Peter Golds: Malice in Blunderland – Tower Hamlets has another election

26 Jul

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

Politics and elections are never straightforward in Tower Hamlets. No sooner had the Mayoral and London Assembly taken place, an effective Labour councillor for the Weavers Ward tragically and suddenly died, just nine days after his 40th birthday.

Weavers is the north western extremity of the borough sharing a boundary with hipster Shoreditch. In fact, Shoreditch High Station is in this Ward. The Ward includes the famous Boundary estate, designed and constructed in the early 1890s by the LCC to replace the Old Nichol, then the most notorious slum in London. The Boundary estate has survived both the Luftwaffe and post war planners and is now, fortunately, listed. Nearby is Jesus Green an area of old Bethnal Green where one time artisan cottages now sell for mouth-watering sums. This is the area close to Columbia Road, a historic flower market which attracts visitors from far and wide every weekend. There are also many post-war council blocks as well as Keeling House, designed by Sir Dennis Lasdun as social housing, which has become a listed landmark. Politically, Weavers Ward (named after the Huguenot silk weavers who four hundred years ago lived and worked here), had a Liberal Democrat tradition. Since 2010, it has returned Labour councillors.

This will be the third by-election since 2008, the previous two took place on London Mayoral election days in 2008 and 2012. The 2008 contest was on a disastrous day for Labour, but, exceptionally, Labour gained the seat in the by-election. The newly elected Labour councillor was almost immediately mired in controversy and Labour declined to renominate him for the 2010 election in which he fought and lost the Ward on behalf of Respect. One of the three newly elected councillors, Kabir Ahmed, left the Labour Party in 2011 to join Lutfur Rahman’s team. The 2012 by-election caused by the resignation of another Labour member was contested by the former Respect leader, Abjol Miah as an Independent and supported by Lutfur Rahman. Labour won this contest with John Pierce, whose death has caused the current by-election.

You may think this should be an easy Labour hold. After all, the Party secured 48 per cent of the vote in 2018 in a six way contest in this Ward. The hiccup is Liveable Streets – or traffic free neighbourhoods. This should be an area where Liveable Streets would expect to be welcomed. The Labour council has spent £29 million promoting and installing Liveable Streets in the Borough. However, they should have been aware of the many flaws in the consultation exercise. When the Bow programme came before Cabinet, Mayor John Biggs noted there was little sign of what he described as Bow residents, as opposed to the overwhelmingly, white, middle class, professional and well spoken cycling lobby who came to Cabinet to support the proposals. Significantly, proposals in Whitechapel Ward were deferred until after May 2022 at the request of the local councillors for fear of the campaign waged against the proposals by Lutfur Rahman and his party.

The Weavers street close-downs have been chaotic. Refuse vehicles cannot enter many streets, resulting in rubbish left on pavements or next to the planters (each costing £1,000) that seal off the streets. Far worse is the response from the emergency services which have entered the public domain via FOI requests.

London Fire Brigade wrote:

“It is important that the London Ambulance Service lodge an official request to Tower Hamlets Council to suspend the works in the event that somebody dies as a result of not being able to get an ambulance to them if the planned works go ahead.”

An Ambulance Service official said:

“The Tower Hamlets Council traffic teams sometimes struggle to understand the needs of the emergency services.”

Staggeringly, the Mayor, when faced by concerned residents, suggested that emergency vehicles could gain access to streets by mounting pavements.

This, then, is the background to this extraordinary by-election in a ward whose residents include journalists in the national media, top flight lawyers, and senior figures in the civil service who are united alongside ordinary residents to oppose a single council policy.

After Cllr Pierce’s funeral, the by-election was called by the Labour Party. The Conservatives selected Bethnal Green resident, Elliott Weaver, who hit the ground running. Before nominations closed, his second leaflet was dropping into letter boxes and he was securing pledges of support from local residents. Labour immediately became mired in a selection problem. Locally, the two favourites were a community activist and a Labour Party stalwart. Both were white men and on July 7th, the day of the selection and the England Germany semi final at Euro 2022, the selection meeting was cancelled as Labour’s national executive imposed an all woman shortlist.

Labour were due to meet on the 13th July to select a candidate and once again it became controversial with internal party emails being leaked. There were six names on the list, however at the meeting two senior Labour officials (both councillors) attended and one of the six did not attend. A further name was added. This candidate, Nasrin Khanam, is not from the area and, it is suggested, does not have a sound knowledge of the local issues. In the event she was selected with the result that much information has leaked out to other parties and bloggers. Importantly, Lutfur Rahman was given a full account of the meeting immediately the result of the selection became known.

Whilst the Labour selection meeting was under way, leaflets from Rahman’s Aspire Party were being distributed. His chosen candidate, Kabir Ahmed was elected a Labour councillor for the Ward in 2010 and, as we know, defected to the Rahman Party. He lost his seat in 2014 and featured in the 2015 election petition, where he was much criticised by Commissioner Mawrey. He works in his family shop in the Ward. He is campaigning to “end Liveable streets’ road closures immediately.”

The Greens are nominating a candidate and the Liberal Democrats (in a ward which they once held) will be nominating a “paper candidate.” Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens are all ardent supporters of Liveable Streets.

More importantly, as we head towards the 2022 local elections, will be the actions of the police to this by-election. In May this year, as it was in 2014, the police response to problems is to avoid taking action. In May, there were strict rules regarding social distancing at polling stations. Nothing was done when electors were harassed by groups of aggressive men at polling stations. There was extensive evidence of this, but the police ignored regulations on social distancing. Hopefully this harrassment will change as the government have promised to prevent intimidation at polling stations. There will also be new regulations regarding the handling and delivery of postal votes by political parties, which caused some concern in May.

My next concern for the by-election is the preservation of the secret ballot. The law, as it has existed since the Secret Ballot Act of 1872, must be enforced. It is a disgrace to our democracy that in 2021, in full public view, women are being prevented from voting in secret because of what is described as “family voting.” This is no more than intimidation and the stealing of votes. Democracy Volunteers commented how prevalent this was in Tower Hamlets in 2018. I have, unanswered, emails to the police and the Returning Officer from an elector describing how he watched men take ballot papers from women voters whilst he was inside his local polling station in May.

In the 2012 Weavers Ward by-election, the Evening Standard covered the intimidation at a single polling station in the Ward.

Nine years later nothing appears to have changed.

The Metropolitan Police response to the 2015 election court was a disgrace. The 200-page Judgement, delivered in the Royal Courts of Justice was described in a press release by a serving officer, Phil Langworthy, as “a report.” In the intervening years the police have continued as previously, ignoring letters and concerns regarding electoral probity in this borough. As is now known, 2015 was infamous for the Metropolitan Police spending vast sums on the infamous Operation Midland which was a smear against distinguished people from a known liar. This collapsed when it was eventually realised that the complainant was a serial liar and criminal. This saga is laid out in coruscating details in a superb report by Sir Richard Henriques. Worryingly, more than one officer involved in the failed Tower Hamlets investigation played roles in Operation Midland.

In my view, the Home Secretary should invite Sir Richard, a distinguished Judge with no connection to London politics and elections, to review the Tower Hamlets investigation.

The downplaying of the election court by Scotland Yard has not been lost on Rahman. He now repeatedly states that he was disqualified from office by not a court but a tribunal – and using the police’s own words, a disqualification based on a report.

In 2022, will it be members of the public once again having to fight for electoral probity in and around the world’s fourth largest financial centre because the police lack the will to enforce the law?

If you would like to help us please email me at psgolds@aol.com.

Peter Golds: Democracy in Tower Hamlets remains tarnished

4 Jun

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

In the bumper elections held on the 6th May, Tower Hamlets residents voted by referendum to retain the position of executive mayor. The poll was 41 per cent and the proposal was carried with 77.8 per cent of votes cast being in favour. The choice for voters was between retaining the Mayor or moving to a Leader and Cabinet system. In next door Newham, voters chose to retain the Mayor over the committee system with 55.8 per cent voting in favour in a poll of 37 per cent. Elsewhere, in Sheffield, the electorate voted to move from Leader and Cabinet to the committee system with 64.8 per cent support. A number of residents and local groups in Tower Hamlets would have preferred a return to the committee system. There was a cross-party group established to support the change, but as it was led by politicians and the campaign may have become drowned out in the midst of the complex London Mayoral and Assembly election.

The campaign to retain the mayoral system was led by groups close to Lutfur Rahman, whose five year disqualification from office has now been completed. With no involvement in the London Mayoral and Assembly election, his supporters concentrated entirely on the referendum. Literature resembling his Tower Hamlets First material was widely distributed and his campaign was helped by the endorsement of the local Bengali print and TV media. The pro mayoral leaflets were well written and included endorsements for the mayoral system. These began with support from Rahman himself, Ken Livingstone, and Baroness Uddin, a somewhat interesting trio of supporters. Three people protested at their inclusion in the leaflet, the family of one, a local centenarian who is a notable charitable campaigner, being extremely annoyed at his being included without permission, which he would not have given.

Rahman was regularly interviewed by his chosen media and the local newspaper. His repeated claim was that his removal from public was as a result of a “report” from a “tribunal.” There is precedent in this as the Metropolitan Police themselves in a press release issued by a senior officer described the Judgement delivered in the Royal Courts of Justice as a “report.” Rahman and his supporters cleverly, at least to their core support, emphasised that he never faced criminal charges.

Letters from the police regarding this have been widely distributed and there is no doubt that his supporters believe that he was the victim of a “fix.” Comments on Facebook and Twitter go well beyond this into the world of conspiracy and worse but that is a factor of social media. One intervention was a much viewed contribution on YouTube by the Imman, who in 2014 had informed Bangladeshi voters that it was their “Islamic duty to support Lutfur Rahman.” The translation suggests that he was more restrained this time.

In the event, whatever the question, or indeed date of the referendum, the result was overwhelming and this result must be respected. in 2022 there will be a combined mayoral and council election. Rahman will be standing and he is already recruiting a team of candidates.

One apparent hopeful is former councillor, Shahid Ali, who served a term of imprisonment for housing fraud. Despite moving from the borough he is enthusiastic about getting involved again, to the extent of being nominated to attend the referendum count. In 2014 he voted twice at the same polling station from two different addresses, one of which was the address that he had corruptly obtained from the housing register. He was named as committing this fraud in the judgement; unfortunately the police declined to take any further interest or action in this obvious and provable fraud.

Having downplayed the result of the election court, the Rahman supporters have, like the Bourbons “learned nothing and forgot nothing.” Before election day, Cllr Andrew Wood, myself, and representatives of other parties received complaints about Bengali postal voters being targeted by the group supporting retention of the Mayor and attempts made to collect their votes.

Those contacting us after events of 2014-15 are genuinely reluctant to contact the police and expose themselves publicly. It is well known that in 2015, one witness was threatened in the High Court itself. Another, provided by the court with confidentiality having been sworn in as a witness after the court was cleared, discovered that a Tower Hamlets Council officer had remained behind, obtaining his details. The Met have strict rules regarding hearsay with regard to allegations. Presumably instituted following the disaster of Operation Midland. This creates a problem when potential witnesses are in fear of the consequences of coming forward.

What happened on election day is certainly not hearsay. It is an example of what has gone on in previous elections and a foretaste of what can be expected next year unless the police and the Electoral Commission assume the responsibilities they have within the law.

In May 2018, an Independent Organisation, Democracy Volunteers, described intimidation at polling stations. In previous elections, there have been newspaper reports of incidents at polling stations. In 2010, a delegation from the Commonwealth commented on how intimidating polling stations in this borough can be. One member, from South Africa, subsequently wrote a detailed letter to the then returning officer expressing his concern at the level of intimidation at polling stations that he observed.

With covid restrictions and social distancing, most local campaigners anticipated a harassment free election. From early morning at polling stations across the borough, groups of male, almost entirely Bengali pro mayor supporters, were positioned at the entrances. When Bengali women joined the queues, they would be surrounded and the group did not move until they took a leaflet with a facsimile of the ballot paper showing where to put the mark to retain the mayor. The local GLA candidate for Reform took film on his phone of at least two polling stations, one in Bow and one on the Isle of Dogs. The station at Bow, where, unfortunately the Labour Party joined in the “campaigning” was uploaded in Guido by lunchtime.

At mid-afternoon, at an Isle of Dogs station, a young woman of 24 filmed “campaigning” as people waited to vote. She was told by a leading supporter of the mayoral campaign that if she did not stop he “would smash her camera.” Later she was threatened by another aggressive man also associated with the campaign. I was inside the same polling station and in a short period saw incidents of men instructing women how to vote. Elsewhere, on an estate in Poplar, a well known local resident along with her husband filmed ongoing intimidation at their polling station.

Numerous people standing in the queues noted people walking in the polling station with bundles of postal votes.

On Friday morning, a resident in my ward copied me into a formal objection he had sent the returning officer regarding men interfering with female voters in the relatively short time that he was inside his local polling station.

The young campaigner, the TA leader, the voter and myself, were all more than willing to provide statements to the police regarding what was going on. In some cases there were photographs and in some cases those causing the harassment are well known. I sent names, phone numbers, and details of these potential witnesses of incidents to the police officer who had appeared helpful earlier on. This was not hearsay. I was giving names and contact details of people who wished to provide evidence of malpractice. I also suggested that the officer contact the Reform candidate who had publicised incidents on polling stations on Twitter.

The response from the police was silence until two weeks later when I received an email from another officer asking me not to contact officers directly but to tell those who had contacted me to use a generic email address.

The question has to be asked – just how serious are the Metropolitan Police Service in even scratching the surface of voter fraud? Despite being provided with names and contact details and confirmation that I had permission to provide them, the Metropolitan Police have again retreated to their now customary position of indifference and a generic email address.

Two years ago, I was asked by a lawyer in practice in a major city legal firm to brief colleagues within the practice on voter fraud. I took them through polling day practices, personation, register packing, and postal vote farming, and then showed them the information that election practitioners have access to. It was fascinating to see how their mood changed when they realised just how open to corruption our electoral system is to anybody with an interest in voter fraud and an understanding of the system. These highly qualified legal practitioners were shocked at how easy it is to commit fraud.

The Queens Speech promised reform of electoral law. This is extremely welcome, although we await details in the published bill.

The fuss regarding voter ID is nonsense. Every poll shows overwhelming support for the proposal. Since being introduced into Northern Ireland by the Blair government, voter ID has helped reduce fraud and suspicion in elections. Opponents cite that prosecutions are low. The reason for this is that the police only act when a voter has complained having gone to a polling station and registered a complaint that their vote has been “stolen.” At any point, 20 per cent of the registered electorate do not vote. Non voters are unlikely to know whether their vote has been stolen and therefore will not complain. Finally, the Government has confirmed that, as in Northern Ireland, a voter without ID can obtain a voter ID card at no cost from the local authority.

We understand there are to be regulations on intimidation. I hope that this will extend beyond social media, which is needed, to include electors being able to approach their polling station and vote free from harassment.

The Government has intimated that there is also the likelihood of tightening the regulations relating to postal voting and the handling of postal votes. This should also include the storing of information from and copies of postal vote applications.

Another matter is that when a person is discharged from being a candidate or voting, following a conviction for corruption, this discharge should include not being permitted to attend the counting votes, sitting at polling stations, or handling any postal vote. Readers in Peterborough will have experience of this matter.

It is unlikely that the new Act will be in force before May next year. Both the police and the Electoral Commission have been witnesses and bystanders of elections in this borough that are an embarrassment and a shame to democracy. In 2014 their solution, after years of complaints, was a protocol that they hoped everybody would sign and observe. It collapsed within days and was forgotten in the embarrassment of the election petition.

Quite simply the police need to promise to enforce election law as it stands. By this, I mean enforcement, not offering serial fraudsters “words of advice.” This means investigating false nominations, investigating false returns of election expenses, taking action regarding intimidation and race hatred and using their existing powers to ensure that polling takes place peacefully without intimidation inside and outside of polling stations. The police must, for example, accept that it is an existing criminal offence to interfere with a voter inside a polling station. This needs to be understood and enforced. The police need to train officers in election law and procedures and to be prepared to take statements, assemble evidence from residents and voters, and investigate when they are provided with examples of malpractice. The excuse for inaction that “people were spoken to and words of advice given” can no longer be acceptable.

I have read Sir Richard Henriques on the appalling failures of the Metropolitan Police regarding Operation Midland, which took place at the same time as the Met were supposedly investigating fraud and corruption in Tower Hamlets. Worryingly, names appear in his report that are familiar to those of us involved with election fraud in this borough. In an ideal situation, Sir Richard would be invited to report on the handling of voter fraud in Tower Hamlets; I suspect were this to happen it would be a very interesting report.

As for the Electoral Commission, this was the organisation that registered the Lutfur Rahman vanity party, yet did not bother to establish whether it had either a bank account or constitution. They do have the power to investigate election returns. Despite evidence sent to them, they did nothing about the false return of expenses recorded in 2014 by Rahman’s agent and even registered an overdue donation of over £30,000 whilst the election court was sitting. I am not surprised that when they “investigated” Darren Grimes after 2016 they got it completely wrong and their vindictive campaign against Darren collapsed in court.

The Electoral Commission, despite being repeatedly advised in writing about Tower Hamlets using unsuitable counting venues and a unique and bizarre counting system, signed off the arrangements – that then resulted in a count that spread over five days and caused international derision because of the delay Tower Hamlets caused to the final results of the 2014 European elections.

I have written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Electoral Commission regarding Tower Hamlets 2022 and will update readers as to how this progresses.

Peter Golds: Election fraud in east London – finally a police investigation and a conviction

22 Jan

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

On January 4th, Chaudhhary Mohammed Iqbal, a Labour councillor for the Loxford Ward of Redbridge from May 2018 until his resignation last year, was jailed for 17 months for providing a false address on his nomination papers. In addition, he was ordered to pay back the £18,368 he had received as councillor allowances and a further £10,000 towards the cost of the eventual by-election for the ward.

The former councillor actually lived in the borough of Barking and Dagenham but used a false address in Redbridge for his 2018 nomination papers. It was revealed in court that over several years he had changed political parties twice and used “multiple false addresses” to attempt to secure nomination and election. The false address he used in Redbridge was in respect of a property that he owned and let to an eastern European tenant who has since left the country and is subject to a European arrest warrant.

Before sentencing, he was told by Her Honour Judge Sally Cahill:

“You decided you wanted to become a local councillor, despite the fact that you were not qualified to do so. You joined Labour in 2007 to achieve that object and, when you failed in your attempts with them, you became a Conservative. That did not succeed so you went back to the Labour Party.”

“You gave various addresses, including one non-residential, because you wanted to appear to live in the area for which you wanted to be a councillor. You went so far as to instruct your tenants that they should leave the water bill in your name and that they should not register to vote at that property.”

“In September 2019, you were interviewed under caution. You answered questions and gave a detailed account supporting your answer. It was all lies. During (the police) investigation, you decided to carry on as a councillor. You went to meetings, you claimed expenses and met with constituents. You did not resign until October 1, 2020. You quite deliberately involved yourself and your tenant in telling lies to cover your tracks and, had you been successful, you would no doubt have continued to act as a councillor.”

Both Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham are near Tower Hamlets. In recent years residents from both of these boroughs used false addresses in Tower Hamlets in attempts to secure election to Tower Hamlets council. In three well known cases, fraudsters from these boroughs were actually elected to the councils, others failed. A number of the fraudsters were named by Commissioner Mawrey in 2015.

I quote from the Commissioners judgment on Redbridge resident and former Labour and Tower Hamlets First councillor, Kabir Ahmed. His situation is very similar to that of the recently jailed former Redbridge councillor:

“For some time Kabir Ahmed had given his address as 236a Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AA, a flat above a shop. This was said to be a property with four double en-suite bedrooms and a shared living room. The other occupants were said to be: Mr Ahmed’s wife Sibly Rahman, his brother Mohammed Ansar Hussein, a Mohammed Mokit and Ala Uddin, who was said to work in the shop on the ground floor. According to Councillor Mohammed Abdul Mukit MBE, who knew Mr Ahmed well, he was not actually resident at that address, although he undoubtedly used it as an address for receiving mail. Both Mr Mukit and Mr Gilligan stated that the room allegedly occupied by Mr Ahmed and his wife was completely bare except for one bed, one chair and one desk.”

“Mr Ahmed’s non-residence in the Borough was a matter of some notoriety. Councillor Peter Golds, an indefatigable letter-writer had written to various people to complain about this more than once and had raised it in open council. Councillor Mukit confirmed that Mr Ahmed actually lives at 52 Gants Hill Crescent, Ilford IG2 6TT: he had attended his wedding, the invitation to which had given that property as Mr Ahmed’s address. Mr Ahmed admitted in cross-examination that he paid no rent for 236a Bethnal Green Road and that he spent a lot of time in Gants Hill visiting his elderly parents. Mr Gilligan told the court that Tracesmart and credit records he had checked also showed Mr Ahmed and his wife as resident in Gants Hill. “

“Applying the statutory test of residence set out above, I am quite satisfied that 326a Bethnal Green Road was not such a ‘residence’ as would entitle Mr Ahmed to be registered to vote from that address and I am equally satisfied that this was a mere accommodation address, used for administrative purposes. I did not accept that Mr Ahmed had any genuine belief that this was his residence: he quite clearly knew that the falsity of the residence was well-known to his political opponents and he continued to use that address.”

Unfortunately, as we know only too well, none of the Tower Hamlets fraudsters were ever prosecuted; the police neither interviewed nor took statements from potential witnesses or follow up evidence that was provided to them. In the recent Redbridge case the police were far more active in following through evidence.

With London elections due in May 2022, Lutfur Rahman, his disqualification from office now completed, is campaigning hard to return to power. This month he appeared on Channel S, a highly controversial TV station, which targets the Bangladeshi community and has repeatedly been censured by Ofcom for bias and unbalanced coverage, as well as being threatened with the loss of its licence. The founder of the station, Mahee Ferdhaus, has twice been imprisoned for fraud. Between his most recent conviction and sentencing, he regularly interviewed then Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Returning the favour, Lutfur Rahman provided the Court with a highly supportive reference, written on official council notepaper. This did not impress the trial Judge as can be seen here.

Channel S is again providing Lutfur Rahman with a sympathetic platform to talk of his innocence, as he proclaims that he was never prosecuted for any offence and indeed has letters from the police proving his “innocence.”

This ongoing claim of innocence will be absolutely toxic amongst the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets in the 2022 elections. Sensing this danger, the Labour Party has proposed a referendum to replace the Mayor by a Leader and Cabinet model. This began with a petition, presented to the council by a Labour activist at the November 2020 meeting. Next door Newham established a commission, held in public, to review the Mayoral system and has recommended changes to the process. The decision for a Tower Hamlets referendum and the model to be used was agreed, not following public consultation, but at an internal meeting of the Labour group on the council. Councillor Andrew Wood had launched a public survey in which a number of options were proposed, including returning to the committee system. Labour used their majority to brush this proposal aside, despite it inviting public comments and publishing the results.

An open meeting has now been held involving the wider community to plan for the referendum campaign. Unfortunately, whereas the Labour, Conservative, and Green Parties were all present at this launch meeting to discuss how to work in the campaign, the Liberal Democrats were absent.

The date chosen for the referendum is May 6th. On that day, electors will also be voting for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly as well as the referendum. Across seventeen wards of the borough there will be four different ballot papers. Electors in the three wards that cover the Isle of Dogs will also receive a ballot paper to approve the local Neighbourhood Plan, giving them five ballot papers. This will be a recipe for confusion and Lutfur Rahman knows this. Already claiming that he was removed from office by a conspiracy, the same conspirators are intent on removing what he regards as his rightful office in a confusing ballot process.

Had this been a stand-alone referendum, there would have been the opportunity for a genuine public debate on the options. As it is, combined with a multiple election at a time when campaigning will be restricted, this does not augur well.

This brings me to the poll itself. The Rahman supporters with the assistance of Channel S and similar organisations will concentrate on the referendum. For them, the referendum is all. Win that and they believe that Rahman has a clear path back to power. The other party activists will be campaigning for their candidates for both London Mayor and GLA as well as combining for a referendum. In a situation where face to face campaigning will be minimal and leaflet delivery restricted, it will be a no holds barred opportunity for the Rahman campaign to win a majority to retain the position of Executive Mayor.

The referendum campaign will leave the Police, the Electoral Commission, and the Crown Prosecution Service, in an extremely difficult situation. All are tainted by their previous failures in Tower Hamlets. They will somehow have to reassure an electorate only too well aware of their historic catalogue of failure. On the other side, there will be a rejuvenated Lutfur Rahman who can, and does, brandish letters from the Police “proving” his innocence.

Operation Lynemouth, the investigation into policing and elections in Tower Hamlets, said with regard to 2014:

“The policing of the election and the subsequent investigation was deficient in too many areas. There was a lack of corporate responsibility, a lack of training and insufficient resources for the SET investigation. In essence, the MPS did not consider the election and investigation a priority.”

The investigation and prosecution of former Cllr Iqbal in Redbridge suggests that lessons have been learned, but have they been learned in Tower Hamlets? Will the police, who have long treated Lutfur Rahman with undeserved respect, enforce the law?

A predictable flashpoint will be the 6th May election day itself. All elections involving Lutfur Rahman and his cohorts have seen polling stations mobbed by his supporters, harassing voters attempting to enter and record their votes. In 2018 the Independent body, Democracy Volunteers, reported on the local elections in Tower Hamlets. They were concerned about intimidation outside of polling stations, usually by supporters of, “Aspire,” the latest Rahman supporting party as approved by the Electoral Commission. In a covid environment and the requirement for social distancing, the police must ensure that polling stations will be free from both intimidation and do not become a health risk. The Metropolitan Police will need to be planning now as to how to prevent squads of aggressive campaigners lobbying, jostling, and approaching electors at polling stations. There is evidence from colleagues that this mobbing of polling stations is increasing elsewhere. If necessary, legal regulations must be bought in to prevent this.

The authorities must also consider regulations to prevent postal vote harvesting. Again, this is a situation that has spread to many areas. As we know a “postal vote harvester” was jailed in Peterborough. Those who “harvest” postal votes will be well prepared. I understand that there are to be arrangements to make postal voting easier. This should also include rules to prevent activists collecting and keeping postal votes and arriving at polling stations with bags of postal votes. There should also be rules about activists retaining photocopies of postal vote applications, which contain a full name, address, electoral number, date of birth, and a signature.

It is six years since the corrupt and flawed election that embarrassed London and the country was laid bare in the High Court of London. Have the police learned from this and do they have a plan to ensure that the residents of Tower Hamlets will vote safely and securely? I very much hope so.

Peter Golds: The skewed enforcement priorities of Tower Hamlets Council

21 Oct

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

Here are two matters of concern taking place on the same road. They give an indication as to why my local authority has problems with the public.

My first example concerns a single mother living in a house with her daughter. She is qualified in both banking and architecture and holds a responsible job with a major corporation. In order to work, she employs a properly registered child-minder and ensures that all tax and national insurance with regard to the child-minder is paid and correctly recorded. She is, by any standard, a model citizen and is both active and popular within her local community.

A while ago, and to her surprise, she suddenly received correspondence from the borough’s council tax that she was living with a person aged over 18. She was quickly able to prove that she lived with her daughter and a dog.

Next, and very disturbingly, she received an early morning visit from two officers from the council’s social services. They were checking allegations of “neglect of her child” and “illegal employment.” This was easily proven to be false, but the resident lost a day’s work. I was approached, as the local councillor, to see where the council stood in this. I got no further than the council has to investigate all allegations.

This was followed by a formal visit from Ofsted investigating a complaint that this resident was operating an “unlicensed child care facility,” where a child was being neglected. This was again quickly proven to be untrue, confirming the presence at the address of a registered carer looking after a single child, at home, whilst the parent was at work.

Then she began to receive, on a daily basis, addressed envelopes with nothing inside. The police were contacted but undertook no investigation despite being made aware that this appeared to be part of an ongoing campaign of harassment of a single woman living alone with a child.

The most recent problem she had was while replacing rear doors and windows. To ensure this was in order she obtained a “certificate of lawfulness” from the council’s planning department and went ahead. One morning recently, a man appeared at her front door, saying that he was from Tower Hamlets council’s building control department investigating a complaint and demanding entrance to view the work. He flashed an official council pass, but would not permit the resident to photograph the pass or take details. After a stand off, she secured the name of the officer. Despite producing the council’s certificate of lawfulness, an inspection took place. It is obvious that somebody, somewhere, aware that planning was completely lawful, complained to building control, who appeared not to work with planning within the same local authority.

This completely law-abiding and popular local citizen, facing continuous harassment and vexatious complaints, then sought information as to the source of these incidents via the Freedom of Information process. This has been refused by Tower Hamlets Council. The question I have asked is how much longer will this continue and how many other council departments will be involved? Equally, the police should be taking this seriously. We have a single, law-abiding woman, living with a child, facing an ongoing and organised campaign of harassment and threats. She deserves more than a CAD number.

Further up the same road is a small housing development called Thames Circle. It includes some flats and a row of town houses around a circle. Within the area is an uncompleted piece of land for which planning permission for a block of flats was given eighteen years ago – but the consent lapsed. For a period, portacabins were placed in this area and used by a local school on a temporary planning consent. The council declined to extend the temporary planning consent for the school and it moved elsewhere.

A few months ago portacabins arrived on the site and a takeaway kitchen commenced operation. This involved preparing food for adjoining residencies and a local Church, and the distribution of the food by car, scooter, and bicycle. The scooters are all badged with an L plate. Thames Circle is off a busy major A road, with bus routes, one of which operates 24/7 and on a curve. Scooters and cycles moving in and out of the development, dodging traffic and ignoring the local speed limit, on top of the emissions and smell from the kitchens do not add to the quality of life.

I met residents and made enquiries of the council who wrote to me to confirm that the site does not have planning consent for the operation of the kitchens. The council has “an ongoing inspection concerning smoke complaints” and no licence has been issued to the operator regarding licensable activities. In addition, I discovered that there is no traffic management scheme. The operator ultimately applied for a retrospective planning application in June but there was “missing information that would be required to be able to make it valid and add to the planning register.”

In short, this is a business operating without planning or licensing, while the council took no enforcement action whatsoever.

We have two important council concerns on the same road, just a short distance apart. There is a completely innocent woman facing a campaign of harassment by a person or persons who are manipulating the council to harass a resident, whilst the same council departments are unable to deal with an illegal operation.

Across the borough, Tower Hamlets Council spent, between January 2019 and August 2020, the sum of £2,660,000 on “liveable streets” projects. Of that sum, £978,000 was spent on preliminary design to “inform consultation workshops.” The result has been chaos in parts of the borough, with roads suddenly closed and concerns about access to emergency vehicles.

Yet on the Isle of Dogs, there is a road where residents lives are a misery due to anti-social behaviour which can be traced to parking bays, and avoided by residents because of drug dealers. Residents, supported by the police, have been asking the council to remove the parking bays and extend the pavement. Despite spending over £2.5 million on “liveable streets” the council response to these residents with genuine problems is – organise a petition…

Peter Golds: The Electoral Commission has failed to take action against fake newspapers – or fake political parties

24 Jul

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

In wide-ranging evidence to a recent House of Lords Select Committee Richard Mawrey QC referred to the creation of a political party by Lutfur Rahman and how the Electoral Commission registered this corrupt and by any reasonable standard, non-existent party.

The transcript of Mr Mawrey’s evidence says:

“As you know, he (Lutfur Rahman) created his own political party, Tower Hamlets First, which consisted very largely of his own associates. It was a wonderful political party that had no bank account and no headquarters. I do not know how the Electoral Commission passed it, but they were intimidated as well; they just nodded it through—a political party that does not have a bank account, but there we are. His coterie were undoubtedly, as I found, as corrupt as he was. They manipulated this thing as what used to be called a rotten borough.”

What I can confirm is that the Electoral Commission and the Metropolitan Police were notified in writing well before the corrupt 2014 elections that Tower Hamlets First was a sham. Both organisations were provided with written evidence as to this. Both organisations ignored this evidence.

Compare and contrast the way in which the Electoral Commission did nothing, until they were forced to do so, to remove a sham and corrupt political “party” whilst pursuing Darren Grimes through the courts for incorrectly ticking a box. The contrast between Darren Grimes a young, gay, working class man from Durham and Lutfur Rahman, a corrupt, London based solicitor, is hard to avoid.

Yet this indolence by the Commission in taking action to use their powers of regulation regarding fake political parties continues into the 2019 election.

Last December I was election agent in Stevenage. One afternoon we discovered leaflets viciously and personally attacking the Conservative candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden distributed in roads in Stevenage that form the boundary between the two constituencies.

Shortly afterwards, Guido Fawkes did a brilliant job identifying similar leaflets in four other constituencies. All were expensive, well printed and consisted of personal attacks on the local conservative candidate. In each case they were supposedly on behalf of the “Advance Together” party although this would be very difficult to identify, apart from the imprint, as the candidates name appeared just once in the tiniest of fonts.

This “party,” registered by the Electoral Commission, had been founded and led by Amanda Mullin, the 2017 Liberal Democrat candidate for Kensington and the nominating officer had previously worked on a number of campaigns connected to the Liberal Democrats. Amanda Mullin had proposed to lead a campaign in Kensington and Chelsea in the 2018 elections on behalf of this “party.” She was rewarded with an extensive interview in the Evening Standard. As a resident of Lambeth she could not actually stand for election to Kensington and Chelsea council and in the event her candidates obtained just over two per cent of the vote.

In the 2019 General Election, Amanda Mullin publicly said that the candidates standing for her party were “to be tactical and not to win.” The results and the return of election expenses for each of these five candidates is disturbing:

  • Chipping Barnet. Conservative candidate – Theresa Villiers. Votes for Advance – 71. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,353.
  • Hitchin and Harpenden. Conservative candidate – Bim Afolami. Votes for Advance – 101. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,710.
  • Esher and Walton. Conservative candidate – Dominic Raab. Votes for Advance – 52. Advance Expenses Returned – £8,618.
  • Mid Sussex. Conservative candidate – Mimms Davis. Votes for Advance – 47. Advance Expenses Returned – £7,443.
  • Wokingham. Conservative candidate – John Redwood. Votes for Advance – 80.  Advance Expenses Returned – £7,746.

That is an expenditure of £40,870 to secure a total of 351 votes. However, as their leader said, their intention was not to secure votes, it was to move voters from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats. Esher and Walton and Wokingham were Liberal Democrat targets. Chipping Barnet was a Conservative/Labour marginal. The campaign in Mid Sussex was an attack on the Conservative candidate for changing constituency, presumably hoping this would garner Liberal Democrat votes. Their choice of Hitchin and Harpenden has remained obscure.

The literature of this party in these constituencies did nothing to promote their candidate who was on the ballot paper. It was personal attack documentation against the Conservative candidate and there was a lot of this literature available for distribution.

There were just 52 Advance supporters in Esher and Walton and yet this “non party” produced and distributed tens of thousands of leaflets. How did they manage this? In Chipping Barnet, Liberal Democrat activists were identified by local Conservative campaigners as distributers of these leaflets. Esher and Walton was a close contest and the “Advance” campaign effectively doubled the expenditure available to the Liberal Democrat candidate.

The front of the Esher and Walton leaflet was a picture of Dominic Raab overprinted with the words ”not wanted here.” Guido Fawkes perfectly described the effect of this campaign; “It’s unlikely voters will remember the name Advance Together when they get to the ballot box. They will remember the attack on Raab.” Let me again record the quote of Amanda Mullin, “our object is to syphon tory votes to the Lib Dems.”

The leaflets in the four other constituencies had similar layout but were completely different lines of personal attacks and they were deeply personal attacks.

The result is a fake political party whose leading members had connections with another political party, using extreme negative campaign methods and considerable campaign expenditure, to the benefit of the party with which they were originally connected and not for that for which they were standing in an election.

One may ask what has the Electoral Commission done with regard to Advance? What is their view of a registered political party which does not campaign to secure votes but exists to campaign against named candidates using personal campaigns to, in the words of the leader “syphon tory votes to the Lib Dems.”

The answer is nothing.

Their silence on this matter is overwhelming and creates yet another example of what appears to be bias. That all of the five MPs targeted by Advance are Euro sceptic may just be a coincidence. In Hitchin and Harpenden, Bim Afolami had opposed a second referendum describing the possibility as “divisive.” The Advance leaflet in his constituency called for an MP who would not accept instructions from Nigel Farage.

The Electoral Commission does publish numerous, wordy reports on electoral matters. So far, fake political parties has been absent from their output.

Let us consider two other matters, which cause concern but in both cases it would be difficult to legislate for. They are however sufficiently serious that the commission could at least look at and comment on them.

Last December, concerns were raised about the growth of party political broadsheets disguised to look like local newspapers. This has been a Liberal Democrat staple for years. This was the first time that fake newspapers have been raised by reputable journalists across the country. The Yorkshire Post in an editorial said in reference to a fake newspaper in Leeds:

“Here we have someone peddling imitation newspapers around the country in the hope that those reading them will be fooled into thinking the messages are checked and endorsed by the same local journalists who fought for their libraries; demanded their A&Es were saved; exposed that corrupt business person or found out the politician who was up to no good.”

The Yorkshire Post was not alone. The Editorial Director of Newsquest, owner of titles across the south east of England, complained about Liberal Democrat newspapers called “The Gazette” which was being circulated in Basingstoke whose local Newspaper is the “Basingstoke Gazette.”

Significantly the Society of Editors has called for guidelines to prevent political parties hiding partisan messages by masquerading as independent newspapers.

This story was covered by The Guardian, no less, which would surely have alerted somebody within the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission is a body that has produced protocol after protocol. Guidelines regarding imitating actual newspapers to disguise political propaganda should not be too difficult. It would be very interesting to see how the Liberal Democrats, who are long term supporters of the Electoral Commission, would avoid supporting such a protocol.

Finally, there is that great favourite “the dodgy barchart,” long a staple of Liberal Democrat leaflets. Guido Fawkes regularly publishes copies of some of the more extreme examples of these. Last year at the start of the general election campaign a Lib Dem bar chart was circulated in North East Somerset suggesting that the party was just eight per cent behind Jacob Rees Mogg. At the 2017 election they came in third polling eight per cent of the vote. Guido published this information and both Jo Swinson and Layla Moran were asked to comment in interviews in early November. The result, apart from Jo Swinson’s embarrassing interview, was a slew of stories and even more revelations about bar charts. In Hampstead and Kilburn voters were informed that the Liberal Democrats had “won the previous election,” despite the Labour MP having a majority of 15,500 in that election. In a northern constituency voters were informed that the Liberal Democrats had won the constituency in the Euro Elections. This was achieved by deleting all reference to the Brexit Party who had topped the poll in the May Euro Election in the constituency.

Layla Moran informed listeners in her interview that she was a former maths teacher and checked her bar chart with a ruler. She could give no explanation as to why other parties were omitted from her ruler checked bar chart. What was not raised in the interview was that the bar chart appeared in a so-called “Observer” newspaper printed, produced and circulated by the Liberal Democrats, looking like a local newspaper but being no more than a propaganda sheet for Layla Moran.

Polling organisations have strict guidelines as to questions and methodology. Voters may look at a leaflet with a poll result and assume that it is a reprint of a genuine poll. Legislation on this could be problematic but whilst the Electoral Commission continues it could include “dodgy bar charts” and “fake newspapers” in its codes and protocols for the political parties and enable Layla Moran to put her ruler to good use.

Peter Golds: I’m delighted that outdated election law is being reviewed

10 Jul

Cllr Peter Golds is a councillor in Tower Hamlets. He has served as a London councillor for almost 21 years and is a Board Member of the Conservative Councillors Association.

In May, Chaudhary Mohammed Iqbal, a Labour councillor for the Loxford ward of the Borough of Redbridge was charged with “making false statements in candidate nomination papers” during the 2018 local election. The Metropolitan Police revealed that the charges “relate to false declarations by Councillor Iqbal regarding his address.” From what is so far publicly known, they are very similar to numerous circumstances of false statements that the Metropolitan Police repeatedly failed to investigate in Tower Hamlets.

Following the 2019 general election, the government announced it was seeking to make changes to election law. Select Committees in both Houses of Parliament have examined election law and the Law Commission has made 106 recommended changes to existing law in a report that runs to 204 pages.

In the meantime, the Electoral Commission, which receives almost £18 million per year of taxpayer funding stumbles from one crisis to another. Worryingly, this dangerously flawed body is seeking to have enhanced powers of prosecution. As I will outline later it should be put out of its misery.

Some of the problems faced by the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, and the taxpayer funded Electoral Commission, which acts as a regulator, may be identified in this observation in the report of the Law Commission:

“The legal framework underpinning our electoral processes is ‘complex, voluminous and fragmented’ comprising 55 separate Acts of Parliament and 227 other pieces of legislation relating to elections.”

When one considers that these numerous changes have, in the words of the Law Commission “retro-fitted onto rules from earlier centuries.” Simplifying, updating, modernising, and consolidating electoral law is long overdue.

The last major consolidation of election law was in 1983, almost four decades ago. This was at a time when “fax machines” were a novelty, mobile phones were unknown, and “twitter,” “facebook,” “whats app,” “tik tok”and “snapchat” were not even imagined in sci-fi books, films, or episodes of Doctor Who.

The Law Commission itself describes the need for election law to be framed in precise and yet compelling language. This must be language that can be understood by the regulator, the police, election candidates, election agents, activists, and political parties.

The UK piecemeal approach to reform resulting in far too much diffuse legislation must be avoided. Currently the law identifies corrupt practices, which are done knowingly and illegal practices which may be done accidentally. To a contemporary ear the definition of corrupt practices may seem arcane. They are:

“Bribery, undue influence, treating, personation, unauthorised expenditure and falsification of accounts.”

Trying to prove to the police, let alone a modern court of law, bribery and undue influence, and treating it is a difficult if not almost impossible task. That is before we reach practices which the majority of the contemporary population would regard as illegal – and yet it is almost impossible to get these before a court.

Let me take one example. In 2014 there was much controversy in Tower Hamlets when a car was stopped in a routine police check and over 200 photocopies of completed postal vote applications, which include the applicants signature and date of birth of applicants, were found in the vehicle. The police faced enormous criticism for not arresting the driver. However, under existing election law this is neither a corrupt nor illegal practice, notwithstanding that the electors signature and date of birth are the proof required for a valid postal vote to be registered when submitted. A police officer later told me that had they found 200 applications for credit cards, it would have been a very different story.

Equally, there is no legal requirement for imprints, which identify the producer of the material and the cost centre for the posted material, to be included in Twitter and Facebook.

In 2018, a candidate of Aspire, the latest name of the Tower Hamlets Rahman party, was filmed visiting addresses and pressurising residents to hand over postal votes. The police passed over a file to the CPS who declined to prosecute. Amongst the reasons given for not prosecuting was the long standing get out of “public interest” and the absence of legislation preventing a candidate or agent of a candidate from collecting postal votes. In effect, a defence barrister could have argued that what was taking place was not illegal.

Where do we need change?

Despite the series of successful election petitions identifying corruption in recent years, the police, Electoral Commission, CPS, and election officials, are constantly playing catch up, particularly with regard to social media and digital campaigning and in some cases interpreting an election process that is dated and often (wilfully?) misunderstood.

Changes made by the Electoral Commission to the once simple process, such as the nomination of candidates and the return of election expenses are increasingly complex, involving not easily understood forms and procedures designed by the Electoral Commission. This does not assist transparency or assist voluntary election agents. The Law Commission note this deficiency in their recommendations regarding nomination papers.

The public perception of electoral fraud has increased in recent years. Voting which was once “ a private act in public”  is now, as a result of postal votes on demand, often seen to be “a public act in private.” Unfortunately, politicians appear to be unwilling to rectify this.  As it stands, the law can do little or nothing even when faced with evidence of dubious practice regarding postal votes. The Law needs to be strengthened to reduce levels of corruption.

There is overwhelming support for voters to produce a form of ID when voting. This was introduced in Northern Ireland by the Blair government earlier this century and was one of many changes which added to community cohesion. When joining the Labour Party, ID is required for proof of address and two items of ID are required to attend a Labour Party selection meeting. Why Labour has recently become opposed to voter ID in elections is a matter of curiosity?

In the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, there was a flurry of interest resulting from claims on social media of people boasting how they voted more than once and providing information on this. Unsurprisingly, there was little or no police action with regard to this easily proven voter fraud. Why?

In the modern age, with extensive postal voting on demand, there is no reason why any person should have dual registration for Parliamentary elections.  If an elector is fortunate to have two or more homes then they are entitled to a local government vote for each different local authority. In such a case the voter should indicate where they vote for parliamentary elections. This is not a dramatic change. Many people are surprised that it is possible for some people to choose in which constituency they vote.

The Law Commission has excellent proposals for streamlining the challenging of an election. They do not make proposals as to the prohibitive expense and the financial consequences of challenging an election in the Courts, even when successful. The Tower Hamlets petition was a landmark decision. However, despite winning the case, the petitioners lost huge sums of money. In the circumstances where a petition is not vexatious, and the petitioners are successful, then there should be a treasury fund to underwrite costs, or the petition should be taken over by the CPS.

An increasing problem in inner cities is crowding polling stations by supporters of candidates and parties. This was an issue in the 2014 Tower Hamlets petition and the problem has not gone away. In 2018 the report by Democracy Volunteers in Tower Hamlets noted the numbers of people crowding some polling stations. Below is a paragraph from the report:

“The most problematic polling station was in Poplar, just off Poplar High Street, which we visited during the afternoon. There, a group of around fifteen men, not wearing any party identification, had gathered on the pavement opposite the school entrance. When asked whether they were there for any party, they said they were, but were clearly unhappy to have been asked the question. They made us feel uncomfortable.”

By the time an elector reaches a polling station they must know for whom they are voting. There can be no need to canvass them at the entrance, force literature into their hands, and even as I have seen here and unfortunately elsewhere in London, escort them inside. Legislation should include the uninterrupted passage of voters to polling stations. Nowadays, fewer political parties have tellers collecting numbers and increasingly fewer voters are willing to give numbers where telling still takes place.

Democracy volunteers also express concern regarding “family voting.” This same survey indicated that in 58 per cent of polling stations  they visited they witnessed as many as 19 per cent of voters communally voting. In most cases this involves a male voting for or supervising a female. Women have had the parliamentary vote since 1919 in the UK. The right of women to vote in private must be secured and legislation must reflect this.

Entry to polling stations should be restricted to voters, officials, those permitted by The Returning Officer to attend the polling station (candidates, election agents and polling agents) and anybody escorting a disabled voter. This should not include journalists seeking stories and there should be restrictions as to filming inside polling stations.

It should be illegal to photograph and publish completed ballot papers. The reason for the latter point is a dishonest voter can prove to a candidate or political group how they have voted.

The growth of “social media” has introduced unregulated, brutal, and threatening behaviour into the political process. The threats suffered by women, minority candidates, and political opponents, have scarred elections in recent years. References to rape and physical violence against women are disgusting, yet are the tip of an iceberg floating in a political sewer.

The situation under Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets where his opponents were routinely described as “racist”, “alcoholic”, “unislamic” and “zionist” in social media and spread by his canvassers was an ongoing problem.

Making false statements as to a candidate is covered under S106a of the 1983 Act. This needs to be reviewed and re-introduced with reference to social media and enforced by the law. The Metropolitan Police excuse of “having words” with those who undertake such action is not acceptable. On one occasion I was told by the police that a Rahman activist who had tweeted “Let us salute Hitler the Great,” and a lot worse, was making “political comment.”

Intimidation must be included as an election offence to ensure when reported that it is considered by the police as a criminal activity relating to an election. It must be included amongst those offences which can, as a last resort, be included in an election petition.

Commissioner Mawrey QC ruled that Spiritual Influence was a factor in the 2014 Tower Hamlets election. The evidence was an event at which a gathering of Imans and Scholars stated that it was the “Islamic duty of Muslim voters” to support Rahman. This was published widely in newspapers circulating in Mosques.

Rahman sought to contest this decision of the Court by Judicial Review but he did not proceeded.

This is a problem in which the law needs to be bought up to date and reflect contemporary circumstances to ensure that this does not occur in the future.

Candidates must have recourse to deal with threats and intimidation via social media and the legislative framework should recognise this and cover promotional and negative posts. There is a difference between saying a political party is incorrect or follows the wrong policies and sending deeply personal and threatening abuse to an individual candidate.

Finally, there is the use of false names to abuse opponents via facebook and twitter. In Tower Hamlets during the Rahman era there were numerous postings on social media being directed at local people from a long-term local resident and member of the Labour Party. By mistake the author was identified as a 20-year-old undergraduate, paid by the council to do work for Rahman, using a computer address from his University.

As I completed this article, I read Jon Moynihan’s masterful critique of the Electoral Commission. He is absolutely correct in identifying how the Electoral Commission makes law when none exists.

In 2019, whilst researching a potentially fraudulent voter, I was refused permission, for the first time, by the electoral registration officer to examine archive electoral registers. This change took place without consultation or an alteration to the law. Adrian Green of the Electoral Commission wrote to all local authorities saying that the law has remained “silent on what to do with electoral registers” and this has been unchallenged since 2001. He goes on to say:

“Unfortunately, the law is silent as to what is done with registers that are 2-10 years old. Because the law is silent on this, the Commission have interpreted that libraries and archive services may provide access to registers between 2 and 10 years old, but there is no duty for them to do so.”

So Adrian Green, whoever he might be, decides to change the law without recourse to parliament or even a consultation exercise. Needless to say he was supported by Robert Posner.

For two and half years the country was convulsed over the possibility of a second referendum on membership of the EU. Had such a referendum been called, the Electoral Commission would have played a major part in approving the question, the timetable and deciding who would be the representative body of each campaign. The decisions on this would have been made by a body chaired by Sir John Holmes, who was a fervent and public supporter of one side of the argument and involved a compliance officer who tweeted support for a political party and managed by the hopelessly compromised Robert Posner.

The lawyers would have made a fortune before the campaign even started.

A few years ago I was approached by colleague outside of London with concerns that there was a Birmingham/Tower Hamlets situation in his area. I arranged a meeting with the Electoral Commission. A well presented dossier was handed over but nothing happened.

In the notorious Tower Hamlets election of 2014, the Electoral Commission were repeatedly warned in writing about fraud, intimidation, false addresses, false returns of expenses and the certainty of a chaotic count due to the unsuitable venues and unique counting process. They ignored every single warning, concentrating on a “protocol” which was ignored by everybody concerned including ultimately, the Electoral Commission itself. After the election they never met the petitioners or made any attempt to attend the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee for our comments.

The Electoral Commission serves no useful purpose and must go.

I have proposed a reduced, renamed body which should exist only to record and publicise political donations to political parties. Jon Moynihan suggests Companies House. That is certainly a possibility.

The process of management of elections should be in the hands of Returning Officers and supervised by governmental departments which can be bought before select committees.

In line with recommendations by the Law Commission, election forms should be made easier and these should be produced by a government department, in line with legislation, as happened prior to the Electoral Commission.

Finally there should be a dedicated unit of trained officers at the National Crime Agency to investigate electoral fraud. One of the problems that has affected police investigations from Birmingham to Tower Hamlets is the lack of understanding by police officers as to how elections are conducted. One officer once wanted to interview me on an election day and could not understand why I would be busy. When I did meet him (three months later) he was more interested as to whether I was legally entitled to a copy of the electoral register than looking into the dubious entries that I had identified.

I am wrestling with three other problems where legislation will be difficult, which will be the basis of my next contribution.