With the disgraced Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman’s fall from his position of dominance within the borough, the issue of postal votes was brought up again. There are, as the Bangladeshi community in the Borough has shown, communities around the country where it seems a postal vote is a vote assured. I am not here to make an argument against postal voting in and of itself – it gives a method of voting for those where a proxy or getting to the polling station is not ideal and we should do our best to make voting as easy as possible (more on that at a later date). Rather, and not the biggest issue out there but an interesting one nonetheless, a recent Private Eye article has done what the publication always has done and brought one’s attention to a specific multi-layered story that would otherwise be lost in the big stories of the wider media.
Within the Sikh community of Gravesham, Kent, the Labour candidate has been warned – along with all the candidates being reminded via email – about the proper policy regarding the process by which postal voters, well, vote. At no point should their form be exposed to anyone other than they themselves and the counter, this appears to have escaped Cllr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and his team as – according to the Eye article’s sources – members of the Sikh community “have felt under undue pressure from supporters of Labour candidate…to hand over postal vote forms”. This is not only a problem with this specific group, Lutfur Rahman was not (those was but that isn’t key here) a Labour candidate nor Sikh, he was – as were his team – however putting members of his own community under pressure to vote for him. So, is there the possibility that members of certain communities are putting the wider community under pressure to vote the way they want them to? Going by the cases so far it would not come as much of a surprise.
In a certain way this is just the natural progression from the stigma that voting a certain way brings within particular communities – both in the past and today. Consider the cold shoulders that would greet a member of a deeply partisan family who chose the other side, within living memory families have been divided by elections. Fortunately, for the most part, British citizens have had a tendency to accept a democratic result and return to the rest of their life (disgruntled, annoyed, even prepared to campaign – but to revolt? no). Roger Scruton described in his four part piece on democracy on Radio 4’s Analysis a while back – around the time of the Arab Spring – how his father (a dedicated Labour man) would be visibly angered at the result of a Tory victory but would accept that this was the result and all he could do would be to push harder for a Labour win the next time around. This attitude now appears to be a foreign one to the communities such as the ones I pointed to earlier, no longer is British voting independent of the rotten aspects that we thought of as belonging to the 19th century, rather it has taken on a new twist and the postal vote is one part of this. Now stigma has extended to the clear rigging of postal vote – you aren’t being made to vote for a certain party by way of social pressure but instead having the vote done for you in your name. These groups have simply ensured that the risk of communal expectations not being enough to ensure the desired outcome has been removed, is this any surprise? Not really. It is a pity, it is plain illegal and something we ought to strive to end but not – unfortunately – a surprise.
Though back to the “multi-layered” story of that Sikh community in Kent. It’s not the first time the Eye’s attention has been directed their way; previously Cllr. Dhesi and his mother were involved in an honour crime scandal and a conflict of interest case, as the hospital being visited by a party Councillor in Dhesi’s home town over in India was looking for business from Indian communities in the UK and guess who had financial interests with the hospital? Yep, the mother. The Eye has done its usual simple and effective job of saying the story straight up, but beyond this I find there to be parallels that can be drawn between this case and that of Lutfur. To what extent are these kind of “cohesive” communities (cultural, ethnic, religious, whatever the common strands running within it be) suffering from particular individuals within local government ensuring money finds its way to their desired destinations. Tower Hamlets saw this in the form of council money being fed to extremist backed organisations – away from secular ones – and publicly owned property being flogged off to mates for knocked down prices.
The issue of postal votes is but one example of the rotten behaviour that goes on in some of England’s boroughs and districts. Fortunately a few individuals stood up against Rahman and now justice has been served – though this is news that seems to have yet reached the Unite Union leader Len McCluskey. If more people prepared to stand up and expose this kind off behaviour – and if truly guilty individuals are prosecuted as Rahman has been – then hopefully these rotten wanna be Alan B’stards will get the idea that they are there to represent their constituents’ views, not there to spend their money on forcing some sort of bullshit down the community’s throat while laughing all the way to the bank.
By Laurence Smith
Economics & Westminster
Sources and further reading: