Voters go to polls in mayoral re-election

A Tower Hamlets polling station guarded by a police officer during the last General Election. Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

A Tower Hamlets polling station Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

Voters in Tower Hamlets will head to the polls today to elect a new mayor for the second time in just over a year.

The re-election was ordered after former mayor Lutfur Rahman was found guilty of electoral fraud and bribery in the 2014 mayoral election

and ousted from office six weeks ago.

As the campaign has nearesd its end it has become embroiled in further allegations of electoral malpractice. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed here are 16 claims of electoral malpractice being investigated.

Police said the allegations included the harvesting of postal votes, the use of “ghost” voters and the improper distribution of election literature.

One of those incidents is believed to be allegations that election campaign leaflets for Rabina Khan, a former member of Rahman’s banned Tower Hamlets First party and a cabinet member for housing and development, have been distributed inside newsletters from Tower Hamlets Homes, the body that runs the borough’s housing.

Khan has denied any knowledge of the leaflet distribution and says she has nothing to do with the alleged malpractice.

Her platform pledges to build 5,000 new homes and create 20,000 jobs. She also proposes new policies on culture, transparency and standing up for vulnerable people.

Amid concerns about voters being obstructed or intimidated at polling stations during the last mayoral election, police are stepping up patrols for the re-election today.

Police officers will be present at polling stations throughout the borough and take necessary actions to “ensure canvassing by candidates’ supporters can take place properly.”

A statement from the Metropolitan Police said: “[We] take any allegations of electoral fraud or malpractice very seriously, and will ensure that it plays its part to protect the integrity of the electoral process.”

Current favourite to win is from former borough councilor and Labour candidate John Biggs, who lost the 2014 mayoral election to Rahman by a small margin.

Biggs’ platform draws its strength from the distrust of Rahman and Khan, whose candidacy has been endorsed by the disgraced mayor. The Labour candidate says he plans to restore the trust of the constituency after years of corrupt administration practices.

Also on Biggs’ agenda is a pledge to provide affordable housing and protect public services such health and education amid the cuts proposed by the Tory government.

Analysts say the election result rest on the turnout of Bangladeshi community, who make up a third of the borough’s population. Whether the community will stick by Khan or if they will shift their allegiance back to a traditional Labour candidate is still to be decided.

A total of ten candidates are standing for the re-election.

Conservatives’ Peter Golds’ priority is to restore good governance to the borough for all residents regardless of their race, religion or sexuality. As the only openly gay candidate, Golds also pledges to promote more diversity in the borough, tackling notorious hate crimes and bullying against the LGBT community within Tower Hamlets.

Liberal Democrats’ hopeful Elaine Bagshaw will focus on the poverty issue and high unemployment rate. She proposes to scrap the council newspaper and use the £1.5 million to create apprenticeships for people in the borough.

The Green Party’s John Foster maintains an opposition to the role of elected Mayor and says that he will work towards the eventual dissolution of the post if he is in office. He also wants to challenge austerity and speak up for the disenfranchised.

Nicholas McQueen will run as the UKIP mayoral candidate, pledging to restore democracy to Tower Hamlets and avoid “another dictator taking office.”

Standing under a new banner of Red Flag – Anti Corruption is former Labour Party member Andy Erlam, who was among the four campaigners who brought the original Election Court action that led to to Rahman’s downfall. He pledges to campaign for social, economic and political justice.

Animal Welfare candidate Vanessa Hudson is another new face in this election, focusing her campaigning on tackling climate change, environmental degradation, the rise in preventable diseases and the increasing number of animals suffering.

Polling stations will open at 7am today .

You can find out where to vote by entering your address or postcode on Tower Hamlet’s online polling station finder.

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