Labour’s John Biggs is the new Mayor of Tower Hamlets, elected in the early hours of this morning.
His triumph was announced to his cheering supporters just before 5am after an all night count at the Excel Centre in east London. The mayoral election was ordered after the High Court removed Lutfur Rahman from office after finding him guilty of fraud in the contest in May last year.
The race to be mayor was considered too close to call almost until the final result, which handed the victory to Biggs by a margin of 6,370 votes over independent candidate Rabina Khan. She was originally a candidate for Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First party, until it was delisted by the Electoral Commission.
During his acceptance speech, Biggs thanked Khan and emphasised that the two would need to work together under his mayorship. He said that he was looking forward to “getting [Tower Hamlets] out of the headlines for the wrong reasons and getting us into the headlines for the right reasons.”
Biggs won 27,255 votes in the first round of voting, with Khan taking 25,763 to join him in the second round. The vote used the single transferable vote system which means voters can nominate a second candidate to get their vote if their first choice is knocked out.
In the second round Biggs gained an extra 5,499 votes to take his total to 32,754. Khan added 621 to end up with 26,763 votes.
Turnout in the re-run election was down almost 10 per cent compared to last year’s mayoral election, suggesting a measure of disillusionment among the Tower Hamlets electorate.
The win for Biggs will come as some consolation for Labour during a difficult time for the party, which is currently leaderless and still reeling from a heavy defeat by the Conservatives in this May’s general election.
It was a successful night for Labour overall, with Sabina Akhtar also elected councillor for the Stepney Green ward of Tower Hamlets earlier in the evening, giving the party a one-seat majority on Tower Hamlets Council.
Biggs, a Labour Party member since 1981, was a Tower Hamlets councillor from 1988 to 2002.
He was defeated by a small margin in the 2014 mayoral election by Rahman. The results of that election were declared void by the Electoral Commission in April, when a High Court ruling found Rahman guilty of electoral fraud and corrupt practices, removed him from office and banned him from running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets.
Yesterday’s election was peppered with scandal of its own: in the lead-up to polling day. Khan found herself embroiled in a police investigation into alleged illegal campaigning practices. Police confirmed earlier this week that they were investigating 16 allegations of electoral malpractice.
Pressed by journalists after the final concession speech, Khan continued to deny any knowledge of the alleged improprieties. She steered the questioning to issues of social deprivation and affordable housing before leaving the count room in an apparent hurry.
It seems clear that these allegations could have had bearing on today’s results, however the low voter turnout implies that they are likely to have played a minimal role in the outcome.
In a defiant yet fragmented concession speech, Khan said she was proud to be a working mother involved in “progressive left initiatives”. She acknowledged social problems in the community and expressed willingness to work with the incoming mayor.
Yesterday’s count saw a heightened police presence around polling stations with additional officers posted around the count room while the results were declared. The vote and count however, passed without any incidents of note.
As the count room emptied, Biggs told Eastlondonlines that his first order of business on Monday would be to “think about appointments and the management team in the council.”
Striking a decidedly conciliatory tone, Biggs continued: “We need to think about communications and how we rebuild the reputation of Tower Hamlets as a positive, outward-looking, forward-thinking authority. And I think we need to think about the statements we’re going to make over the next few weeks, which will give a positive message to people in the borough.”
When asked whether the Stepney Green result represented a “bonus” for him, he said: “It does alter things, yes. To have a majority on the council makes life quite a lot easier, though I do respect that in the elections we’ve just had there were strong minority voices and we need to respect those within the way the council works.”
You can read our live blog of last night’s election count here
The full mayoral election results are as follows:
• John Biggs (Labour Party), 32,754 votes
• Rabina Khan (independent), 26,384 votes
• Peter Golds (Conservative Party), 5,940 votes
• John Foster (Green Party), 2,678 votes
• Elaine Bagshaw (Liberal Democrats), 2,152 votes
• Andy Erlam (Red Flag Anti-Corruption), 1,768 votes
• Nicholas McQueen (UKIP), 1,669 votes
• Hafiz Abdul Kadir (independent), 316 votes
• Vanessa Helen Hudson (Animal Welfare Party), 305 votes
• Md. Motiur Rahman Nanu (independent), 292 votes
Reporting by David Blood and Kara Fox