When Democracy Fails?
It’s 1am on Saturday morning. I should go to bed, but I’m stuck on Twitter waiting for arguably the most controversial decision of the United Kingdom Local Elections to come through.
For some reason, and it’s one I’ve never understood, the United Kingdom schedules their Local Council Elections on the same day as major votes. Well, okay I DO understand, it’s about money.
Summing up the Local Election, Wikipedia says:
The 2014 United Kingdom local elections were held on 22 May 2014 as provided by ‘The Local Elections (Ordinary Day of Elections in 2014) Order 2013’ (S.I. 2013/2277). Usually these elections are held on the first Thursday in May, but they were put back from 1 May to 22 May to coincide with the 2014 European Parliament Elections on that date. Direct elections were held for all 32 London boroughs, all 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and various mayoral posts, all in England. Elections to the new councils in Northern Ireland were also be held on the same day.
All registered electors (British, Irish, Commonwealth and European Union citizens) who were aged 18 or over on the day of the election were entitled to vote in the local elections. Those who were temporarily away from their ordinary address (for example, away working, on holiday, in student accommodation or in hospital) were also entitled to vote in the local elections, although those who have moved abroad and registered as overseas electors cannot vote in the local elections. Those who were registered to vote at more than one address (such as a university student who has a term-time address and lives at home during holidays) were entitled to vote in the local elections at each address, as long as they were not in the same local government area.
Overall in England, the Labour Party saw 1,891 Councillors elected (up 292), The Conservatives 1,259 (down 201), the Liberal Democrats 404 (down 284), the Green Party 157 (up 17), Residents Associations 38 (up 7), the Liberal Party 2 (down 2), the British National Party 1 (down 1), Independent Community and Health Concern 1 (down 2) and there were 68 Independents elected (up 19).
Throughout the UK on Thursday, people spent their time to go out and vote. They went primarily for European Elections and who should represent us in the European Election, but arguably of greater importance, they voted for their local Councillors. People who would deal with issues at a local level, and where day to day events would be greater felt.
This joint election has lead to confusion throughout. Parties preaching stories about how the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, how we should look at issues at a National Level. Subsequently people were electing their Local Council representatives for the wrong reasons. This was true for ALL parties. Watch the following video:
Now whilst the Labour leader Ed Milliband is a smart man, this borders on manipulation.
He talks about the NHS and maintaining it. This is little to do with Local Councils, and even less to do with Europe. However this doesn’t stop Ed preaching to the masses. Someone somewhere will have elected a Councillor without knowing who it is, purely based on this manipulation.
So this leads me on nicely to the reason for my late night…
Rahman, a 47 year old originally from Bangladesh, is the Directly Elected Mayor for the area of Tower Hamlets in East London.
Gaining the post in 2010, Rahman is a controversial figure. Claims regularly circulate about his corruption, whether it is leaking money to friends, or the fact that he has a chauffeur driven limo. He is regularly investigated for corruption and abuses, and there are concerns about links to hardline Islamic groups.
In fact, to really summarise some of the concerns, the best thing to do is to read these 30 facts provided by Journalist Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday May 21st. These are worrying.
1) In 2008 Rahman (then a Labour councillor) won the leadership of Tower Hamlets council with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In secret filming, IFE activists described how they exercised “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.
2) Rahman channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and appointed a senior IFE figure as assistant chief executive of the council, though he was wholly unqualified for this senior post. Both the assistant chief executive and Rahman were subsequently removed from their jobs.
3) An extremist preacher was invited to speak in the council chamber and extremist literature, including audio tapes by the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was stocked in Tower Hamlets libraries.
4) In 2010, after a campaign including large numbers of fake signatures led by the IFE, Tower Hamlets was changed from having a conventional council leader to a far more personally powerful, directly-elected mayor. In secret filming, senior IFE activists described how they would “get one of our brothers” into the new post.
5) Rahman personally signed up entire families as sham members of the Labour Party to win selection as the Labour mayoral candidate. He was selected, but was then removed by Labour’s National Executive Committee, and subsequently expelled from the party.
6) Rahman won election anyway as an independent, on a tiny turnout, after his (Muslim) Labour opponent was smeared as a wife-beater and enemy of Islam in thousands of newsletters produced with Rahman’s full knowledge. The new mayor was said by his campaign manager to have a “strategic relationship” with the IFE, with “most” of his campaigners being “either Respect or IFE activists.”
7) Even though Tower Hamlets is only 34 per cent Muslim, Rahman appointed a 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim cabinet. He has never appointed any non-Muslim to any cabinet post and has no non-Muslim councillors.
8) Rahman has given control over the council’s finances to Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police. Rahman has himself taken personal control of all grants over £1000.
9) Under Rahman and Choudhury, council grants have been diverted away from secular bodies serving the whole community to IFE fronts and to other groups serving largely the Muslim community. Several of these groups, the council’s scrutiny committee found, are new and without any track record. Several appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Rahman. (For a full account of Rahman’s Muslim grants favouritism, see here.)
10) Rahman has transferred valuable council properties to close personal associates at far less than their true market value, including a 10,000 square foot office building a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf which was sold for £875,000 to the man in charge of his election campaign website.
11) Key Rahman allies have been witnessed, and have not denied, engaging in a practice known as “vote-harvesting,” registering people for postal votes and then collecting their blank ballot papers.
12) Some of the supposed voters do not appear to exist. “Ghost” voters registered to empty properties or huge numbers of voters registered to small flats have been regular features of Tower Hamlets elections.
13) Rahman has presided over an atmosphere of menace and intimidation at council meetings. Phalanxes of Rahman supporters drafted in to the public galleries shout homophobic abuse at several key opponents of the mayor, who are gay. Rahman’s cabinet members, such as Alibor Choudhury, abuse their opponents as fascists.
14) Rahman has used council officers to hound and bully opposition councillors, spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money to make spurious, but time-consuming, legal attacks on them.
15) At council meetings, Rahman refuses to answer questions about any of these or most other issues, with officers saying that to do so would breach his human rights.
16) Rahman also refuses to engage with most other questioning. He has made almost no public appearances in this election campaign at any event where he would be required to answer questions.
17) Rahman largely ignores the non-Bengali media but pays tens of thousands of pounds of public money to UK-based Bengali-language TV stations – including £50,000 a year personally to one TV channel’s chief reporter. In return, they give him fawning coverage. The channels have been repeatedly censured by Ofcom, but it appears to make no difference.
18) Rahman has channelled further millions of taxpayers’ money into an extensive cult of personality. He has a weekly newspaper delivered to all households at public expense, containing often as many as a dozen pictures or mentions of himself.
19) Rahman has had hundreds of copies of his own picture displayed at public expense on billboards, lampposts, and even council dustcarts (to comply with election law, most have recently been removed.)
20) Rahman has used public funds to send thousands of personal letters, again with his picture on them, to residents claiming credit for things which are not his doing, such as the Government-funded council housing refurbishment programme.
21) Rahman has been hostile or indifferent to the borough’s non-Muslim heritage, threatening to close the local history library (reversed only after a storm of protest), selling off pubs and threatening them with closure, and attempting to dispose of a Henry Moore artwork whose form offended Islamic sensibilities. At the same time, he has created a new programme to channel hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to (mainly Muslim) faith buildings.
22) Rahman’s cabinet member for education, Oliur Rahman, appeared on a public platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.”
23) Rahman’s cabinet member for the environment, Shahed Ali, avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, then immediately reopening the restaurant under a new name. He boasts that he used the proceeds to buy a Porsche.
24) Rahman’s cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, mocked gay people and published pictures of knives on her social networking site, saying: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons.”
25) Rahman’s key funder, Shiraj Haque, a restaurateur, has a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine. He was sacked from his chairmanship of a council-sponsored festival after suspicions that it was being used as a front for illegal immigration, but was reappointed by Rahman. Despite being a millionaire who owns at least seven properties, Haque has been given subsidised social housing by the council.
26) Rahman has repeatedly given character references for convicted criminals, including a sex attacker.
27) Rahman charges taxpayers up to £60,000 a year for a Mercedes car and chauffeur, which he has used, among other purposes, to collect his dry cleaning. No other elected mayor, including Boris Johnson, has a limousine. He claims he has now given it up, but this appears to be only for the election period.
28) Rahman has also spent large sums of public money on taxis for himself, including one purported fare of £71 to travel a distance of 400 metres and another £28 fare from a local McDonald’s to his office.
29) Rahman is accused by the Government of practising “divishttps://thenorthernmonkee.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpive community politics” and the “mismanagement of council staff and resources.”
30) Neither of the neighbouring boroughs, Hackney and Newham, will work with Rahman. The Labour mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, describes Rahman as “very bad news” and as creating a form of apartheid in his area.
So yes, there are concerns.
When I started writing this, it was looking that despite all his flaws, Rahman was on course to be re-elected.
The obvious question is how can this happen? More importantly, how is this not covered in greater detail in the news?
Well we can all speculate, but Gilligan tends to answer this question above when he refers to Rahman’s links. There’s all manner of other potential reasons, but none I’m willing to put on here.
What I will finish off with, is the story as it happened on Twitter…
Biggs 27k and Rahman 36k. Too close to call in second preference round, I think
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 23, 2014
Apparently there’s a crowd of “hundreds” still outside the Troxy waiting for the Tower Hamlets result in the middle of the night — Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
CONFIRMED: Lutfur Rahman re-elected as mayor of Tower Hamlets
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Numbers: Lutfur total: 37,395. Biggs total: 34,143 — Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Lutfur giving acceptance speech. Most I’ve heard him say in 2 yrs covering LBTH pic.twitter.com/IngCnpHkPP
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Green candidate on stage: “Lutfur, if you’re going to keep your chauffeur-driven car, please make it low emission”
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
After all this, I made one “harmless” tweet. One I already regret.
Almost straight afterwards, a response…
@TheNorthMonkee Go offer Mr Biggs a shoulder to cry on 🙂
— Raja (@Wimpylad) May 24, 2014
It’s going to be interesting in Tower Hamlets over the next few days. That’s Politics for you though.