This press release from the Electoral Commission is worrying

In good news, the Electoral Commission is going to investigate Tower Hamlets, as indeed it should.

In less good news, the wording of the Electoral Commission’s statement contains two worrying elements.

First, in the face of numerous people saying that there were large and intimidating crowds outside polling stations, the statement simply says:

Acting Superintendent Helen Lewis, of Tower Hamlets borough police, said: “Although we have received no allegations of harassment, intimidation or fraudulent behaviour at polling stations in Tower Hamlets we would, of course, be keen to speak with anyone who has concerns. If you saw anything that you believe amounted to criminal activity, please call the police on 101. Your information will be treated with the utmost discretion.”

That’s the wrong way round. The police and Electoral Commission should be pushing hard to encourage people to come forward and add as a footnote that it’s particularly important people do so because so far they’ve not had any formal witness statements.

Leading off with the claim about not having received allegations both paints the police and Electoral Commission as not paying attention to what others have been saying and sounds far too complacent. Where’s the urgent plea for evidence whilst it is fresh in people’s minds?

And then there’s the note to editors, which contains this:

Prior to the elections, the Returning Officer for Tower Hamlet put in place a local protocol which represented a commitment by all parties, individuals and organisations involved in the May 2014 elections in Tower Hamlets to work towards free and fair elections.

“To work towards”. If arrangements aren’t in place to have free and fair elections, you don’t just try to work towards having them, you hit the panic button, call in extra resources and make darn sure every possible thing is done to ensure the current set of elections are free and fair.

Slipping into this comfort bureaucratic language about making things better in future isn’t nearly enough. Let’s hope it was just a matter of a badly written press release given too cursory a check before being published rather than really a sign of such complacency at the top.

But if it’s more than that and all senior staff at the council and the Electoral Commission can talk about is “working towards” rather than “ensuring” free and fair elections, then they should be writing out letters of resignation.


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