Ex-Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has denied any electoral wrongdoing as he runs for office again after a five-year ban. In an exclusive interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the former mayor responded to accusations of fraud in his current campaign and in his former administration.
Rahman was removed from office as mayor of the East London borough in 2015 and banned from standing for office for five years after a civil court found him guilty of corrupt and illegal practices.
Now permitted to run again, Rahman is standing as the Aspire candidate in the race for mayor of the borough in elections on May 5. He is considered one of the frontrunners alongside incumbent Labour mayor John Biggs. But some have raised concerns already.
READ MORE:A big change is coming to how we vote for the next Mayor of London
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The MailOnline reported in April on a video which showed one of the former mayor’s supporters talking about care workers “collecting” votes for the campaign at an event with Rahman. Lutfur Rahman rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing and said his supporter had clarified he had meant canvassing for votes.
Rahman said: “I believe in democracy, I believe in accountability, I believe in transparency. I believe in the free will of the people when it comes to voting … I don’t believe in putting any kind of pressure on anyone and I have never put pressure on anyone. I was shocked when I heard this word [collect] was being used – as a lawyer, I know what it means. I didn’t get up and say anything because I wanted to challenge that person afterwards, know what he meant. I said ‘do you know your word has a different meaning, and your meaning could be misconstrued’ and he was shocked himself, so I made my views clear.”
He added: “I would never condone anyone going out and putting pressure on anyone to vote in a particular way. I would never condone or support anyone handling postal votes. If I know anyone handling postal votes, I would report them to the police.”
Richard Mawrey, the election commissioner who ousted Rahman from office in 2015, said he had “driven a coach and horses through election law and didn’t care”. The commission also upheld a number of allegations against Rahman and his party, including voting fraud and making false accusations that John Biggs was a racist.
Despite the Election Court’s decision, Rahman still denies its findings. He said: “I have always maintained my innocence, I believe that report was a travesty of justice.
“We came out at each stage and said there was no illegality on my part or on the part of any member of my administration. However, I am always someone who wants to learn from my mistakes… I’ve reflected on what I did and my administration did during the time we were in power. Obviously there are some learnings and I have learned from those mistakes.”
Rahman argued that he had never been charged, despite Met Police investigations into the incident. Rahman said that the election for Tower Hamlets mayor would be based on comparing the records of his administration and the Labour council. He added that residents were concerned with cuts to youth services, and wanted more to be done about crime and housing. Rahman argued that his record as mayor until 2015 was better than the current council.
Ahead of the May elections, Rahman’s Aspire party has made gains – winning a council seat in 2019 and again last August, overturning large Labour majorities in both. The May 5 elections are expected to see a tight competition between Labour and Aspire.
Rahman said he was confident people wanted to see a new administration in Tower Hamlets. He said: “We are the only real alternative to Labour in Tower Hamlets. We have the momentum, and I believe we have a fantastic chance if people choose to get back to power on the fifth of May. All I want to do – all my team want to do – is to be given a chance to serve the people of the borough.”