Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council
Nearly four weeks have passed since the Mayoral by election in Tower Hamlets which saw John Biggs elected as a Labour Mayor, defeating the personal nominee of the disgraced Lutfur Rahman.
The Conservative campaign, despite commencing just five days after the general election, was vibrant, enjoyable and positive. Our local teams were joined by supporters from across London and indeed the country. Chris Wilford and Matt Smith, who had contested the two parliamentary constituencies in the borough, were constant in the campaign and our constituency officers did everything they could to welcome our mutual aid.
Neil King, of Poplar and Limehouse, was a tower of strength as were the amazing Dinah and Tony Glover whose wedding anniversary was spent at the count. Due to family commitments our usual agent was unable to act and Cllr Craig Aston stepped in at short notice, displaying exceptional organisational skills.
We received invaluable support and help in printing from the nearby constituencies of the Cities of London and Westminster and Romford. Claire Hambro, chairman of the Cities and Osman Dervish, chairman of Romford deserve enormous thanks for their help and support, as do the staff in both constituencies.
An example of long distance campaigning was my long standing friend Morris Hickey from Redbridge, a Young Conservative in 1955, who was unable to campaign in person, but made up for this in the amount of work he undertook for us on social media.
We went to the electorate with a positive message of change in this borough and we took our campaign to every ward. The climax of the campaign was “super Saturday” where we were joined by some 200 helpers and delivered over 40,000 leaflets across the borough.
There were, however, two parallel elections: that of the Rahman Party, almost exclusively confined to Bangladeshi residents, and the other, more visible, election involving the other candidates who campaigned across the borough and communities. Rahman himself addressed regular, tightly controlled rallies for his candidate, Cllr Rabina Khan, and featured extensively on her election literature. What was said at these rallies is open to conjecture. We do know that Rabina Khan pledged to provide 20,000 jobs for women in the borough and an additional 16,000 apprenticeships also targeted at women.
This was presumably a policy given to them by Syrizia after they made their fact-finding visit to Greece.
There were a number of hustings. In 2014, Rahman only appeared at that organised by London Citizens, where the format was to show candidates policy statements and simply invite the candidates to agree or disagree. Rabina Khan only appeared at this event, providing the organisers of other hustings with ever more intriguing reasons for her non-attendance.
She did appear with candidates on a BBC London programme, where her inability to answer questions was shown up, and a two hour programme hosted by a sympathetic Bangladeshi TV station.
The campaign was less legally suspect than many in recent years. Yet, with regard to postal votes something in excess of 7 per cent were rejected on opening because either signatures or dates of birth on the return forms did not match those on the actual application – a disturbingly high figure. On election day areas were marked outside polling stations which were forbidden to campaigners, thereby enabling unhindered progress to voters.
Immediately outside of this marked area, throughout the day at each polling station a Rabina Khan supporter was posted with a badge which read “lead volunteer” – what that meant was anyone’s guess.
On election day Rob Halfon ensured that we had support for our dawn raid, including Members of Parliament; and all day we welcomed campaigners to knock up and use telephones.
The count was held, with maximum security, at the Excel Centre in Newham. Once again it passed without a problem.
A foretaste of the final result was the Labour victory in Stepney Green ward, following the disqualification of former councillor Alibor Choudhury, which was announced just before 1.30am.
Despite everything, Rabina Khan secured over 25,000 votes, showing that it will be some time before this party disappears. She conceded defeat in the graceless and unpleasant fashion that we come to associate with Lutfur Rahman and his cohorts.
Our hard work has seen an increased interest in the party locally and we have recruited some excellent new campaigners and members.
The election was in many ways a stark choice, and I still meet voters who tell me that they had voted for me…and the Labour candidate, placing him first.
We are still thanking supporters and I apologise for any delays, but we thank everybody who gave us help in any way possible.
What of the future?
The first post-election council meeting showed signs of change, not least when John Biggs confirmed that he would be a speaking Mayor. However, we need to be alert to the situation that allowed Lutfur Rahman, with the support of highly paid officers, to claim that there were human rights issues over the simple request that he answer questions. When the legislation regarding the powers of an executive mayor was passing through Parliament nobody would have assumed that anybody would make such a stand, let alone that a qualified solicitor, acting for the council, would back this up in public.
Similarly the cloak of secrecy that enveloped the town hall could not have been anticipated and excluded in the legislation.
Indeed, as nobody could or would have predicted such a preposterous figure as Lutfur Rahman gaining power, how does one legislate without an Act that would go to ridiculous lengths?
The week after the poll, incredulous councillors and a journalist were shown the extraordinary office that Rahman had spent a fortune in building. Hidden behind smoked glass windows and curtains it is larger, by some way, than that used by the current and former Mayor of London or indeed the average Cabinet Minister.
The problem is that he could simply order this by an executive decision, and it would be done.
How do we proceed? Sadly, the police seem to have sunk again into the torpor for which they are locally famed; seemingly putting both the PwC report and the election petition behind them. One resident, described in court as an exemplary witness, has written to the Met Commissioner regarding intimidation at polling stations last year, about which he has still heard nothing.
Those of us who have detailed evidence regarding the corrupt practices of Tower Hamlets First activists that were named and shamed in Court by Commissioner Mawrey have also heard nothing. The investigation into the infamous THF activist who posted that Hitler was his hero on both Facebook and Twitter also shows little sign of an actual investigation.
Lutfur Rahman himself initially attempted to contest the costs order made against him. He then realised that this would be expensive and is now spinning an extraordinary web over his assets. On Friday 26th June a freezing injunction regarding his assets was obtained without notice. There is to be a return date on Tuesday July 7th, in public, which should be interesting to students of Tower Hamlets First. This will reveal his finances in open court.
His councillors, who are now Independents, have already started to split and so we have an Independent Independent separate from the Independents: namely Cllr Abjol Miah, who led Respect between 2006-2010 and was chosen by George Galloway to contest Bethnal Green and Bow in 2010.
This group is notorious for telling all and sundry what is going on, which is why many of them were kept away from the Rahman decision-making when in control. They are saying Rahman may contest one of his convictions, that of Spiritual Influence, in the hope that it would reduce his disqualification from public office to below five years to enable him to contest the 2020 General Election in Bethnal Green and Bow. This is necessary as the disqualification expires on April 23rd 2020 – after nominations have closed for the general election. A fixed term parliament has its advantages.
A number of the Independents are also desperate to join or re-join the Labour Party. Potentially this would be the gift that keeps on giving, should Labour be so incompetent as to allow any of them a membership card.