Spiral Notebook: How a voter's inquiry into election canvassers ends up with him denounced as a 'pervert'

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COMMENT

By Giles Broadbent

In December, I made the Mayor's Office very angry. One of the disciples was quickly on the case, shouting a lot and accusing me of all sorts of devilry before slamming down the phone.

My crime? I had reported that an inquiry would investigate claims that cold callers in Wapping, who were presenting themselves as from Tower Hamlets Homes, were actually peddling the mayor.

Resident Mark Baynes, who writes the LoveWapping blog, reported this greeting from the mystery ladies at his door: "Hello, we are from Tower Hamlets Homes and we are wondering how the mayor can help you on the estate?"

The mayor was outraged. Never mind that I made no assertion as to his knowledge or involvement, it was sufficient that I had dared to publish that councillors were even questioning his conduct.

My insolence provoked him to find the full measure of his wrath.

"The allegations that bogus representatives from the social housing company were using their access to residents in Wapping to 'flog [my] re-election bid' are completely untrue," he wrote in his right of reply. "I had come to expect a whole lot better from your newspaper."

Last week I asked the council where they had got with the inquiry and a spokesman said two separate inquiries had concluded the callers were neither from the council nor Tower Hamlets Homes.

So who were they then? Well, Mayor Rahman's people could have saved everyone the bother - and expense? - of investigating.

For his rambunctious mouthpiece Cllr Alibor Choudhury has now revealed that the mystery ladies weren't mystery ladies at all but, er, Rahman canvassers.

He still denied as "baseless" claims that they had presented themselves as from the social housing firm but he conceded at a council meeting: "These are volunteers we use."

Presumably the mayor thought it best not to clutter his right of reply with such frothy distractions.

Was Cllr Choudhury abashed over this admission? Did he say, "Soz, guys, we could have untangled this mess way back by being more - what is the mayor's election buzzword? - transparent."

Nope. He went on the attack. Apparently, the volunteers who had appeared unbidden at his door subsequently (and conveniently) denounced Mark as a "pervert" and a "voyeur" and his quest to discover their identities "intimidating" - slurs Charmer Choudhury was happy to repeat in the council chamber.

"There is nothing improper about what we do," Cllr Choudhury said without a hint of irony.

So, if "ladies" do come to your door and they seem nice and want to mend your street lamps and decorate your hallway with glossy Rahman pamphlets, first seek reassurance that, should the visit go awry, you won't be denounced, ridiculed and insulted by their colleagues in the vilest possible way and in a very public forum.

Stay classy, Tower Hamlets.

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