The battle for “democracy” continues in Tower Hamlets

Lutfur Rahman speaking at the 'Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets' event (Photo Fourman Films)

Journalist Nishaat Ismail shares her thoughts on Thursday’s “Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets” event in support of the ousted mayor Lutfur Rahman.

I may have fallen but I am not broken.” These words of former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman, who was removed from office last week after being found “guilty” of electoral fraud, were followed by fervent cheers and applauds from a room full of his supporters at a rally titled “Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets” on Thursday night.

The event attracted an array of speakers from various organisations, who expressed their solidarity with ousted Rahman and the people of Tower Hamlets, with many of them describing the recent events in the east London borough as an “anti-democratic coup”.

Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey

Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s largest trade union and Labour’s biggest donor, also showed his support to Rahman.

This was conveyed through the union’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, who described Judge Richard Mawrey’s decision as a “work of unabashed megalomania”.

Murray added that the judgement was as an “outrageous travesty of democracy” and an “undemocratic assault on the people of Tower Hamlets which was both racist and Islamophobic.”

Christine Shawcroft, a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) described last week’s judgement, and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) report as “subjective meaningless drivel”, and pleaded the audience to support an appeal on the verdict for the “future generation.”

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The pinnacle of the evening came when Rahman announced that the current Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Rabina Khan, would be the next mayoral candidate for his party, although it is still unclear whether she’ll be able to stand, as the Tower Hamlet’s First party has been banned from the ballot.

Wider support

The room was swarming with individuals who had come to show their discontentment at Mawrey’s verdict. There was a jovial atmosphere as people cheered and commended some of the powerful speeches delivered is support of Rahman.

However, with terms such as “racism” and “Islamophobia” being used by many of the speakers, I sensed an air of melancholy spread across the hall, highlighting the dangerous and disturbing level of prejudice that exists within the borough and British judiciary.

The Bangladeshi community has played an active role in every realm of British life, holding high professional positions across many industries, but the recent verdict on Lutfur Rahman suggests minorities “shouldn’t aspire too high” and positions of power are only reserved for a particular type of “Briton”.

Rabina Khan will stand as a mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets
Rabina Khan will stand as a mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets

Salma Yaqoob, the former leader and vice chair, of the Respect Party and former Birmingham City Councilor was amongst those who spoke at Thursday’s event, stating that “a war has been waged in this country by those who have money, power and resource against those who don’t.”

This overturn of democracy in Tower Hamlets is also symptomatic of a wider concern about British multiculturalism reaching its zenith.


This intolerant trait of Britain has been simmering beneath the grounds of society but finally surfaced in Tower Hamlets last week when one judge overturned tens of thousands of votes.

In his judgment, Mawrey stated: “Whatever may be the position in the rest of London or in the country at large, in Tower Hamlets Muslims in general and Bangladeshis in particular are not in any real sense a ‘minority’: in both instances they are the largest community in comparison to other religious and ethnic groupings.”

Implying, that simply due to the large concentration of Bangladeshis in the borough they are immune to racism and bigotry; an idea that is both unfounded and absurd.

Early this year, Britain First, an extreme far right group founded by Jim Dowson, a protestant preacher who was a former member of the British National Party (BNP), occupied headlines after a chain of well-publicised skits “invading mosques” or driving armored cars up and down Brick Lane purely for the purpose of intimidating the Muslim community. Its thugs then stood outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, guzzling cans of lager under the auspicious role of defying the “Shari’ah”, with their own “Christian patrols”.

Judge Richard Mawrey
Judge Richard Mawrey

Mawrey clearly overlooked these events, confirming his lack of knowledge about the local area and revealing his thwarted view of what bigotry actually is.

The dismissal of Lutfur Rahman is a forewarning for aspiring Muslim politicians who want to have a voice independent of mainstream political parties. If they venture to challenge the status quo, they risk facing the same vilification and slander faced by Rahman and his colleagues.

The former mayor and his party, Tower Hamlets First, built more affordable social housing than anywhere else in the country and unlike other local authorities Tower Hamlets under Rahman’s administration had prevented cuts to essential services such as libraries, youth clubs and frontline children’s services.

This is what should have been his legacy but instead the accusations of bribing voters with food and “spiritual influence” have overhauled the services he and his party had been providing the borough for the past five years.

It is without a doubt that Rabina Khan, the party’s mayoral candidate in the next mayoral election will be confronted with numerous challenges during the campaign period. If she is victorious, she appears to be prepared to encounter the difficulties, which she stated to the crowd on Thursday night, “people don’t judge us on our party they judge us on our character.”

Nishaat Ismail has just completed a post-graduate degree from Birkbeck University in Middle East in Global Politics: Islam, Conflict and Development (MSc). She has a BA in history from SOAS and specialises in the history and politics of the near and Middle East. She is also a contributor for The Moroccan Times, The Guardian and Open Democracy.

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