Tower Hamlets resident and activist Mevlana Marx, questions whether Councillor Rabina Khan is the best mayoral candidate for the east London borough.
“The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.” Albert Einstein
The Terrain at Tower Hamlets
For the uninitiated, Tower Hamlets is a borough in East London with a significant Muslim Bangladeshi population that the establishment deemed “doesn’t know its place”. The road to political representation has been long for the Bangladeshi community, like many others, from the days when their membership to the Labour Party was blocked, to their first demonstration of organising power in the 1982 election of Nurul Hoque as an independent councillor in Spitalfields, and more recently to the unseating of an Iraq war supporting Labour MP in 2005. It is a place where post Labour possibilities have been actualised significantly, but where the establishment has fought back brutally.
In the past two weeks, the recently re-elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman, the UK’s first elected Muslim mayor, was removed from office by what London’s ex-mayor Ken Livingstone described as a “politically motivated” electoral court judgement.
Many view this as a coup, others as justice in action, and race has a great deal to do with the difference in perception.
The court judgement has given one view of the situation, an authority which is having the effect of increasing racial distrust and political animosity.
On Thursday 30th of April, a well attended and diverse rally was held for Lutfur Rahman, where he announced Councillor Rabina Khan as his successor, as a candidate for the new election. The rally may have given the perception of victory, but this masks the precariousness of local democracy for ordinary residents of Tower Hamlets.
Firstly, just days before the rally, local democracy was effectively abolished when Eric Pickles announced the direct takeover of Tower Hamlets Council via his Commissioners. Secondly, allegations of corruption and counter allegations of racism continue to dominate the media, both conventional and social. The combined perception is thus of a dysfunctional “rotten” borough, with increasing polarisation within and between communities.
Job Spec for a future Mayor
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” [Groucho Marx]
Any potential mayoral candidate, should they succeed in reaching office, has a tough task ahead of them. This includes the healing of wounds of divisions, and to maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of Tower Hamlets stakeholders. The ideal candidate would be someone not tainted by allegations of corruption or bigotry (racism and Islamophobia), which currently haunt both the local Labour Party and its nemesis, Tower Hamlets First.
In my humble view, the ideal candidate would be voted on a ticket of transparency, pluralism and untainted by the dysfunctionality of Labour and post-Labour politics of the inner city. This would give them the capacity to remove central government commissioners, restore local democracy, and address the root causes of the problems which are mainly of Labour’s making.
A candidate a step removed from recent dirty machinations, with a diplomatic aptitude and the humility to earn trust from different ethnic and religious groups, and people from across the political spectrum. A candidate, who can negotiate and mediate the clash of understandings that has been building up for over a decade, build bridges not walls, and promote merit, not puppets. Anything less will further disenfranchise the people of Tower Hamlets.
Neither John Biggs, the Labour candidate and chief beneficiary of the recent election annulment, nor Lutfur’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration Cllr Rabina Khan, fit the category of the transformer needed to clean up Tower Hamlets and heal the wounds. John Biggs has been marred by allegations of racism and is seen as a divisive figure, a product of a then quite openly racist local Labour Party of the 1980s.
Rabina Khan deserves consideration and but may end up being a liability, given the brutal tactics of the establishment, her links to the counter extremism industry, and a view that she can be manipulated by shadowy, yet unknown organ grinders.
Jennifer Issacson from the Green Party has recently remarked that it was really telling that the people who have declared to run for the mayor since the verdict: one of them is the petitioner, the other Peter Golds is a Tory councillor that instructed the prosecution throughout the case, and John Biggs spent days and weeks being cross examined in the witness box.
So its clear those with a vested interest in this this, where the ones to carry this out and are now reaping the rewards of this.
The need for open debate and an Informal Primary
Cometh the hour, cometh the man? Is it a bird, is it a plane, no, it’s Ajmal Masroor!
Last week, Ajmal Masroor has declared his intention in considering to stand for the vacant position of mayor. He is seen by many as a clean unifying figure, thus on the ground local activists and grass root organisations from a wide ethnic, religious and political spectrum are rallying to his proposed candidacy.
The deadline for the registration of candidates is 26th of May 2015. Thus the stakeholders of Tower Hamlets (residents and private and third sector participants), have a few weeks for more candidates to declare their interests, and for the merits of their candidacy to be debated.
The educationalist, Dr Hasanat Hussain MBE, has expressed concerns over Rabina Khan’s selection, and lack of debate surrounding her candidacy.
The former Bethnal Green and Bow Lib Dem PPC Ajmal Masroor, who came second in 2010, has expressed his interest in the vacant role of the mayor, and is currently taking soundings from grass root organisations and local activists.
To conclude, now is the time in Tower Hamlets to have more ‘jaw jaw’ and less ‘war war’.
To encourage more candidates come forward, to have honest reflective debates and through such a process put forward the best candidate in time for registration on the 26th of May 2015. Labour will be expecting.
Given the jaundiced press and the community’s position of defence, this is difficult, but also essential. To those who downplay the importance of these deliberative processes who instinctively close down alternatives to Khan and Biggs, I say that it’s time to put the interest of the community in Tower Hamlets, ahead of these legitimate insecurities and any individual desires and goals.