Last week George Galloway's Respect party claimed cheating was rife there, with blocks of residents falling victim to postal vote fraudsters. Nigel Evans, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, yesterday confirmed that he had submitted a complaint to the council about the disappearance of his postal voting form which should have been sent to his flat in the borough but failed to materialise.
His concerns mirrored those of Pennie Clarke, a neighbour and Tory candidate in the election, who has also lost her vote. Ms Clarke, a solicitor, insisted on being allowed to examine the relevant documentation and found that the fraudulent application form submitted to the council had not even been signed. Her partner also found that a postal vote had been requested by third party using his identity. In that case the documentation showed that his signature had been forged.
Ok, so the Tories have complained; Respect have complained; and even Labour have made some noises. Which major party - currently with a councillor on bail for fraud - does that leave, I wonder? Whitechapel seems reasonably clean, though with a few surprising registrations, but it's a different story further east
Sheikh Masud is a charity worker who lives in the Mile End East ward who has had his vote stolen. “I only found out I was on the postal voting list when I received a letter from the council accepting a registration from me and my wife,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I then discovered the vote had been registered to be sent to some other address to the one I live in, one I’ve never heard of. The same thing happened to my elderly father. I’m so angry – I’d never give consent to anyone to take my right to vote away.”
Masud contacted his local Respect candidate, Jackie Turner, and complained to the council.
Mysteriously, shortly after complaining, an unknown man appeared at his father’s door and handed over the postal ballot forms belonging to Masud and his father.
“If I’d found out who the guy was, I’d have given him a piece of my mind,” says Masud. “My wife’s vote is still missing.”
Respect activists have now collected 33 signed statements from people in Tower Hamlets who have had their votes stolen through a postal vote scam.
In a tower block in Limehouse ward 90 of the 93 residents were registered for postal votes, despite the fact that very few had applied for them.
It's galling to think that concerns about the electoral register were raised, this time last year, during the general election
At one address owned by Abdus Salique, a local businessman and Labour supporter who recently hosted a lunch for the party's candidate, Oona King, and the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, there are 12 names on the roll.
But when the Guardian visited the premises, a businessman who rents an office in the building said that none of those named lived there.
This is still a remarkably common experience: I've lost count of the number of absent voters we've turned up over the last few weeks. Even without any dirty tricks, Tower Hamlets' election services are a thing of wonder. Yet Christine Gilbert, returning officer (and, naturally, Labour-appointed Chief Executive - oh, and wife of Tony McNulty
), has claimed throughout that nothing is amiss.
Still, those that can
cast their votes as they wish may cause some surprises
Lesley Ellis has lived on the Cranbrook estate in the Globe Town area of Bethnal Green for the past 19 years. She drives a black cab for a living, as did her father before her.
She describes herself and her family as “staunch Labour voters” for generations—but no longer. On Thursday 4 May, Lesley will be one of thousands of former Labour supporters in Tower Hamlets switching their allegiance to Respect.
“I first came across Respect when we were fighting the attempts to transfer the Cranbrook estate to a registered social landlord, Swan Housing Group,” says Lesley.
“The council were just going to give away the estate to Swan. We would have had no tenants association as such—we were going to be sold off and the banks were going to own us.
“So we started knocking on people’s doors saying, do you realise you’re going to lose your secured tenancy? We felt we were being pushed into the transfer by the council.
“So from August to December we turned a yes vote into a no. We defeated the transfer in a ballot in December—some 73 percent voted against stock transfer.”
It was this campaign that made Lesley realise what the New Labour council was up to. “There were a lot of dirty tricks from the council,” she says.
“Half the estate didn’t get their ballot papers at first. The council people came round and tried to pull down our notices—but we caught them.
“I’ve always been staunch Labour, but to see this from the council—I just thought that they were betraying us.
“I realised that the reason we weren’t getting the estate done up—repairs, horticultural, things like that—was that the council wanted us to get so fed up that we’d switch to a registered social landlord. But now we were seeing beyond that.
“That’s when I started listening to Respect. I thought these people were ex-Labour, people like us, and they’ve formed a political group that opposes selling off public housing.”
And, whilst you're about it
George Galloway was down here last Saturday, and lifelong Labour men like Danny Woodards are thinking about voting Respect, who have pledged to save the market. 'I had a bowl of milk waiting for George round the back, mind.' At a public meeting the previous night Woodards had said to Sir Robin Wales: do what you have to do, but retain the council running the market. 'He said they hadn't got the expertise. I said what you think you've been fucking doing the last 120 years?'
Blah blah Muslim party blah blah blah communalism blah blah bloop. Tower Hamlets is 35% Bengali - although you've never guess from "Muslim-dominated" reports
- and I, as far as I am aware, there is only one ward with a majority of Bengalis. The demographics are dead against you if you want to run a "communalist" campaign: you can try, but you won't get very far. (The New Labour dodge has been to run two separate communalist campaigns
. Very Third Way.)