Call for Eric Pickles to ‘suspend Tower Hamlets election returning officer’

Tower Hamlets council

Tower Hamlets council - Credit: Archant

A petitioner challenging last May’s election for Mayor of Tower Hamlets has this week asked Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to suspend the Town Hall’s Returning officer from running next May’s General Election count.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman [left] and Secretary of State Eric Pickles

Mayor Lutfur Rahman [left] and Secretary of State Eric Pickles - Credit: Archant

Anti-corruption campaigner Andy Erlam’s latest attack on Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s administration follows revelations that the Returning Officer—named in his petition alleging “electoral malpractice and misconduct”—is getting ready to oversee the voting.

Returning Officer John Williams circulated a 2,800-word document, seen by the East London Advertiser, to Town Hall departments, political parties, MPs and police about arrangements for voting for the Bethnal Green & Bow and the Poplar & Limehouse constituencies.

“I’m astonished to learn that he appears to think he’ll be responsible for election arrangements,” Erlam said.

“Despite the chaos of last May’s local and European counts, officers blithely appear to have assumed responsibility for the General Election. This is entirely inappropriate.”

His High Court petition challenging Mayor Rahman’s second term is being heard in the New Year—a parallel crisis facing Tower Hamlets on top of revelations by auditors sent in by Pickles about how council grants were being dished out and how public assets were being sold off.

Erlam now accuses the Town Hall of “an attempt by lawyers to extend the Election Court trial so that it runs into the General Election campaigning period.”

He is calling for the officers to be removed and not let them “stay in post and entrusted with ballot papers and records”.

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His letter to Pickles adds: “The council administration apparently believes it is exempt from accountability—as though Tower Hamlets was another country run on despotic lines.

“You made it perfectly clear in the Commons that this was unacceptable in modern Britain.”

Mayor Rahman has lost two High Court attempts to overturn the petition which is being heard in the New Year.

The council is unhappy that the petitioners are “giving a running commentary of developments”. The authority wanted to debate the issues in court and let the case run its course, Town Hall sources say.

Eric Pickles, meanwhile, is ready to send in Whitehall commissioners to oversee part of the council’s £1.2 billion budget.