“To stand or not to stand” as the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is the question Ajmal Masroor asked on Facebook yesterday night.
In a long-winded commentary on the dismissal of the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman last week, Masroor reached out to Facebook friends and followers for their “advice” on whether he should stand for mayor in the east London borough.
In 2005, Masroor was selected as Lib Dem PPC for West Ham but stood down after being criticised for posting on the Muslim Public Affairs Committee forum.
He later ran for PPC in the 2010 General Election in Bethnal Green and Bow, and came second to Rushanara Ali of Labour.
The Facebook “announcement” of a prospective mayoral candidate
“Luthfur Rahman, a democratically elected mayor of Tower Hamlet was overthrown by an unelected and unaccountable electoral lawyer and deputy judge. Luthfur Rahman was accused of using corrupt ways and specifically undue influence by using religion to garner more votes. I am extremely worried about how an unelected and unaccountable individual can have so much power and scupper the will of the people!
The law that was used to outlaw Luthfur Rahman was first introduced as a response to the Irish Catholic fear in the middle of 19th century in the UK. The Guardian columnist Giles Fraser writes “The judge has used a law in this context that the 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act was passed into law. And with it the idea of “undue spiritual influence”, the purpose of which was specifically to constrain the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy on what the English establishment took to be the ignorant and impressionable minds of the Irish proletariat. It’s an almost identical version of this 19th century law that has been passed down to us in the wording of the 1983 Representation of the People Act. Here is what it says: “A person shall be guilty of undue influence if he … makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting.” Most of this is fair enough. But what is “spiritual injury”?”
The answer is simple – nobody really knows what is spiritual injury and can be arbitrarily interpreted by any judge and in this case a deputy judge. Luthfur has been accused of using religion to unduly influence people to vote for him but is that a spiritual inquiry? What about Iff I am denied my right to use my spiritual guidance to vote for a person who would help me find spiritual contentment? Would that not be injurious to my spiritual well being? Would that not leave me spiritually injured? The problem is one cannot use spiritual injury so conveniently but the damage is done and the whole community of Tower Hamlets has been put into very fractured position with further division and suspicion between neighbours. Removal of Luthfur Rahman from power is not going to solve anything and if anything it will create further gulf of division and derision in this community. I deplore the process and the foolish use of this ancient law and I further deplore those who fed their ultra large ego by taking him to court in the first place. The real losers are the ordinary people of Tower Hamlets, not the three old man or the deputy judge in question.
Now that Luthfur Rahman is thrown out and the next election has been called every party is looking for a credible candidate who can bring this high jacking of democracy to an acceptable and manageable conclusion. They wish to heal and do not wish to live in constant rift stoked up by a few old men whose vested political and or economic interests were affected. Luthfur did not tow the line, they did not have their cake and eat it. They wanted to revenge and they got it!
Things cannot get any worse. This is not just a simple case of corruption but a very strange and whopped use of an archaic election law to humiliate a whole group of people who chose to stand up to Tower Hamlet’s disgusting Labour Party and Bangladeshi political obnoxious “kitchri” (mixed up) relationship. Most people in Tower Hamlets know that most local politicians have been steeped in this grand playing filed of corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
In this borough tactics such as postal vote fraud, using emotional pressure on voters to vote in certain ways, racism to influence votes, food for votes and vote barons gambling votes for favours and political patronage have been used by many candidates from the local Labour Party, Conservative party, Liberal Democrats and Respect party for ages. Don’t we have this as a common practice when appointing members to the house of Lords. The big donors to political parties get fast tracked into buying peerage. It has been a common practice to brag about who has been able to secure (by pressuring people to vote in a particular way) maximum number of postal votes and who has how many votes under their direct influence. Many rank and file members were openly horse trading votes. No party did anything about it.
In fact in the last General Election when I stood for the Parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow constituency such activities were openly taking place with the full knowledge of some of the so called knights in shining armour who took Luthfur Rahman to court over many of the above listed malpractices as well as many other superfluous allegations. I know they were fully aware of these terrible things that were happening in Tower Hamlets for years but they stayed silent then because it served their interest.
I clearly remember when a vote baron told me in 2010 general election that he had 3000 votes under his direct influence and he was going to cast them to a candidate who originated from his village in Bangladesh. His words were “even if my candidate is deaf, dumb and blind, he was still my brother from back home.” I was offered a few left over votes from his stash but when I told him that I would report him to the police he was very angry. He told me that he would do everything in his power to dissuade people from voting for me.
In 2005 I tried to become the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats and it was during the selection process I witnessed the most colossal abuse of ballot boxes. During the final selection hustings event one candidate was able to pull together members from the thin air. He was able to sign up over 750 members only for his use during the selection process. We were standing there and watching as his families and friends from all over the country came to vote in busses and cars. Before the hustings had even taken place he already had the seat secure in his bag. This candidate did not even speak English adequately and when he was asked questions during the hustings his answers were absolute nonsense. The liberal democrats didn’t do anything about the total misuse and desecration of the democratic system that took place right in front of the eyes of Liberal Democrats election officials. In fact that year during the party conference he was awarded a prize for recruiting the highest number of members. I still remember feeling being slapped on the face by the party that I had so excitedly joined back then. He was rewarded for his misdemeanour and given a trophy for bringing “democracy to disrepute”. Of course I could not take anyone to a civil court as I had no money and the overthrow of Luthfur Rahman is not going to change any of these bad practices on the ground.
Over the last few days Tower Hamlets community has been shaken up with this politically charged court verdict and its implications but more importantly learning to cope with the fall of Luthfur Rahman and potential return of the usual local Labour Party suspects who have been benefiting from the election manipulation and bad practice for decades runs shivers down my spine and frightens many in the community.
Over the last 48 hours I have been asked by many to consider standing for the Mayoral election. The election is now earmarked for June 11, 2015 and the Labour Party is expected to win their Tower Hamlets fiefdom back. I think this will take Tower Hamlets back by years and the culture of vote cronyism will remain. I feel flattered and humbled that people feel I could be their mayor and deliver an affective alternative to the current possibilities. I have never in my wildest dream thought of standing for the mayoral position in any borough and certainly never for the London borough of Tower Hamlets. This position is extremely onerous and requires a very well grounded and unifying person who could carry the community with him of her. It requires a person who can rise above party politics, ethnic divisions and petty childish squabbles that has dominated the local politics of this borough.
As a directly elected mayor he or she would need a clear mandate from people to clean up tower hamlets politics one and for all and take it away from the village politics and politicians whose behaviour has dogged the huge proportion of the population for far too long. Tower Hamlets needs to be handed back to credible and genuine local leadership and hardworking counsellors. In my view any local counsellors who do not speak good english, do not demonstrate right skill sets and competencies should not be allowed to stand for any local seats. Anyone who belongs to any foreign political parties should not be allowed to stand for any local offices either. Tower Hamlets need to be free from the Bangladeshi politics. These are the main causes of troubles in the borough.
The directly elected mayor should be given the full respect and space for him or her to develop a work programme and a team that can deliver the mayors vision for the good of all people in the borough. Adversarial and antagonistic counsellors from opposition parties should be put on tight leash so that they know how to take account but in a professional and civilised manner and not bark for the sake of barking. Making the life of an elected mayor a living hell does not serve the interest of local people. This is what majority of the Labour Party counsellors were busy doing during the first term of Luthfur Rahman.
A directly elected mayor should be directly accountable to the local people and not unelected individuals, lawyers or even judges. The ancient law of “corrupt and illegal practices act” that gives such power as the one seen during the trial of Luthfur Rahman to any individual is power too much and must be reformed. The Irish fear that led to the enactment of this in the first place was racist and substance and spirit. Use of this law is condoning such state sponsored racism. We must end this and instigate serious reform immediately available that will help strengthen our democracy and rule of law. We must put in place measures to put right any wrong doing that jeopardises our electoral or democratic institutions. But this cannot be entrusted to one individual. There must be a reform to this bad practice. If mayor Luthfur Rahman has done wrong so has the process of removing him been terribly wrong and in life two wrongs can never make things right. Any elected mayor of any borough must be given the legal reassurance that such anomaly in our legal system would not be repeated. Otherwise he or she would live in constant fear and not deliver on the work freely. We don’t want Disraeli racism to haunt our local councils.
I would like to pose this substantive question to those who wish well for me. My friends and followers have been wonderful and wise counsel to me and for that I am grateful. This time I don’t want to decide a matter by myself either. So I would like to know your honest opinion – Should I or should I not stand for the mayoral election in Tower Hamlets?
Think deep and hard before you answer!”