With only a week to go before the local and mayoral elections in Tower Hamlets on 3rd May here is LW’s take on what might (or might not) happen.
This allows our Political Analysis Team to take the opportunity to upset politicians and supporters of all parties at once so they can call us either a right-wing Tory mouthpiece, a rabid left-wing Red crypto-commie, accuse us of being paid by the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets (PATH) or conducting a personal vendetta against Lutfur Rahman’s Ohid Ahmed’s Aspire party because of his religion / colour / shoe size and or not demonstrating balanced objective journalism depending on their preferences.
Which is fine because we don’t care what the politicos think.
We also don’t care who you vote for – just get off your arses, get to the ballot box and vote. Don’t vote? Don’t complain.
Residents have two choices to make – who do they want as mayor of Tower Hamlets and who do they want as the local representative of their ward? For today we will focus on the mayoral race.
It could be argued that this year’s elections are one of the most important in the history of the London borough of Tower Hamlets as they are the first scheduled local and mayoral elections since 2015.
The Labour party under the leadership of directly-elected Mayor John Biggs have had three years to demonstrate to the electorate what they can do so they can – and should – be judged on that.
That they inherited a complete train wreck of a council courtesy of Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets First (now known as the Aspire party) cannot be used as any sort of excuse for not getting the job done properly.
Reality is that the next mayor of the borough will come from one of two groups (with apologies to the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green parties).
The mayor will either be from the Labour group (John Biggs) or it will be from the Bangladeshi political grouping. We used the term ‘grouping’ as a characteristic of Tower Hamlets politics is the constant shifting of alliances left of the centre ground renders any notion of normal party politics redundant.
Problem is that for many voters only having two choices that are left of centre is no choice at all.
However it is of huge importance that whoever runs the council after 3rd May is kept in check by a credible and organised opposition.
Tower Hamlets Conservatives under the leadership of the legendary Cllr. Peter Golds have done a pretty good job of this in the past and have been the only party to vocally oppose Rahman between 2010 and 2014 with real conviction.
The Bangladeshi political grouping (well, as of Tuesday morning) consists of two main parties, Aspire and PATH.
Ohid Ahmed leads Aspire although it is an accepted fact that he is only the proxy candidate for Lutfur Rahman who cannot stand for elected office until 2020.
Lutfur Rahman is done
There is a great temptation for people to cast their vote tactically to stop Rahman getting back into power.
While this is completely understandable our take is that Rahman / Ohid has about much chance as becoming the next mayor as Cllr. Oliur Rahman has of ever becoming a Member of Parliament.
Rahman’s support base was damaged after he was kicked out of office and has been steadily draining away since then. Where once he and his supporters would fill the biggest event venues in the borough now they are hard pressed to fill a 150 seat venue.
And Rahman just offers more of the same – which is most definitely not what want people want.
With Rahman out of contention then the only choice for the Bangladeshi political grouping to rally behind is Rabina Khan of PATH.
LW has long predicted that when the elections are imminent (like now) and Rahman and crew realised they have no chance of winning the mayoralty then they would try and make nice with Rabina Khan.
We have a feeling that Rabina will tell Rahman where to go, partly because she is a smart cookie and partly because there is no love lost between the two. Oh and she also knows that any alliance with Rahman would be political suicide.
Clear water and lots of it
It is essential for the PATH leader to keep lots of clear water between herself and Rahman. True, Rabina Khan was Rahman’s cabinet member for housing but we get the feeling she is one of the few ex-Tower Hamlets First councillors to genuinely understand the damage that was caused to the borough and why.
Talking to some Wapping residents the other day was typical of many other conversations LW has had about the choice of mayor in that while they were aware of John Biggs as being the Labour mayor they were not convinced that Labour (either mayor or as the majority party) would be good for the borough.
The person LW spoke to (whose politics we are unaware of) pointed to the One O’Clock Club in Wapping Gardens which was, as usual, closed. They could not understand how such a fabulous facility was not properly used. Neither can we.
The other Wapping-centric issue is the seeming inability of the Council to organise our other community faciltiies properly. The One O’Clock Club is all but abandoned, local volunteers are still fighting to be allowed to run the Children’s Centre in Chandlers Street and £1.3 million quid is being thrown at Raines House. LW understands the costs of renovation, our question is why so much renovation and why are other community centres being ignored?
This is the simple stuff guys! If you can’t get this done right what about the tricky issues?
The Aspire party, not normally seen in Wapping, jumped onto the issue of residents being charged by the hour to use a community centre and have exploited this issue at Raines House for their own political purposes while Labour has stood back and let them exploit it.
That just seems politically inept.
It also has to be pointed out that the group of highly respected Wapping residents who have been using Raines House for years have been ruthlessly exploited by Aspire who will ditch as soon as the elections are over. Sorry, but it needs to be said. It is disquieting to see friends and neighbours being shafted by opportunistic politicians.
Just to complicate things LW agrees with Aspire that it is wrong for residents to be charged for the use of a community centre. Sure the borough needs more money but Tower Hamlets residents have already paid to use their community centres via the community charge. What gives with charging them (you) again?
The Liberal Democrats have promised to review this issue if elected and good for them.
Another election promise worthy of commendation is that of Rabina Khan to hold a referendum on abandoning the directly-elected mayoral system. A lot of people will vote for Rabina on this promise alone.
This promise may be simple self-preservation. Abolishing the directly-elected mayoral system would also go a long way to ensuring that neither Lutfur Rahman or Ohid Ahmed could sneak into power and impose themselves on Rabina Khan.
At the time of writing LW considers that John Biggs and Rabina Khan are the only two realistic candidates for the mayoralty, that they probably have equal support and votes so there is everything to fight for.
Is Biggs even campaigning?
The big advantage that Khan has is that she actually has a mayoral campaign.
As for Biggs, is he even campaigning? (Not our question but that of a friend). Sure, he is out canvassing for local ward councillors as much as anyone, but his mayoral campaign seems non-existent. If he has a campaign we ain’t seen it. Have you?
John Biggs has told LW that he is not complacent and does not believe for one minute that the mayoral race is a done deal.
That’s a typical down-to-earth approach but if he knows he has not won what is going on? Anything? Does he have a campaign team? And that is not a rhetorical question.
Earlier this week Dan Sabbagh wrote an excellent analysis piece in the Guardian ‘Labour faces new challenge from old foes in Tower Hamlets vote’ which we encourage you to read.
Look carefully at the photographs of Khan and Biggs. Compare the two. One says urban, young, aware. One says farmer, market, Shires.
That’s a harsh judgement but the contrast is striking.
We will conclude with the words of a good friend of Wapping.
“The more I see and hear in Tower Hamlets, I think having the power spread around is a much better and safer option and if Rabina did win, she wouldn’t have overall majority which would help minimise corruption…”
As we say, not the words of LW (and certainly not an endorsement) but the words of probably the most fair minded person we know.
Check and challenge
Whoever becomes the next mayor of Tower Hamlets their power must be checked and challenged. Every decision, every meeting, every day.
Rabina Khan has made a manifesto pledge to create a cross-party cabinet which is to be applauded. Whoever wins they should follow her lead and do the same.
No single party should hold power in this borough. The risks are far too high.
The best result for now and the future would be a coalition of PATH, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with whatever precise mix of councillors you fancy.
It’s your vote on 3rd May. Make sure you use it.