But I am encouraging anyone with evidence of abuses to share this with the petitioners because theirs is a very serious series of allegations and must be properly examined. I am pleased the petition has been lodged in order that the allegations, widely believed to be true, can be examined.
I will be making my experiences known and will make a statement, particularly but not just looking at the allegations of racism levelled against me which I believe were deliberately invented to try to polarise opinion and particularly to encourage BAME voters to back Lutfur Rahman by spreading misinformation. This action was dishonest but also it was an action without principle or regard to the responsibility local politicians have to encourage and foster good relations.
I believe too that there were multiple abuses. But unlike Andy I do not believe in shooting from the hip without making statements that can be shown to be true. And I am also sensitive to the deep sense of victimhood that Lutfur Rahman likes to foster and which allegations without sufficient evidence will nourish. That will be no good for the East End.
In common with Andy, I do believe that the current mayor is bad news for East London. His inward looking culture rooted in patronage says nothing to the future and creates a vacuum while urgent leadership is needed. But I think he will ultimately be defeated by the proper and measured use of evidence and truth.
I do hope the petition leads to a thorough and good hearing and I do believe the result was improperly influenced and manipulated but in order for the truth to be found there must be more light and less heat. There must be a risk that an alternative tactic will achieve the opposite result to that it intends.