Both the BBC and the Standard are today running hard with the story I broke on Sunday about fake votes and postal vote harvesting in last week’s Spitalfields byelection, narrowly won by Gulam Robbani, the candidate of the extremist-linked and Ken Livingstone-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.
The allegations have now been referred by the Electoral Commission to the police. The Electoral Commission was in its usual hopeless form on the World at One this afternoon, claiming there was no evidence of widespread fraud in Tower Hamlets. Here is some more evidence they might like to consider.
At a flat in Hobsons Place, Hanbury Street, a man named Abdul Manik is shown on the council’s official records as having cast a postal vote in the byelection. I called at the flat on Tuesday. Mr Manik’s daughter, Jona, told me that he was dead. He’d died in Bangladesh, where he’d lived for several years, the previous week.
As I reported on Sunday, one of the centres of potential malpractice appears to be a council block called Brune House, in Bell Lane. The son of a resident in Brune House told me: “My mother normally votes down at the polling station but Gulam Robbani supporters came and got my mother to sign up for a postal vote. After the ballot paper arrived, this girl came into my mum’s house and asked her to hand it over. I was there at the time and saw it. Another guy came into the house too and they walked out with my mum’s blank ballot paper. My mum doesn’t speak English, she has no idea she’s not supposed to give her vote.”
Despite much trying, I’ve never been able to get any response from Gulam Robbani to these allegations.
But the fact remains that some extremely interesting movements in the electoral register have been taking place in Brune House. In the two weeks between March 16 and April 4 (the deadline for registering for the byelection) the number of postal voters in the block more than doubled, from 34 to 71.
And looking at the record of those who voted, it turns out that 55 of those 71 postal votes were actually cast in the byelection – a turnout of 77 per cent.
These movements may have been going on on a wider scale in Spitalfields. Only 14 per cent of people in Tower Hamlets have postal votes – but 36 per cent of the votes cast in last week’s byelection were postal. And that’s after 135 postal ballot papers were rejected by the counters, mainly because of doubts over their authenticity.
Turnout in council byelections is usually very low. In December 2010, for instance, there was a byelection in the Spitalfields with a turnout of 17 per cent.
Last week’s turnout was an altogether more impressive 31 per cent, thanks in part, as I revealed, to the miraculous participation of incarcerated prisoners and dead people.
Doubtless the council, and the police, and the Electoral Commission will carry on trying to pretend, as always, that there’s not a problem here. But there clearly is – postal voting on demand is an open door to fraud, and should quite simply be ended. Nobody in Tower Hamlets is more than ten minutes’ walk from a polling station. We should go back to the situation we had before, when you had to have a reason for needing a postal vote.
The people accused of the malpractice last week are big Ken supporters – and the postal ballot papers have now gone out for next week’s mayoral contest. I still think, despite the evidence of today’s ComRes poll, that it will be close. If it is very close, Boris v Ken could be decided by postal votes in Tower Hamlets. That’s a prospect to frighten anybody who believes in free and fair elections.