As I’ve reported here and in the paper, there are strong, credible and repeated allegations that Lutfur Rahman, the extremist-backed mayor of Tower Hamlets, received substantial support in both cash and kind from a group of powerful local businessmen during his internal party campaign to be Labour’s candidate – support that he has not declared to the Electoral Commission. These allegations are one of the main reasons why Labour sacked him as its candidate. If true, they are a criminal offence.
Lutfur denies receiving so much as a penny from anyone during this part of his campaign, or indeed the election itself, saying he funded everything from his own pocket. He must have pretty deep pockets, is all I can say. He took High Court action (successfully) to force the Labour Party to shortlist him in the selection process. He then took Labour to the High Court again when it sacked him as candidate – unsuccessfully, that time. The legal bills for the first challenge alone were £42,000. Though most of that had to be paid by Labour, in the end, because it lost, Lutfur had to put a substantial sum up front to launch the action. The legal bills for the second challenge are likely to have been about the same – and this time, because he lost, Lutfur will have had to find most of that money.
Lutfur’s most important business backer, the millionaire restaurateur Shiraj Haque, has told two senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party that it was in fact he who paid Lutfur’s legal bills. Both the people he told have spoken to me. There are also strong allegations that Mr Haque paid for Lutfur’s candidate nomination campaign. Lutfur’s nomination leaflets were identical in logo and font to leaflets printed during the campaign for a directly-elected mayor, which Mr Haque funded in its entirety (he told me that the resemblance between the two sets of leaflets was purely a coincidence.)
The law says that anyone seeking nomination as their party’s candidate for elective office, such as Lutfur, is a “regulated donee” who must declare to the Electoral Commission all gifts in cash or kind that exceed £1,500 (or multiple gifts from a single source that total more than £1,500). Donations must be declared within 30 days of accepting them and failure to declare is a criminal offence. The police are currently investigating whether Lutfur has broken this law.
But the other body supposedly responsible for enforcing the law, the Electoral Commission itself, is engaged in what can only be described as a transparent attempt to evade its responsibilities. On September 21 the opposition leader in Tower Hamlets, Cllr Peter Golds, wrote to the Commission asking it to investigate the matter of Lutfur’s alleged donations during his nomination campaign.
Eight weeks passed. Then, last week, Mr Golds got a letter back from a Commission functionary telling him to wait until after Lutfur’s return of expenses for the mayoral election was published, and saying: “I am sure you appreciate that it would be inappropriate for us to give a speculative view in response to enquiries such as yours about hypothetical scenarios.”
But as a “very, very annoyed” Mr Golds points out in a letter back to the Commission, his complaint was not about Lutfur’s mayoral election campaign – which is still, just about, within the 30-day declaration window. His complaint was made before that campaign even started, and was about Lutfur’s campaign for the Labour nomination – which began in June and ended in September. Lutfur’s offences during that phase may be alleged, but they are very much not “hypothetical.”
“The Electoral Commission are clearly misunderstanding, or choosing to misunderstand, my complaint,” says Mr Golds. “They have responded on a completely different subject to the one I complained about.”
The Commission has also, by the looks of it, been trying to sabotage the parallel police enquiry. Mr Golds says that when he was interviewed by the police, “I noticed that the officer had a copy of my letter on which he had made a handwritten note following a conversation with the Electoral Commission which implied there was nothing in my allegations.” How can the Commission know there is nothing in them if they have declined even to investigate the allegations Mr Golds actually made?
One of Islamism’s most important allies as it makes inroads to the public institutions of this country is the weakness and pusillanimity of Britain’s state regulators. As I reported in the paper the other week, both Ofsted, the schools inspectorate and the Charity Commission, have been busy whitewashing various hardline Muslim schools. The tactics used by the Charity Commission, in particular – deliberately evading the actual issue, and deliberately answering the wrong questions – bear a striking resemblance to the Electoral Commission’s modus operandi here.
Mr Golds has now written to the Electoral Commission’s chief executive, Peter Wardle, asking that his staff kindly investigate the actual, and far from “hypothetical,” allegations he first put to them two months ago. I too will be on the Commission’s case until it stops finding excuses for not doing its job.