Trouble comes in threes for Labour’s Biggs

Local MP Rushanara Ali tweets about party political meeting held in Council park

Local MP Rushanara Ali tweets about party political meeting held in Council park

They say that trouble comes in threes – and the last weekend of the campaign to be mayor of Tower Hamlets saw Labour red-faced over three incidents as they made their third attempt to take the Town Hall’s top post.

What a treat!
The Council has an election protocol which requires political parties and candidates to report possible problems or allegations about their opponents when the alleged infringements occur. In May 2014, Labour logged no such protests – waiting until their candidate John Biggs had lost the election before they made their allegations of wrongdoing public. This month, Independent candidate Rabina Khan’s team is playing by the rules. The mayoral hopeful’s agent, Cllr Gulam Robbani, has had to lodge a complaint under the Town Hall’s protocol as one of John Biggs’s supporters may have overlooked the requirements of election law.

Cllr Robbani alleges that half a dozen individuals, styling themselves the “Tower Hamlets Task Force” which is headed by Shiraj Haque, held a meeting on 3rd June at the Amana Centre on Commercial Road in order to promote Labour’s candidate John Biggs. Food was served to those present. There is controversy over how many people attended, with supporters of John Biggs having been heard stating that around 100 people attended, but with others who were present alleging that there were around a dozen present.

Cllr Robbani alleges that the following problems arise from the meeting.

The meeting was advertised by Mr Haque was a meeting to promote Labour candidate John Biggs, but his promotional material did not bear an election imprint (which is a requirement of election law).

It is against election law for anyone other than a candidate or his/her agent to incur expenditure in promoting a candidate during an election. The practice of doing so is a “corrupt practice” which can lead to a winning candidate being removed from post.

Mr Haque was quoted on a local blog, in a post about his pro-Biggs meeting, stating “I strongly believe we need to develop the cultural part of our society and that would keep people away from extreme ideas.” The implication is that Mayor Lutfur Rahman held extreme ideas: even the recent election court ruled that there was no evidence that Mayor Rahman supported extremists.  This comment could breach Election Commission guidelines which state that it is “illegal to make a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate” in order to affect the election outcome.

Those present at the meeting were served food and drink, which constitutes an action known as “treating” which is illegal under election law.

All candidates have to submit their formal election expenses shortly after an election.  Any expenses incurred in this pro-Biggs meeting would have to be formally declared.

What’s in a name?
The Tower Hamlets Labour Party website displays a picture of Chuka Umunna MP for Streatham, Labour Shadow Business Secretary, standing next to John Biggs in Chrisp Street Market. Mr Umunna is holding a poster which states “I’m voting John Biggs” – but in his short statement on Lambeth Council’s website, where the formal list of persons nominated is provided, Mr Umunna states that he has lived in the Streatham area all his life. If Mr Umunna lives in Streatham, there would seem no way in which he would be entitled to have a vote in a Tower Hamlets election.

Local residents have pointed out that if Mayor Rahman had suggested that people who lived outside the borough were promising to vote for him, all sorts of allegations about vote-rigging would probably have been raised against him.

Park it here
Labour began the final week of the mayoral election campaign with what appears to have amounted to a rally in Altab Ali Park. A number of Labour Party members have tweeted pictures of themselves in the park on Saturday morning – Rushanara Ali MP has retweeted many of the tweets.

Altab Ali Park is owned by the Council, and it is usually necessary to obtain permission to use the park for a public or private scheduled event. Indeed, Labour councillors have been very critical, over the last four years, of Mayor Rahman’s attempts to bring money into the borough by hiring out parks for a small and limited number of events. The Council usually has a policy of not hiring out its parks to political parties – certainly not during election campaigns. John Biggs’s campaign material stresses that he knows a great deal about Tower Hamlets, so he cannot have been ignorant of these issues.

Questions therefore arise over whether John Biggs and the Labour Party have booked Altab Ali Park, or whether they have just assumed that it is theirs to use for party political purposes.

The Labour Party strongly supported the Election Petition lodged after the May 2014 elections – indeed, their current candidate John Biggs gave hours of evidence against Mayor Lutfur Rahman, going over tiny details of the mayoral election campaign and subsequent administration. The party that scrutinises the winning candidate in such detail has to expect that its own dealings will be similarly scrutinised. Are they ready with their response?