An inquiry into corruption at Tower Hamlets Council has condemned a PC culture that allowed disgraced mayor Lutfur Rahman to govern unchecked – and condemned the Met Police for its inaction.
Sir Eric Pickles who, as Communities Secretary, sent in the inspectors to the Town Hall, compiled the report and he had criticisms for central Government and the election watchdog for the systemic failings in Mulberry Place.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s corrupt regime was eventually brought to an end in the High Court in 2015 – but it took residents using their own money to bring him down. Meanwhile, the institutions “turned a blind eye” to his mismanagement and abuse.
The report also found that there were “clear links” between electoral corruption and the “ endorsement and funding of extremist causes ”.
Sir Eric, who was appointed corruption czar by former Prime Minister David Cameron, said: “Last year’s court ruling in Tower Hamlets was a wake-up call that state bodies need to do far more to stamp out corruption and restore public confidence.
“There are sometimes challenging issues over divisive community politics, but this is no excuse for failing to enforce British law and protect the integrity of our democratic process.
“It was local residents who lost out from the unscrupulous politicians who bullied them and wasted their money.”
The case revealed that grants had been given to Bangladeshi or Muslim groups in return for support and council money had been used to pay a Bangladeshi language television station which provided supportive coverage.
The report, Securing The Ballot, said it saw evidence that pressure was “being put on vulnerable members of some ethnic minority communities, particularly women and young people, to vote according to the will of the elders”.
It added that “state institutions had turned a blind eye to such behaviour because of ‘politically correct’ over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion”.
The review, which has been handed to Prime Minister Theresa May, said: “The law must be applied equally and fairly to everyone. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to uphold the rule of law and ensure British fair play.
Read Securing The Ballot
“It is time to take action to take on the electoral crooks and defend Britain’s free and fair elections.”
Sir Eric makes more than 50 recommendations, including measures to allow greater accountability by the press and public, especially in councils with executive mayors where there was a “greater risk of corruption”.
• A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “We welcome the fact that many of the improvements we proposed for Mr Pickles’ review are reflected in his report and some of which we have already introduced to combat fraud.
“For example, during the 2015 elections people were required to speak in English at our polling stations; we enforced the rule of only one person being in a polling booth at any one time; and exclusion zones were marked outside the polling place to prevent groups of people from congregating and obstructing voters.
“We also set up a dedicated email address and phone line for candidates, parties and their campaigners to report concerns about fraud. Any allegations were investigated fully with extra training given to polling officers to tackle suspicious activity. As a result allegations of fraud were lower than in previous years.
“We built on this work in this year’s GLA election and EU referendum by posting notices confirming that the use of cameras inside the polling station is prohibited.
“We will continue to do everything we can to deliver elections which are free of fraud.”
• Petitioner Andy Erlam who brought the case against Mr Rahman said: “Sir Eric had done a very good job recommending national reforms to stop election fraud. Detailed changes are now needed.
"For instance, voting on ballot papers should be in permanent ink; ID should be carefully checked; Returning Officers should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
"Sir Eric is scathing about the failure of the Met police to prosecute offenders in Tower Hamlets. The police never had any intention to prosecute. The police are compromised. A recent meeting with police revealed that senior officers didn’t even both to read the election court judgment. This is an absolute scandal.”
"Sir Eric is also critical of the Election Commission which he says had been in denial.
“I would have gone further and stopped so many postal votes being issued, but Sir Eric had risen to the challenge and told the Prime Minister how she can end election fraud which is a national crisis of democracy.”