Despite the absence of ‘political correctness’ reference in his report Pickles ran with the narrative corruption in the Tower Hamlet Town Hall was due to PC fear (Photo: Creative Commons)
Former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Sir Eric Pickles, earlier this month produced the first report, entitled Securing the Ballot, of a review into electoral fraud. In the conclusion Pickles attacks state institutions for turning a blind eye to practices within minority communities because of, “over-sensitivities about ethnicity and religion”. Pickles, one of the architects of the removal of Tower Hamlet’s Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, the first elected Muslim Mayor in the UK, has sought to capitalise on that victory through this report.
The research that supports these findings is founded on a small collection of electoral practices across the country. The Rahman affair is uniquely emphasised to conclude that for the sake of ‘integration’ we must ‘defend Britain’s free and fair elections’. This provided Pickles the ground to construct through the media that his report found ‘political correctness’ had stopped the Metropolitan Police pursuing a criminal case against Rahman.
The phrase ‘political correctness’ is not used anywhere in the actual report. Its absence indicates that the report has been deployed for political purposes. Political correctness is a fictitious phenomenon and has always been used for muddying the terms of anti-racism.
It is evident here that Pickles’ aim was to reconfigure the underlying tenants of the (Very British) coup against Rahman. Specifically, to transform an Islamophobic campaign against a Muslim politician by crafting an alternative narrative. Pickles’s narrative is that the reason corrupt riffraff at Tower Hamlets Town Hall were able to run riot was because of the unwillingness to criticise out of fear of accusations of racism.
Of course, in reality, Pickles was the first to draw blood, long before Rahman found himself in court. Government henchmen, commissioners, were sent in on the orders of Pickles to bulldoze the work of Rahman. These destructive measures included the halting of a grant for the restoration of the East London Old Synagogue. That any external authority felt precarious regarding stepping on the toes of minorities in Tower Hamlets is demonstrably false once this record of events is acknowledged.
The claim that authorities are hesitant to run roughshod over religious sensibilities, when in reality they literally left a Synagogue roof to decline, has a clear proposition: greater action against independent politicians in minority communities organising amongst their community. That people should be more, not less, willing to mobilise racism when it helps end these unusual and threatening political projects.
The Review grounds its case through a spectre of electoral fraud, of which Tower Hamlets is the only example mentioned. Rahman, as detailed here, was found not guilty of any postal fraud and guilty of just one count of individual fraud (a Tower Hamlet’s First councillor had two registered address, causing speculation he voted twice). This was based solely on the testimony of Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan. Gilligan’s long-running, classically obsessive, campaign against Rahman and any left-wing political Muslim, has been well documented.
I attended the trial and found it a spectacle of almost unbelievably cartoonish racism. Any witness to swear on the Qur’an was asked whether they, “gave out curry”, to win votes. Follow up questions proposed whether ‘lollipops’ and ‘Tango’ were offered, too, as if voters in Tower Hamlets have the mental age of seven. Witnesses were asked if they had claimed it was, “haram”, to not vote for “brother Lutfur”. This led to semi-humorous attempts of some of the more earnest witnesses explaining to the prosecution they were not Islamic scholars.
The Review Into Electoral Fraud would not be possible without this successful crushing of Tower Hamlets First through the courts. Rahman’s central misdemeanour was to be a politician outside the mainstream. To not bow to austerity measures imposed by the Conservative Government and have the audacity to attempt to shield Tower Hamlets residents from them.
At this juncture all available weapons to oust Rahman were taken up and the scaffolding of Rahman as a corrupt Islamic radical began, relying on grossly Islamophobic and racist tropes whenever progress could be forged through them.
This is now the same strategy of Pickles’s Review Into Electoral Fraud, but on a national scale. Its aim is to create a vision of events that will allow future weaponisation of racial stereotypes at a quicker pace. The Report recommends lowering the bar to what constitutes ‘treating’ voters. Ready to be selectively deployed against particular targets. Bribery is another example recommend for a provisional watering down. Rahman was found to have committed bribery because he hired a PR advisor.
This would render most elections invalid and Tory media Tsar Linton Crosby out of a job. Pickles and the media outlets touting the report have an understanding that this will only apply to certain candidates in certain elections. What holds that organisation of selectivity together are the strictures of ‘political correctness’, resulting in a softened approach to racism. This softening will make it harder to call out racism and easier to take up its mantle in elections.
It is entirely preferable for Pickles to foster Islamohphobia to play a significant role in elections, instead of Muslims self-organising in their communities. Rahman’s administration has showed what a threat to the establishment that venture can be. The Review Into Electoral Fraud is a part of Pickles’s project to nationalise efforts against what was shown to be possible by Rahman in Tower Hamlets, to ensure it is not repeated. It is ironic that Pickles accuses any borough of corruption of lacking democracy when his own party is under investigation for electoral fraud across several constituencies.
Jen Izaakson is a PhD student