Election Petition Judgement : Tower Hamlets 2014
[2015] EWHC 1215 (QB)

The 2010 Mayoral Election

  1. As Leader of the Council and as someone who had just led his party to a resounding election victory, Mr Rahman might reasonably have supposed that he would at least have been shortlisted for the selection of the Labour Party's Mayoral candidate. The shortlist was, however, controlled by the Party at regional and national level and, as has been said, Mr Rahman had ruffled too many feathers. Consequently, when the shortlist was published it consisted of Mr Biggs and two candidates from the Bangladeshi community, neither of whom were well-known locally. Mr Rahman suspected that the local Party was going to be faced with a 'Hobson's choice' of Mr Biggs.
  2. Mr Rahman did not take this lying down. He consulted his solicitors. They challenged the shortlist as having been drawn up in breach of the Party's own rules. The Labour Party decided to run the selection procedure again and to institute a new appeal process. Mr Rahman attended a second selection panel and was again refused admittance to the shortlist. He appealed. At first he was told his appeal was successful and he held a launch event only to be told later that his appeal had, in fact, been rejected and he would not be on the shortlist. Mr Rahman started legal proceedings in earnest. The Party appeared to cave in. A consent order was made by the High Court whereby the Party's General Secretary gave an undertaking that Mr Rahman would go forward for selection and the Party agreed to pay Mr Rahman his £35,000 costs.
  3. The selection took place on 4 September 2010. A transferable-vote ballot was held among members of the Party in Tower Hamlets. The other candidates included Mr Biggs, Mr Helal Abbas and Mr Keith. Mr Rahman was successful and his candidature was announced by Mr Clark (clearly through gritted teeth). But Mr Rahman's adversaries had not finished there.
  4. On 17 September 2010 a nine-page document was submitted to Labour's National Executive Committee described as a 'statement' of Mr Helal Abbas. It contained as astonishing catalogue of very serious allegations against Mr Rahman. They may be summarised as follows. Mr Rahman was said to have:
    1. procured his selection as candidate by fraud, including ghost voters and voters not resident in the Borough (names and addresses were given);
    2. grossly abused his position as Council leader by (inter alia) getting rid of the Chief Executive, appointing unsuitable staff and intimidating those who were not overtly devout Muslims;
    3. maintained links to the Islamic Forum of Europe ('IFE') which was said to be an extremist Islamist organisation;
    4. made threats of violence to Mr Abbas and his supporters;
    5. colluded with the IFE to obtain a positive vote in the referendum in direct opposition to Labour Party policy.
  5. Mr Abbas gave evidence for the Petitioners. He was unable to provide any explanation as to why he had not raised any of these complaints earlier, in particular during the period when Mr Rahman was attempting by the use of legal proceedings to obtain a place on the shortlist. One might have thought that the time to make the accusations was before the vote to select the candidate but in fact this document was produced nearly a fortnight later by Mr Abbas (who had come a poor third in the contest). Unsurprisingly, Mr Abbas did not inform Mr Rahman of his accusations before sending the document to the NEC.
  6. What happened next was a meeting of the NEC on 21 September 2010. The meeting was attended by several very senior members of the Labour Party including Ms Harriet Harman, Ms Angela Eagle, Mr Keith Vaz, Mr Jack Dromey and Mr Dennis Skinner [41]. Also amongst those attending was Ms Christine Shawcroft, a long-standing member of the NEC, who may, I think fairly, be described as on the far left of the Labour Party. She gave evidence and made no secret of the fact that she was and is very supportive of Mr Rahman and is very critical of, indeed hostile to, Mr Biggs. Ms Shawcroft is one of those mentioned above who are happy to campaign for Mr Rahman against their own Party and its official candidate.
  7. Ms Shawcroft is a methodical person and, after the NEC meeting, she came home and wrote up a detailed memorandum -- virtually unofficial minutes of the meeting. This document was put in evidence. I had no hesitation in accepting Ms Shawcroft's evidence about the meeting and the accuracy of her minutes. They do not make happy reading.
  8. First and foremost, despite Ms Shawcroft's strong advocacy of Mr Rahman, there was no decision to confront Mr Rahman with Mr Abbas's allegations or to ask him whether he had any answer to them. Indeed the NEC itself did not trouble to communicate Mr Abbas's statement to Mr Rahman. He only discovered it later through the agency of his supporters on the Committee. The Committee did not even decide to hold an investigation. It did not summon Mr Abbas and ask him to justify his serious allegations.
  9. A resolution was passed to suspend Mr Rahman, unseen and unheard. Next, the NEC decided, then and there, to select and impose a new candidate. There was no suggestion that the Tower Hamlets Labour Party might be consulted, still less that there might be a new ballot. It was not even suggested that, as Mr Biggs had come second in the original ballot, he might, so to speak, move up to become the candidate. The NEC simply decided ad hoc that it would vote, then and there, between Mr Biggs and, of all people, Mr Abbas, whose accusations could have been, for all the NEC knew about it, a complete tissue of malicious falsehoods. 16 voted for Mr Abbas and 2 for Mr Biggs. The upshot of the meeting was thus that Mr Rahman, completely unaware of the accusations and given no opportunity to counter them, was summarily sacked as candidate and his accuser substituted.
  10. Ms Shawcroft believed that the selection of Mr Abbas was motivated by the desire 'not to leave themselves open to the charge of deselecting a Bangladeshi and replacing him with a white man'. Given Mr Abbas's lack of support in the previous ballot, Ms Shawcroft's belief has a lot going for it.
  11. Although this judgment will have to be critical of Mr Rahman in many respects, in the matter of his deselection the court cannot but sympathise with him. His treatment by the NEC was, by any standards, utterly shameful and wholly unworthy of the Party which, rightly, prides itself on having passed the Human Rights Act 1998.

[41] : Mr Skinner is recorded as having left the meeting before the decisions were taken.