Archive for May 10th, 2010

There aren’t many times when events at Westminster mirror the comedy in the murky pit of Tower Hamlets politics, but as Labour begins the process of choosing a new national leader, so too do the party’s councillors in the East End.

Tonight, its new all-powerful group of 41 councillors, elected last Thursday after crushing George Galloway’s Respect party, meet to elect their next boss.

The election was a triumph for former council leader Helal Abbas, who has spent the past two years plotting the downfall of his old friend and now sworn enemy, Lutfur Rahman. In this quest, he allied with his his former nemesis Michael Keith and his band of supporters such as Denise Jones and, more silently, Josh Peck. Together, they accused Rahman of being too much under the influence of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), allegations partly designed to scare Ken Clark, the director of the London Labour party, into keeping the Tower Hamlets Labour branches in special measures.

This meant Abbas and co effectively controlled the selection process for candidates. And so it has come to pass that his supporters are now a majority in the new group.

Soundings taken last night suggested that Abbas can command 26 votes against the 15 who are either Lutfur Rahman diehards or waverers.

I expect Abbas to be elected tonight and Josh Peck to be named his deputy.

However, just as there is a time limit on Gordon Brown, there will be on Abbas. For in October, voters will again go to the polls in Tower Hamlets to choose a directly elected mayor who will have wide-ranging powers.

This is the next big prize and although Respect lost heavily last week – it now has just one councillor and even he, Harun Miah, may defect to Labour – it will fight until the death to get its person in place.

Rumours abound that the defeated George Galloway may stand, but he considers himself too big for the job, and, in any case, he wouldn’t win. Some town hall insiders think Ken Livingstone might even throw his hat into the ring, but that too is rubbish: besides anything else, he neither lives nor works in the borough, so he doesn’t actually meet the criteria. Abjol Miah, who is no longer a councillor and who lost for Respect in Bethnal Green and Bow, is more likely.

As for Labour, one name doing the rounds is Michael Keith. Though he missed out in St Katherine’s and Wapping last week, he is still popular with the regional HQ, which is likely to oversee the selection procedure.

But Abbas also wants the job. Tonight’s faction fight will be nothing as compared with what’s yet to come.

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