Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman has been thrown out of office after being found guilty of corruption and illegal practices during election.
The results of his re-election as mayor of the east London borough in 2014 was declared ‘void’ by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey, who sat as a judge in the special High Court hearing.
The Bangladesh-born politician was banned from contesting any more elections and ordered to vacate his post immediately.
The court also slapped a £250,000 fine on Rahman and convicted Alibor Choudhury, his Cabinet Member for Resources, of illegal practices.
Rahman’s party ‘Tower Hamlets First’ told the BBC they were seeking legal advice for a judicial review against the ‘shocking’ judgment.
The election commissioner, however, said Tower Hamlets First was “never really a party but the alter ego of Lutfur Rahman”.
An independent social democrat, Rahman was elected in last year’s May by a margin of 3,000 votes.
He was dragged to court by four voters who accused him of running a systematic campaign of intimidation.
Rahman was also accused of bribing religious groups, tempering with ballot papers, fraud in postal voting and also at polling stations.
The group of voters led by Andy Erlam filed a 70-page dossier in August last year.
Rahman massively breached election rules and ‘didn’t care’, said Election Commissioner Mawrey.
He played the “race” and “religious” cards to gain ground against Labour Party rival John Biggs, said Election Commissioner Mawrey to outline his conclusion.
The first Muslim elected mayor in Britain ran a “ruthless and dishonest campaign to convince electorate his rival Biggs was a racist.”
Tower Hamlets has the largest concentration of Bangladeshis in the UK, a total of 32 percent.
‘Considerable disquiet’ was caused by Rahman’s supporters on polling day, said the judge, and that corrupt practices had “extensively prevailed”.
As a witness, Rahman had been ‘evasive’ and ‘untruthful on occasion,’ said Mawrey.
*‘Proud to be controversial’*
The now-disgraced mayor of Tower Hamlets had verbally attacked UK Local Government Minister Eric Pickles, saying he was proud of being wrapped in controversies.
In November, Pickles, the communities secretary, ordered a government-commissioned investigation that found evidence of financial irregularities in the Tower Hamlets council.
Three administrators were appointed to keep the local government department informed.
It also found a “lack of transparency” in the process of awarding grants.
But Rahman rejected all evidence of fraud.
BIGGS WELCOMES ELECTION COURT EXONERATION OVER RACIST SMEARS
John Biggs, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets in the 2014 election, today said:
“This ruling is a victory for honest politics. By setting out to break the rules and going to extraordinary lengths to win last May’s Mayoral election, Lutfur Rahman and his allies, robbed the people of Tower Hamlets of the free and fair election they deserved and betrayed everyone in our community who trusted and voted for him.
“People from across our community have been badly let down by the Mayor. After five years of abuse of public funds and public trust, it’s time that residents have a council that is again on their side, that faith in free and fair elections is restored and divisions in our community are healed.
“I have spent thirty years standing up for the people of the East End of London and throughout my career I have challenged racism and intolerance wherever I have encountered it and that will not change.
“I am therefore relieved that serious but false allegations made against me have been dismissed by the Election Commissioner and I have been completely exonerated.
“These allegations were deliberately made, in order to polarise opinion and influence the result of last May’s Mayoral election in Tower Hamlets.
“The Mayoral election will now be rerun. It will be an opportunity for all the people of our borough to vote to reject once and for all, the kind of corrupt politics, that the petitioners, this Election Court, and the Commissioner’s judgement has exposed.
“For too long our borough has been dragged down by the unseemly conduct of Lutfur Rahman’s administration. Enough is enough, it’s time to get democracy and accountability back in Tower Hamlets.”
Cllr Rachael Saunders Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group said:
“A judge has decided that the people of Tower Hamlets were denied a free and fair election in May 2014 and has ordered a new election.
“For as long as Lutfur Rahman has held power Tower Hamlets has been held back by division and patronage. The east end is home to people from the four corners of the globe, and we are proud of our vibrant campaigning traditions.
“That heritage has been damaged by Lutfur Rahman and this is a source of huge shame.
“Tower Hamlets Labour Group will do all we can to make this election an opportunity for the people of Tower Hamlets to move forward into a shared
Statement on election petition verdict
23 April,2015 : A council spokesperson said: “Today, the election commissioner, Judge Richard Mawrey, found in favour of the arguments presented by the petitioners in this case.
“Mr Mawrey also presented a judgement which cleared the council’s returning officer, John Williams, and council staff of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 elections.
“We welcome recognition that the council’s strong electoral processes – which have been subject to further intense scrutiny during this petition hearing – are sound and Tower Hamlets Council will now take the steps necessary to hold an election for executive mayor of Tower Hamlets.”
Statement on the outcome of the election court Glyn Robbins
24 April 2015 : The following are my own opinions, posted on my personal blog. I am not writing on behalf of Left Unity or TUSC, the two organisations I’m representing in the general election.
Today’s outcome was a judicial political assassination. I sat and listened to the judgment with a growing sense of the British State stamping down on uppity natives. Someone said to me as we left the court ‘nice day for a show trial’. That’s probably an overstatement for a case that took six weeks to hear and arrived at a 200-page judgment, but this was a verdict of the establishment, by the establishment, for the establishment. The one point made by the judge that I do agree with is that the real losers are the people of Tower Hamlets.
This is clearly a personal disaster for Lutfur Rahman and others, but we must make sure it doesn’t become a political disaster for Tower Hamlets. Under-pinning the judgment is a caricature of our community that I reject. The impression created is of Bangladeshi people (and by implication Muslims) as political zombies. The judgment was full of references to ‘insular’, ‘isolated’ and ‘traditional’ communities easily manipulated, like children, by unscrupulous authority figures. This is precisely the narrative of Islamophobia exploited by the establishment and media to explain everything from child sexual abuse to Isis.
Another proposition implicit in the judgment is that Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets will only vote for other Bangladeshis and that this, in itself, disadvantages the Labour Party. This is clearly nonsense. The local Bangladeshi community has been firmly established for over 40 years, during which time there have been several MPs, most of them Labour, two of them Jewish and only one Bangladeshi-Muslim. The town hall has mostly been controlled by Labour and before them, the Liberals. But this is just one of several examples of gross double-standards and hypocrisy on display at the Courts of Justice today.
The judge says Lutfur Rahman used grants, patronage and communal links to win votes. I don’t know how true this is, but would this be the first politician to ever have done so? Of course not. Such practices have been used by politicians in all places, of all parties, religions and ethnicities. This was as true for the many years that the Labour and Liberal Parties ran our borough as it has been since their grip was broken. But in the end, this is the real message today’s judgment sends: the political establishment demands the restoration of compliant politics in Tower Hamlets.
The judge made great play of what he interpreted as the false allegation that John Biggs is a racist, but such attacks are hardly exceptional. There are many people, including me, saying that Nigel Farage – someone who blames foreigners for traffic jams – is a racist and people shouldn’t vote for him. Am I now breaking the law?
Tower Hamlets First stand convicted of using ‘undue practices’ to win votes, at a time when establishment politicians and their big business supporters are in a frenzy whipping up ‘project fear’ against the Scottish National Party. Is this undue influence?
Or is it only illegal if you challenge the establishment, especially if you’re Asian and Muslim?
I’m not prepared to be an apologist for Lutfur Rahman, but I’m not prepared to join a lynch mob either. The portrayal of him in court is not one I recognise from my limited personal experience of him. The suggestion that he is, in effect, only interested in serving one section of our community is false. He has used his administration to reinstate EMAs, maintain Council Tax Benefits and celebrate St Patrick’s Day and LGBT culture. In stark contrast to the Labour council leader who preceded him, Lutfur Rahman took a courageous and principled position to oppose the EDL. If he and his associates have done things they shouldn’t, they should be held accountable, but so should all the other politicians who are guilty of similar things i.e. nearly all of them!
Finally, while all this is going on, there is a concerted attempt to destroy our Welfare State and drive through cuts that will severely affect people living and working in Tower Hamlets. Lutfur Rahman has not done enough to oppose this Tory onslaught. The Labour Party is actively conniving in it. We need a united, determined campaign to defend our community against cuts and direct rule by Westminster in the form of Eric Pickles’ Government commissioners and to demand a better future for Tower Hamlets.
Election petition result – council update
Following the election judgment on April 23, which found against Mr Lutfur Rahman and Mr Alibor Choudhury, Tower Hamlets Council has now published notices for the elections of an executive mayor and councillor for the Stepney Green ward.
A council spokesperson said: “These combined elections will be held on June 11 2015. They will be delivered by John Williams, the council’s acting returning officer, who was cleared of all allegations related to fraudulent practice in the delivery and administration of the 2014 Mayoral elections.”
In his judgment, Mr Mawrey said: “Mr Williams did a completely professional job in very difficult and trying circumstances. He is a man of considerable experience in elections – indeed may be considered an expert in the subject.”
The decisions made by the former mayor of Tower Hamlets during his term of office will all stand. This includes decisions relating to the Mayor’s education awards and key areas of work including housing, education, the environment and health and wellbeing.
The provision of grants to third sector groups also continues, under the management of Government appointed Commissioners.
All services delivered by the council to local residents, schools and businesses will also continue as usual.
Councillor Oliur Rahman, Deputy Mayor and cabinet member for Economic Development (Jobs, Skills and Enterprise), is now acting as executive mayor. He will continue in this role until a mayor is elected on June 11.
The position of councillor for the Stepney Green ward will remain vacant, until it is filled at the June 2015 election.
The council continues to plan for delivery of the General Election in the borough, which is entirely separate to the elections outlined above, and will be taking place on May 7 across the country.
Tower Hamlets Mayoral and Stepney Green election time-table announced
Tower Hamlets Council has announced the timetable to elect a new executive mayor and councillor for the Stepney Green ward.
The combined elections will take place on June 11, 2015 , hours of poll are from 7am – 10pm.
The council’s elections team will make nomination packs available to those interested in running for election from Monday, April 27.
Nomination papers must be delivered to the Returning Officer by 4pm on Thursday, May 14 2015. The office is open fromMonday to Friday 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays).
To vote in the elections, residents must register now. Visit the online registration service: www.gov.uk/tregistertovote, Registrations deadline is Tuesday, May 26.
Applications, amendments or cancellations of postal votes must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the town hall by5pm on Wednesday, May 27.
Applications to vote by proxy at this election (you appoint someone to vote on your behalf) must reach the Electoral Registration Officer at the Town Hall, Mulberry Place, by 5pm on Wednesday, June 3.