Ajmal Masroor and Tower Hamlets’ mayoral race

Ajmal Masroor

Ehtasham Haque cross-analyses Ajmal Masroor’s recent Facebook post, where he asked followers whether he should stand as a mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets.

Ajmal Masroor is more famous for being the dark horse that defeated Respect Party’s Abjal Miah and coming second to Labour’s Rushanara Ali in the 2010 General Election in Bethnal Green and Bow. He certainly had not entertained himself with the idea of standing as a PPC in this General Election. But just when we thought he had resigned from standing as an MP, and with two days left until Election Day, the politics of Tower Hamlets has provided him with another opportunity to have a stab in holding public office.

Masroor is a very vocal human rights activist and comes second to Rizwan Hussein as a celebrity fundraiser. Through his Facebook page he is tickling his supporters with the possibility of him standing as the Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Below is a commentary from me on what I think of his comments, which had to be carefully worded. He could not and should not claim Lutfur Rahman’s legacy, neither can he refrain from not using the anti-establishment lines to capitalise on the British Bangladeshi’s sentiment, and rightly so.

Dissecting Ajmal Masroor’s Facebook post

Masroor wrote about spiritual injury, which was one of seven counts of electoral offences the courts found Lutfur Rahman guilty of.

Lutfur has been accused of using religion to unduly influence people to vote for him but is that a spiritual injury? What about if 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 wellbeing?’’

Demotix 3rd September 2011Here, Masroor raises a very good question, and I admire him for his knowledge. I can assure you many people in the East End and from Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First camp do not come near to the sophistication and intellectual ability this man has. Hold on to your horses, I am not promoting him, just stating a fact.

Regarding corruption, Masroor is blatantly honest:

‘’Most people in Tower Hamlets know that most local politicians have been steeped in this grand playing field of corruption, cronyism and nepotism.’’

You will not find any politicians or candidates out there being this bold to admitting our state of affairs.

While being honest he almost tries to score a political point in saying that everyone in Tower Hamlets does it:

‘’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.’’

He then connects this to a national example, almost generalising the crime and this I disagree with this:

‘’Don’t we have this as a common practice when appointing members to the House of Lords?’’ 

This is not a fair comparison, as the House of Lords appointment procedure is not democratic and the process is fundamentally different to electing an executive mayor. I am sure candidates for the House of Lords don’t need to register false votes, and certainly do not have the family culture in many Bangladeshi families, which allows a son to fill up a voting form for his mother, father and uncles. Yes they may try and influence their associates and family connections to win votes but cannot physically vote for them.

Anybody willing to be the mayor and is sincere in changing the borough’s politics for good needs to unequivocally declare this.

Cllr Rabina Khan speaking at last Thursday's event
Cllr Rabina Khan speaking at last Thursday’s event

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 – all this needs to be dealt with by the utmost strict enforcement of law, and people as well as politicians need to be united against such culture to improve democracy.

Masroor goes on to blame the so-called “knights in shining armour” who took Lutfur Rahman to court, as silent supporters of such criminality. He’s right.

This is absolutely true but I would appreciate it if Masroor took more of a moral stand by pointing out that of those seven guilty counts, several has been proved with enough credible evidence. Yes, we can argue on aspect of spiritual influence etc, but what about the count of deliberately taking a strategy to brand John Biggs as a racist, and then in court denying, lying and being deliberately ambiguous when the Judge asked both Lutfur Rahman and Alibor Choudhury if they believed John Biggs is racist?

So what does Masroor have to say about Tower Hamlets mayorship?

“’This position is extremely onerous and requires a very well-grounded and unifying person who could carry the community with him or 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.’’

I believe he is sincere when stating this, though Lutfur Rahman used the very same lines.

Masroor is rightly disgusted about politicians’ incompetency and exercising of tribal village politics, and this is something of strength and credit to him, but can also be his weakness. However, he does seem ready and prepared to lose the Sasa’s (uncles) and Bhai saab’s (brothers) who steer the tribal votes in Tower Hamlets.

Judge Richard Mawrey
Judge Richard Mawrey

“Tower Hamlets needs to be handed back to credible and genuine local leadership and hard working councillors. In my view, any local councillor who do not speak good English, do not demonstrate right skill sets and competencies should not be allowed to stand for any local seats.”

So is he willing to distance himself from Lutfur Rahman and what does he thinks about his “crimes”?

‘’If Mayor Lutfur Rahman has done wrong so has the process of removing him been terribly wrong and in life two wrongs can never make things right.’’

This is the closest Ajmal comes to saying that Lutfur Rahman has done wrong. So should he or should he not stand?

He definitely wants his well-wishers to think deep and hard before answering.

Well, after I have thought hard and deep, I would say this to Ajmal Masroor – if you are in politics to change politics – go for it. But be careful if politics sucks you in and forces you to become a new person who these very people commenting to support you do not know.

The people in Tower Hamlets have been taken on enough rough rides and Lutfur Rahman’s ride was a particularly dodgy one as the court concluded. It has no appetite for another ride, which had its new driver announced last week at the Water Lily.

The community should be willing to have you as their fresh and new driver, than the replacement of the previous one by another similar one.

Ehtasham holds a MA in Management from Westminster Business School, Post Graduate Diploma in Law and Community leadership from SOAS, and a BA Honours in International Relations from London Metropolitan University. He is a freelance researcher and community activist with experience of working in the UK Parliament as researcher. Ehtasham has also trained under the Young Foundation’s Uprising Leadership Programme (2009 cohort). A former elected trustee of London Metropolitan University Student Council and is currently working on strategic organisational development in Local Government. His research interests include Islam & the West, Social Contract Theory, Bangladeshi politics, British Bangladeshi politics, democracy, governance and transnationalism.

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