Lutfur Rahman, the disgraced politician found by an election tribunal to have engaged in corrupt and illegal practices, has secured a comeback by winning the vote to become mayor of Tower Hamlets in east London.
After the five-year ban placed on him for standing for public office lapsed, Rahman managed to unseat the incumbent mayor, Labour’s John Biggs, under the banner of his Aspire party.
Rahman was kicked out of office in 2015 after a specialist court concluded that he was guilty of vote-rigging, buying votes and religious intimidation. But the police and Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to launch a criminal prosecution.
Rahman won 40,804 votes in the second round, with Biggs on 33,487.
The result is a blow to Labor in what was otherwise a very successful set of results in London, where it took Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster from the Tories.
Rahman announced in February that he was planning a political comeback with a challenge to Labor over “service cuts, tax hikes and road closures”. In an election leaflet, he wrote: “I have never, ever acted dishonestly, but to those who think I didn’t exercise enough oversight over campaigners in the last election, I apologise.”
Rahman was originally a Labor leader of Tower Hamlets council from 2008 to 2010 before running independently for the mayoralty in 2010. He won re-election in 2014 under a new party called Tower Hamlets First, but was removed from office in April 2015, when he was found guilty in the civil election court, rather than in criminal law.
At the time, the election commissioner, Richard Mawrey, said Rahman had “driven a coach and horses through election law and didn’t care”. He ordered Rahman to pay £250,000 in costs.
Rahman and his supporters were found to have used religious intimidation through local imams, vote-rigging and wrongly branding his Labor rival a racist to gain power.
Mawrey said at the time that Rahman had sought to play the “race and Islamophobia card” throughout the election. “He was an evasive witness – Rahman was no doubt behind illegal and corrupt practices,” Mawrey said.
However, Scotland Yard concluded in 2018 that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any individual.
After a £1.7m, yearlong investigation into the allegations, the Met said it “had not identified sufficient additional evidence or investigative opportunities to enable the Met to request the Crown Prosecution Service to consider the charging of any individual in relation to offenses of electoral fraud and malpractice arising from the 2014 mayoral election.”
After news of his victory on Friday, Rahman urged people to “judge me on what we will do for you.” He said: “I want to rebuild Tower Hamlets, I want to invest in our future, and give our people a better future than we had in the last seven years.”
He added: “Judge me and my administration on our record, what we’ve delivered in the first term. The only borough in the country to have free home care. We delivered the London living wage – the first in London. We delivered the university bursary, educational maintenance allowance. Our promises going forward are even more progressive. Judge me on what we will do for you.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.