Elections in Tower Hamlets

Meeting:

Mayor's Question Time

Date:

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Reference:

Question 2015/1488 (Oral)

Main question

Tony Arbour

With a judge declaring that Lutfur Rahman had "driven a coach and horses through local authority law" and finding him guilty of overseeing corrupt and illegal practices - why did the Metropolitan Police Service ignore repeated complaints about the situation in Tower Hamlets? Also, what steps are you taking to assist the local authority in ensuring the upcoming by-election is entirely free and fair?


Answer

The Mayor

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Tony.  As you can imagine, as soon as the news of the allegations of electoral fraud and malpractice were raised in Tower Hamlets, I did take it up actually with the police and the basic message I got then, a while back, was that there were a great many accusations and a great many allegations against various parties in Tower Hamlets but no single smoking gun and no single thing on which they could launch a prosecution.  As you know, there has now been an election court, the judgment of Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC, about Tower Hamlets.  As you know, he has overturned the election and he has made some very strong and very interesting findings, and I am very glad that the matter has been addressed.  I obviously have interrogated the police about their handling of it and whether they are satisfied that they did everything that they could and that they ruled out the possibility of prosecution, and I will be having further such conversations. 

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  The thing, Mr Mayor, that particularly concerns us about this is that there have been complaints going on in relation to electoral practices in Tower Hamlets for many years.  It does not simply relate to the past elections but elections beforehand.  Indeed, even Mr Galloway [former Respect MP for Bradford West], whom I suspect knows all about elections, complained about what has happened there. 

The principal feature of this is that the MPS has accepted that there were more than 160 complaints relating to electoral malpractice in Tower Hamlets and it chose not to investigate any of them.  Given that many of these complaints came from entirely reputable people, indeed more than 20 of these complaints came from Peter Golds [Councillor, London Borough of Tower Hamlets], whom I suspect that you know.  In no way could it be suggested that this man is frivolous or that these electoral complaints were made on the basis that there was no evidence.  I want to put it to you, Mr Mayor: do you think that one of the reasons that the police failed to investigate this might be - if I can put it the Rotherham Syndrome - that because these complaints appear to be against ‑‑

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  What syndrome?

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  The Rotherham Syndrome. 

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Rotherham.  Right.

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Where police were reluctant to investigate because they believed that somehow or other these were complaints against a particular section of the community, rather than complaints of electoral offences?

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  I am afraid that that must be the suspicion, and I join you in congratulating Peter Golds, whom I know well, on his persistence and in bringing this matter to light.  I hope very much that nothing like this will ever happen in London again and that there will be free and fair elections on 11 June. 

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  That is fine, Mr Mayor, but I would ask you to contrast the way the MPS has dealt with these particular complaints with the vigour with which they pursued the cases which arose under Operation Elveden, which you may think were, by comparison, very trivial matters compared to electoral offences.  Would it be possible to suggest to you that it may be that the MPS thinks that attacking the press is easier than attacking suggestions that some groups in London are able to do unlawful things?

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  As I said when I first raised the matter with the MPS, there is a certain difficulty for any police force in trying to overturn or to deal with the will of the people.  This is an election that has taken place.  It certainly would not be my function as Mayor to be inciting the police to try to overturn the result of an election.  That would be, in my view, anti-democratic and I am sure you would not want to do that. 

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Absolutely not. 

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  The Election Commissioner upheld a number of allegations.  He said the ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses; false statements were made against Mr Biggs  [John Biggs AM, candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets]; there was money that was given to organisations who were ineligible for organisations; treating took place, that is to say free food and drink was dished out to people to vote for Mr Rahman; and there was what is called spiritual influence -voters were told it was their religious duty to vote for Mr Rahman.  It may be that criminal proceedings could be launched from some or one of those upheld allegations, but I must stress that the level of proof required in the Electoral Court is lower than in a criminal court.  What the police have told me so far is that they would find it difficult to frame charges.  The matter is under consideration and I intend to pursue it further, but certainly what is the case is that Peter Golds has done a brilliant job and a heroic job in bringing this to light and he is to be congratulated. 

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  Yes.  I understand the point that you make about the level of proof, and indeed, if you have read Mr Mawrey’s [Election Commissioner] report - which I found actually a very good read, not boring at all; a couple of good jokes in it - he makes it clear that the examples that he has given are the ones which are absolutely fireproof.  He does say that it is only by the smallest margin that the other matters which were raised - intimidation and things of that sort - he chose not to single out, but he did make the observation that they only just failed to be singled out. 

A new thing has arisen in relation to this, and I wonder if you would care to comment on it.  That is that Lutfur Rahman has clearly been supported in his protestations of innocence by your predecessor [as Mayor of London], Mr Livingstone.  I wonder if you have any views on the judgement of Mr Livingstone in doing this.

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  I thought it was very peculiar that the former Mayor should come to the defence of somebody who has been convicted of electoral fraud and malpractice.  I noticed that one of the mayoral candidates has decided to adopt the former Mayor as his supporter and all-round mascot and that is possibly a miscalculation on his part. 

Tony Arbour AM (Deputy Chairman):  OK.  Thank you, Chair.