Sunday, 10 February 2008

The British Democratic Process

Most visitors to this site will be aware that the issue of Ahmed Khan and the “Case of the Missing Ballot Boxes” has been covered in great depth since his petition was first lodged in May 2007. The latest development was highlighted this week in the Shields Gazette, with the launch of a public appeal to help Mr Khan pay his (largely unnecessary) legal bill of £33,000

I contacted Ahmed after reading the article, and gratefully accepted his offer of a cup of tea the following day. With hot brew in hand, I found him in his usual buoyant mood. He spoke passionately about the overturning of the Arebeai Fort development, his pleasure originating more from the fact that it had been public, rather than political, pressure which had forced the Council to change their minds. His enthusiasm for the forthcoming May election was also evident; he clearly views this as the “return leg”, with the reward being the acknowledgement of a principal, rather than a political victory.

I raised the issue of the public appeal, a situation that none of us, especially Mr Khan, envisaged as happening when his election petition was first lodged in May 2007. The injustice of it all still astounds him; if he had known the ballot boxes were missing on the 8th May 2007 he would have had to withdraw his petition. However, this information was kept from him and the legal bill was allowed to accumulate. His public appeal for funds to counter the Council legal bill has received support from all sections of the community, and events have already been planned by friends and acquaintances to raise the profile of the campaign. However, he did show me an email which he had received that day, the text of which is reproduced below:

“I read the article/promotion piece kindly placed in the Gazette by your friends/scribes outlining your intension to stand on street corners with buckets to collect monies from people to cover your legal costs, legal costs which ammounted to £30,000 because you chose to challenge the British Democratic process. Did you consider the financial implications of losing the legal contest and if so, how did you plan to pay? My belief and that of many others was that you would contest in court and should you lose, rely on the handouts of your financially struggling costituants when you, as you constantly remind us are a sucessful local businessman. I wonder Mr Khan, should i try to challenge the political process in central Asia what would become of me?”

This email actually encapsulates the incredible naivety of some people in this Borough and also the sad emergence of a racist tone to the argument. It is therefore worth having a look at in depth. For a start the Gazette does not publish anything it doesn’t want to, and after trawling their archives I can find no reference to the Khan ever referring to himself as a “successful local business man”. The writer of the letter is clearly green with envy. Neither do I find any reference to him relying on the handouts of financially struggling constituents: anybody who wishes to donate to his appeal does so of their own free will. The last sentence and the reference to Asia is of course nothing short of closet racism. I suspect the writer is happy to vote for the BNP: abhorrent and despicable people tend to find their own ilk!

However, the reason I chose to address this email is the reference to the challenge to “the British Democratic process”. The British democratic process calls for ballot boxes to be kept secure for at least a year after an election has taken place. It is against the law to loose them, destroy them or open their contents. On all three counts South Tyneside Council did not abide by these laws. To date, nobody has been punished, reprimanded or disciplined. Could this also be the same British democratic process which allowed the Council to lie, prevaricate and accumulate legal fees for over a 6 month period while it deliberately conspired to hide the fact that the ballot boxes had gone missing? Could this be the same British democratic process which allowed a Returning Officer, Mr Brian T Scott, to claim in an email that he was aware of his legal obligations, yet all the time he was so incompetent in his job that he had already lost the court evidence?

Sadly Mr Khan has a modicum of decorum of chose not to rise to the bait. I however, have no decorum when it comes to this matter and I am happy to address such crass stupidity and racist tendencies. The fact that it was Mr Khan and not a Labour/Conservative/Liberal Party candidate is of no consequence to me:if it had been Councillor David Potts I would have been compelled to defend the principle and attack the outcome.

The facts in this case are decidedly simple: South Tyneside Council have presided over a conspiracy to hide the truth about the missing ballot boxes. They deliberately with held evidence from a court of law and they knowingly broke laws designed to preserve and protect the democratic process. To add to their deception, they have deliberately taken the option of ruining a person financially, purely based on the motive that he chose to challenge their actions in a court of law.

That is the “British Democratic process” as it is applied in South Tyneside, not Asia!

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