Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, and his council are in their usual state of frantic denial about allegations of electoral fraud in their area.
Four separate news organisations – the Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the BBC and City AM – have found evidence of postal vote harvesting, ghost voters, personation, or all of the above, in Tower Hamlets.
Lutfur’s response has been a complaint letter to the editor about our “irresponsible reporting,” strikingly weak even by his own standards (he’s published it on his blog, so I feel at liberty to give him the gist of our response here.)
“Council officials, having reviewed the claims made by your reporter, have found that the two individuals, who it was alleged were not entitled to vote, were in fact entitled to do so,” writes Lutfur. “The police have confirmed that there is no substance to the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan.”
Sadly, this ringing assertion arrived in our inbox on the very day that the police announced that they were launching an investigationinto these, and other, allegations. And our claim was not, in fact, that the people we named were “not entitled to vote” – but that they had their postal votes harvested by supporters of Mr Rahman, or that others had impersonated them to cast their votes.
Lutfur’s chief executive, Aman Dalvi, has also responded to the six Labour councillors who separately complained to the council about electoral fraud. His letter mentions Abdul Manik, who as I mentioned last week cast a vote in the Spitalfields byelection on April 19 despite being (a) in Bangladesh and (b) dead.
“Our records show that the individual received their postal ballot well before departing the country and therefore could have voted,” Dalvi writes. “We have verified this with the family.” Odd – I verified my reporting with the family, too, and distinctly remember Mr Manik’s daughter, Jona, telling me that her father had been in Bangladesh for months before he died. And what “records” can a local council hold about the movements of people in and out of the country?
Dalvi also says that “we are aware of only one allegation of postal votes being collected from a voter.” I alone have made three such allegations; other reporters have made more.
A brief reminder of the numbers at that Spitalfields byelection: despite heavy rain on polling day, turnout was almost double that of the previous byelection in the ward (31 per cent to 17 per cent); 36 per cent of votes were cast by post, though only 14 per cent of TH electors have postal votes; the number of people registered for postal votes in one suspect block, Brune House, more than doubled in two weeks; turnout of postal voters in that block was a remarkable 77 per cent. Oh, and Lutfur’s candidate, Gulam Robbani, won by just 43 votes.
In his letter, Dalvi states that Tower Hamlets’ rejection rate for postal ballot papers (where they are not counted because of suspicions about their authenticity) is 10 per cent, extremely high by any standards. In the Spitalfields byelection, it was 14.1 per cent, more than 40 per cent higher. Tower Hamlets might say that that proves how stringent they are – but it is actually further support for our concerns about the integrity of the process. And all I can say is that the people whose abuses I reported did have their votes counted, raising further doubts about how effective the checks really are.