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A Biggs conundrum

IMG_0664John Biggs delivered a far more generous victory speech last night to the Tower Hamlets First brigade than they perhaps deserved.

It wasn’t what he said precisely but the tone he used. I suppose it’s easy and better to be magnanimous in victory than to be crowing and churlish but he congratulated Rabina Khan for her campaign (who, by the way, didn’t reciprocate in her speech – she forgot to say well done and instead focused on the ‘me, me’ parts) and he promised to recognise the fact she polled so many votes. She won almost 26,000 votes on the first round, 1,500, or less than 2 per cent, behind John.

He said we shouldn’t forget that “a lot of bad things have happened” but that we should now move on.

He said he would hold office as a Labour mayor but in also praising Peter Golds he hinted at possible cooperation to come.

Peter, in his speech, struck a more wary tone. He said John won by “borrowing” votes from the other parties. As he said this, John raised a somewhat surprised eyebrow, but given the comments on this blog and on Twitter during the past couple of days, as well as the feedback John’s opponents were getting on the doorstep, I think Peter was doing no more than stating the bleeding obvious.

Peter polled 5,940 votes, or 8.7 per cent of the first round total. This was almost the same as Chris Wilford achieved last year in percentage terms (he got 7,173 votes in total) but far below the 20 per cent the Tories achieved only last month in the general election for the borough’s two constituencies.

And in second preference votes, there were a huge number of Tories who put Labour second yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 13.59.56For sure, this was an election in which Labour found friends in other parties.

I know that had John won last year he’d been planning to create an administration reflective of the rainbow nature of his support. It would be very surprising were that not the case this time.

The Government commissioners (who like almost all senior council officers will have been relieved by the result) will surely leave once they see functional politics at play again.

This is why Peter was right in his speech at the ExCeL centre to warn about the consequences for THF of last night’s defeat. Where do their band of jokers go now? Labour and the Tories will need to watch their backs when it comes to future candidate selection for councillors. More about them in a future post.

But more immediately, John now has to create an administration. He has already appointed three deputy mayors in Rachael Saunders, Shiria Khatun and Sirajul Islam, but there will be others wanting some reward. It was noticeable that Abdal Ullah, no longer a councillor, was the man who escorted John into the count last night.

There’s now a cabinet and other appointments to be be made. Some in his Labour group will have to bide their time. Will John take a Sir Robin Wales approach and dish out special responsibility allowances like confetti?

And how will he thank the Tories and in particular Peter Golds? Not so long ago, I suggested he’d make an excellent council Speaker. I think he’d love wearing the civic chains and ensuing order in the council chamber. Offering that role to him for a year would seem a wise choice. After that, I’d put him in charge of transparency and anti-corruption: a mini-Eric Pickles.

And then there’s Rabina. Could John offer her something? Would he? Would she accept? A role to encourage more women into politics? It would certainly create a split in the group of 17 “independents”. Or would she prefer to lead their group as Opposition leader. If the latter, she will need to formally join them and then take on Oli Rahman who has assumed that role.

And there is some talk about Rabina’s team examining a possible election petition against John’s win but how serious that is and on what grounds, I’m not sure.

I took some videos of this morning’s speeches and I will publish them once they’ve finished uploading in two hours’ time…

Lastly, congratulations to Labour’s Sabina Akhtar for winning in Stepney and to Andy Erlam and the other petitioners. Andy polled 1,768 votes yesterday – less than 3%  – but his fans are of a far, far higher number than that.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of last night’s fun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

As I’ve done in previous years, I’ll make this post yours: an open thread. Please add sensible, detailed and accurate comments about what you’ve seen at polling stations, e.g. turnout, atmosphere etc etc. Please don’t libel anyone.

In the meantime, below are the latest returns for postal votes:

IMG_0648

So of the 29,581 postal votes issued to households for the mayoral election, 15,956 had been returned as of yesterday. That’s 54%. Of those returned 1,114, or 7%, have been rejected for various reasons, e.g. an incorrect signature, or too many crosses. So 14,806 will count. More will come in today.

I can’t find the full/actual figures for last year’s election so if anyone has them please send them to me. (And if anyone does have knowledge of how people have voted in the samples of ballots opened, please keep that to yourself: it’s an offence to disclose them.)

I’ve only been able to find these percentages from the Electoral Commission

FullSizeRender

Over to you..

…and here’s the first pic showing a canvassing exclusion zone outside Ben Jonson Primary School polling station. This is what it’s come to..  

 

This is a guest post by Vanessa Hudson who is standing for the Animal Welfare Party (she is the leader) in tomorrow’s Tower Hamlets mayoral election.

Vanessa-Hudson-300x200Ten years ago, if someone had told me I’d be running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2015, I’d have told them they were terribly mistaken. I am an accidental politician. I only ever have and still do make my living purely from my other life as a freelance producer / director in the media industry.

Today I am the leader of a small political party and I’m running for Mayor of Tower Hamlets because I’m amazed and appalled in equal measure at the way other politicians of all parties, at both local and national level, have either no awareness of or no appetite to tackle some of the most serious challenges facing our society today – climate change and environmental degradation, the rise in preventable diseases and the increasing number of animals, now in their billions, suffering at hands of man for reasons that are pretty hard to justify.

The last challenge is of course a moral one. Disagree with my moral stand point on that and it’s easy to reject it – and of course people do and will. But the environmental and health challenges we face are realities that will affect all of us and quite possibly our children and grandchildren, regardless of whether they end up living in London, Rio de Janeiro or Shanghai.

The point our party makes and the reason I feel forced to speak out is that these three challenges are all connected and they stem largely from one issue – the way we’re choosing to feed ourselves.

Since the 1950’s, with increasing wealth, there’s been a rise in animal product consumption across the globe. Meals based around meat and fish are now the norm not the exception. Many people know that our human population now stands at 7 billion but we hardly ever hear about our global livestock population, now standing at 23 billion. It’s our gigantic and rapidly growing livestock population and the feeding and watering of these animals that is both a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming and which also causes huge resource consumption and environmental degradation around the world.

Livestock farming actually now produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the transport sector combined. Rainforest is being cut down at a rate of an acre per second to grow soya beans to feed livestock and fish. Almost one third of the planet’s land is becoming desert – with the vast majority due to livestock grazing.

As the world population is set to rise to 10 billion by 2050, the livestock population is set to rise too, further exasperating these problems. If we carry on like this without making any changes to the way we feed ourselves, we’re going to need between three and four planets to sustain ourselves. AWP believes we face a very stark choice between addressing these issues now or accepting that the planet we hand over to our children and grand children may well not be habitable.

Of course, with every food choice we make, those of us living in Tower Hamlets are playing a part in this environmental degradation too but, should we decide we want to, we could play a world-leading role in its solution.

If the environmental consequences of our eating habits don’t alarm us yet, perhaps the health ones should, because there’s no other London borough that exemplifies the terrible health consequences of poor diet more than Tower Hamlets. We have the worst life expectancy in London, a huge problem with diabetes, younger than average cancer deaths, younger than average deaths from heart disease, a higher number of strokes than the national average and, in some of our wards, mortality rates for cardiovascular disease which are close to twice the national average.

And when it comes to the health of our children, the statistics beggar belief – by the time they’re just five years old, 15% of our children are already obese. By the time they’re eleven, the proportion has risen to almost 25%. At the same time, we know that 85% of those eleven-year-olds are not eating the recommended five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day.

And that’s the point. The causes of such ill health are not unknown to us. These are chiefly preventable conditions and diseases. Although not the sole cause of our ill health, would reducing our reliance on animal products alleviate some of these problems? Science suggests yes. In fact, nationally, projections are that we could save 45,000 early deaths and the NHS £1.2 billion in funds per year if we cut down on meat consumption to three times per week.

We know what causes the terrible poor health of people living in Tower Hamlets and we know how to solve it but look for the real political will to do so and it’s hard to find. It’s almost as if inequality of health takes a back seat to other forms of inequality.

Are unhealthy and unsustainable food choices and inactivity two areas that local government can influence? I think they are and our addressing them should not be perceived as optional or in some way incompatible with the other important work the new Tower Hamlets administration will have to do.

So, in addition to our policies on creating a safer, cleaner, greener borough, building sustainable housing to be proud of and promoting sustainable environmentally friendly business, we’re giving priority to creating a healthier community living more sustainably.

We want to combat preventable disease, save NHS funds and protect the environment by promoting healthy, plant-based diets across the borough.

We believe we must reduce public spending on products known to have a negative effect on human health, the environment or animal welfare. And we must ensure sustainable, plant-based options are available on every menu and at every meal in schools, nurseries and care homes.

Voters have two choices for Mayor on Thursday. I hope some will use one of them to show there here in Tower Hamlets there is an appetite for and a belief in a better future for people, the environment and animals.

My Key Policies

•A Safer, Cleaner, Greener Borough

Increased policing, tougher action on gangs, ASB, dumping and littering. Real action against businesses that contribute towards the pollution and degradation of the local environment. Further greening of urban areas and the development of urban growing.

•A Healthier Community Living More Sustainably

Combat preventable disease, save NHS funds and protect the environment by promoting healthy, plant-based diets across the borough. Reduce public spending on products known to have a negative effect on human health, the environment or animal welfare. Ensure sustainable, plant-based options are available on every menu and at every meal in schools, nurseries and care homes.

•Housing to be Proud Of

Raise the standard, quality and quantity of social housing and make low cost housing available to more people. Push for new build social housing to go further than minimum requirements for living space and building materials to create solidly constructed homes using sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods of construction.

•A Future to Look Forward To

Promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly businesses for the long-term benefit of society. Advance the availability of apprenticeships, including within East London Tech City to broaden and diversify employment opportunities for young people leaving education.

To find out more about AWP’s policies, visit: animalwelfareparty.org

A day to go and even Radio 4’s Today programme has got in on the act, having just given the Tower Hamlets election its second prime time slot just before the 8pm news.

The tenor of her report was plus ca change: John Biggs facing false allegations on the doorstep that he will close down mosques; accusations by Andy Erlam of possible vote fraud; returning officer John Williams again telling the world we can be confident in the process; Rabina Khan, who has promised to be more transparent than Lutfur, refusing to be interviewed; and every single Bangladeshi voter in the vox pop asserting that Lutfur had been stitched up and that he hadn’t been corruptly elected.

I’m sure Richard Mawrey QC would have been listening with exasperated but unsurprised sighs. Might he be put to work again?

It’s not just Rabina’s campaign which has courted controversy. Peter Golds has been thoroughly enjoying himself but has been let down by a supporter who appeared on one of his leaflets. Rabina’s supporters have unearthed a Facebook posting by a Glen McCarty last year when he felt the need to vent some racist poison after apparently fearing for his wallet walking through Whitechapel. Here’s the posting and and leaflet.

glen mccarty

Perhaps he should have a word with Tory activists Ahmed Hussain and Dr Anwara Ali, who pays their taxes. Peter Golds says he’s appalled by it and has asked for an apology. If a Rabina supporter had written something equivalent there would be justifiable fury and that’s the case here as well.

Meanwhile, Rabina yet again failed to attend a hustings last night, this time on the Isle of Dogs. Here’s the seat that was reserved for her:

rabina chair

She has proved to be a crushing disappointment in this regard. She promised to be more accountable than her boss, Lutfur Rahman, to be more transparent, but she’s simply copied his tactics. This is, I suppose, not surprising when her campaign is being run and managed by Lutfur and his former advisers, including Mohamed Jubair of Channel S (remember his name, I think we’re going to hear a bit more about him soon, I reckon).

She claims she’s going to be her own woman if she’s elected. She hasn’t demonstrated anything like that thus far.

John Biggs has been successful getting out Labour’s big guns to campaign: Tessa Jowell has been a regular; Dan Jarvis came last night, Andy Burnham tonight. Less successful has been the party’s attempt getting out hordes of local activists and perhaps this is a reflection of rising rents in Tower Hamlets where there has traditionally been a flow of students to help at times like this.

One final thought for now: Rabina has just been on BBC London radio boasting about her housing record. But during her time as cabinet member for housing, service charges for Tower Hamlets Homes leaseholders in my old patch of Bow have risen by 30%. A significant reason for this has been the costs dumped on Tower Hamlets Homes by the council for various management services and contracts.

I’ve previously asked her about this, but guess what: no response.

This is a guest post by John Foster, who is standing for the Greens in Thursday’s election.

john fosterHaving attended the coronation of Rabina Khan by outgoing mayor Lutfur Rahman, I felt a bit sad that the perpetual factionalism of politics in the East End is still alive and well in Tower Hamlets. Despite a parade of supporters queuing up to vouch for the integrity of Luftur Rahman, the appeal he and his supporters made was still to a narrow part of our community. We need to go beyond this.

I think that a Mayor of Tower Hamlets needs to represent every part of society, I am passionately against the divisions that the politicians of all flavours in this election are trying to artificially impose and exploit in the Borough. There are so many dog whistles being blown by Ukip, the Conservatives, Labour and whatever Tower Hamlets First evolves into, that the people of Tower Hamlets will be plagued with the yapping and howling of strays long into the night over the next 40 days.

Regardless of who wakes up on 12 June as the new Mayor, they must remember that the majority of people in the Borough did not vote for them, in fact – if this by-election follows the pattern of other by-elections in the UK – the majority of voters would not have even bothered to vote at all. It will be fantastic if we can change this, just as a start. Re-engaging people in Tower Hamlets with the political process will be tough, but it will reap its own rewards.

Whoever becomes Mayor will still have to govern in an unbiased way for the good of all the people of Tower Hamlets and will inherit a fractured council chamber and represent what for many in the Borough is a discredited office. If that person continues or accelerates the politics of division and the pattern of factionalism they will have failed all the people of Tower Hamlets and failed democracy.

Which brings me to another point: A lot of the rhetoric at Rabina Khan’s coronation was about democracy – or the denial of it. But fundamentally the office of the mayor and the confrontational system that it establishes is in itself anti-democratic. I’ve never agreed with elected mayors as in my opinion they just add another level of costs and create another opportunity for graft and corruption; they also dilute the power of the Council and councillors which is also anti-democratic.

That’s why I’ll act a Mayor for all residents in Tower Hamlets; and work to bring our communities closer and try and salve the poisonous nature of politics in this Borough. I know – if elected – I won’t have a ready-made faction on the Council chamber to force through legislation, and this is good. It’s good as I’ll have to compromise with all sides to make things happen, and I’d want to work with the best and the brightest elected officials from any party to craft the best of legislation for all the people of Tower Hamlets.

It’ll also give me the opportunity to strengthen the committee system in the Council chamber with an eye to the dissolution – through referendum in five years’ time (the earliest statutory date possible under the law) – of the office of elected mayor and a return to a more direct and democratic cabinet system based on a democratically elected Council.

But in the next five years I’d come with the Green’s own ideas and initiatives. The development of the London Chest Hospital for example is something I’d aim to turn to the benefit of the wider community. We’re losing a core health facility, and are in danger of getting another unaffordable soulless apartment complex for rich, non-resident investors. I’d look to turn this into social and council housing – we’d also work with the local residents affected by the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to find sustainable alternatives.

I would support the residents of Holland Estate and other tenants in the Borough being forced out of their homes and work with a cabinet to drive down unfair leaseholders charges; control rents on social rented homes; and deal with blights on our housing including abandoned scaffolding.

Health would be a priority in any Green administration I was involved in and I would fight to protect our GP surgeries from closing; challenge the government on PFI schemes with a view to suspending any new PFIs; and invest in local social care for elderly and vulnerable residents.

I’d also have at the core of my administration the ethos of community – our greater community – and unite all of our residents in opposition to austerity and protect and expand successful community initiatives including Rich Mix.

The kind of Green Mayor I aim to be would champion small local businesses over large multinational corporations. I’d encourage local content and local suppliers and sustainability to all Council businesses where possible and ensure that all businesses in Tower Hamlets become good corporate citizens, encouraging and supporting businesses established by young people and women.

I hope that this election is fought in good spirit and honourably. The issues need to be addressed. We need to look into problems to do with ballot rigging that have haunted Tower Hamlets since at least 2005. I’d love to be involved in a democratic process that is held up across London and the UK as exemplar and hope the other candidates will stand with me on that.

John Biggs

John Biggs

In less than a week our borough has a chance to draw a line under the controversy and division of recent years by electing a mayor whose sole focus will be on the things that matter most to local people.

For too long our borough has been dragged through the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A farcical election count, a damning auditor report, a Government intervention, a mayor removed for election offences.

The former Mayor Lutfur Rahman not only divided the community with his patronage based politics but his mismanagement of the Council led to Government interventions of the kind we rarely see in this day and age. In both respects it is the people of the borough who suffer.

None of this was about one community or another. Everybody in our borough lost out as their council and leadership was focused on itself and not delivering the things people expect of their council. But make no mistake that the consequences of his actions have been very divisive, creating mistrust that politicians are not there for the public good, but for some dodgier purpose. I get fed up with the public cynicism that says all politicians are ‘corrupt’. Thankfully it is only a very select few who are. But when we find them we must comprehensively work out how to stop it happening again.

And so this election is a chance to put the council back on residents’ side. It requires us to move forwards but to do this we must also admit that things were wrong. It therefore boggles my mind that the Lutfur Rahman candidate, Rabina Khan, is in almost complete denial that anything was wrong, or that she had anything to do with it. Her constant refrain is ‘we must look forwards’. We must, of course, but we cannot ignore recent events. To do so is a bit like a burglar selling you back your tv and accusing you of being backward looking in asking where it came from.

My manifesto, my contract with residents, focuses on policies which will benefit every corner of the Tower Hamlets. Building the first new social housing in years, cracking down on anti-social behaviour, creating new jobs and restoring the reputation of our borough. But to move forwards we must comprehensively deal with the last of these. The Mayor model can work – just because someone crashes a car it doesn’t mean nobody else can drive again – but we must introduce a culture of transparency, of bridge building and of checks and balances if we are to move forwards credibly.

On day one I will scrap the mayoral car and the army of advisors. I’ll end the biased coverage in East End Life and review how the council should best communicate with residents, and how the Mayor should be accountable to the Council as a whole. Maximum transparency, and a willingness to explain all decisions, will be the foundations. In the first months we’ll implement the recommendations in the PWC report to make the council more open and accountable, we’ll appoint a new Chief Executive and get cracking on making good on my manifesto commitments. I will redesign a Mayor’s office that is lean and I will develop a proposal for transparency, and regular meetings with the wider public. We want no more headlines about scandal and corruption, just ones about knuckling down to make things better, and then positive ones about the great things that local people achieve.

Whilst there are many candidates standing in this election last year showed us that the choice is between Labour or more of the same under Lutfur Rahman’s candidate. There will be many people reading this who are not natural Labour voters and who may not agree with everything I say or propose to do. Whether those people use their second preference or not may decide the result. To those voters I pledge a culture of openness and a good administration that listens, and explains, and does ot neglect the voices of any part of our community.

I am happy to write more at a later date about the challenges on housing, skills, employment, development, education, budgeting and so on. However, the simple fact is that this is an election like no other. It’s about getting our borough back on track and moving on from the divisive past we’ve seen under Lutfur Rahman. If elected, that is exactly what I intend to do.

This is a guest post, by Cllr Rabina Khan, formerly of Tower Hamlets First and now an independent candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor.

Rabina kahn, tower hamletsThe first thing I will do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets is sit down with the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Commissioners. While this council continues to be recognised nationally as a high performing authority leading in many key policy areas, last year’s report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers identified governance failures in certain areas and addressing these must be our first priority – along with restoring confidence in our institutions and processes – so that we can move beyond recent challenges to best protect local people facing a wide range of adversities in difficult times.

I want to be a mayor for women, a mayor for housing and a mayor who stands up against austerity. Women need more role models in public life. Of the seventeen directly elected mayors in Britain, only four are women. I hope that I can be part of breaking that evident glass ceiling, following the recent influx of record numbers of women to Parliament and an election which for the first time saw female party leaders – Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood – take the stage and arguably totally transform the debate.

Every study has shown that austerity, and before it the recession, have hit women harder than men. Women’s unemployment, and particularly BME women’s unemployment, is a serious concern. That’s why I’m pledging to establish a brand new Women’s Employment Hub to ensure local women are presented with job opportunities and are equipped with the skills needed for the workplace.

Under my leadership as cabinet member for housing for the last five years, Tower Hamlets has seen more than 4000 social and affordable homes built – more than any other council in Britain as recognised by central government repeatedly awarding us the highest ‘New Homes Bonus’. We’ve established the landmark Preventing Homelessness Fund, refused to pass on cuts in council tax benefit and said no to Bedroom Tax evictions. But the housing waiting list continues to grow, so I’ve drawn up detailed plans to build 5,500 affordable homes by 2018.

Tenants know I’m someone who has always been on their side – and I’ll hold social landlords to account to make sure they promote real tenant leadership and decision-making. I’m also promising a better deal for Leaseholders – capping punitive charges and making our system fairer.

Over the last four years Tower Hamlets has blazed a trail on behalf of local people, fighting austerity and latent child poverty that continues to blight the East End. We’ve restored education maintenance allowances scrapped by central government, introduced universal free school meals in primary schools and introduced university grants to ensure that poverty cannot be a barrier to achievement.

We were the first council to pay workers the London Living Wage. Now I’m campaigning for a Living Rent. My brand new Mayor’s Employment Board and enterprise strategy will deliver 20,000 sustainable jobs and training opportunities, along with 8,000 new apprenticeships. As a working mum I understand what a juggling exercise life can be, so we’ll provide more nursery places to help parents into work. I’ll also abolish charges for bulk-waste collection.

Some have tried to make this election about the recent court judgment. Former mayor, Lutfur Rahman has made clear his intention to appeal. But that is his battle and this is mine. This election cannot be about the past, when the future presents such stark challenges to the poor and the vulnerable. We need to start a fresh chapter in our politics, opening up local democracy and leaving no-one outside. My People’s Question Time events across the borough will enable local people directly to hold me to account, along with key officials from the council and – I hope – partner organisations such as the police and the health service.

I’ll extend filming to all council committees, answer questions in full council, cabinet and the scrutiny committee. I’ll hold a regular press briefings. There will be no mayoral car. Grants will be determined in an open and transparent manner. I’ll review the council’s relationship with Rich Mix, and launch a brand new culture strategy to engage with all the rich spectrum of culture and talent throughout the East End. And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m my own woman.

The general election has returned a reactionary Conservative government hellbent on rolling back the state no matter the human consequences. At the same time we have a Labour Party bashing immigrants and backing the lowering of the benefit cap as its leadership candidates compete to see who can lurch most to the right. Even locally John Biggs has refused to guarantee lifeline policies such as the EMA. This area needs a mayor who can be relied upon to be on local people’s side. I hope you will put your trust in me to be that mayor.

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