Archive for May 25th, 2010

Bigging up Biggs

The annual full council meeting at the Palace of Tower of Tower Hamlets is always a fun affair; what with the new hats, the colourful clothes and the tax-funded feast laid on for the new mayor and his guests and family, it’s like a lavish version of Her Maj’s summer garden parties ‘up west’. Tomorrow night’s will have added spice.

As the last under the current system, it will be interesting to see how the main hopefuls for October’s directly elected Mayor contest cosy up to each other. Although the referendum in favour of this change was essentially a victory for Respect, whoever becomes the Labour candidate must be favourite. Until a few days ago, many thought the London region of the party would control selection over fears of gerrymandered votes among members of the Tower Hamlets branch, which remains in “special measures”.

However, I understand that London Labour is following the guiding principles of the new Lib-Con coalition and devolving power to locals. Surprisingly democratically, it will be the membership of the Tower Hamlets party which will decide…but with one caveat. Party bosses have ordered that only those who were members of the party before May 6 will be eligible to vote.

This is significant. A senior Labour figure tells me that nationwide some 14,000 people have joined the party since the general election, with “several hundred” new names appearing on the Tower Hamlets list. The source tells me that the extra numbers could simply be a reflection of the national trend, but they’re not taking any chances. As I first wrote in the East London Advertiser here, then last year in the second half of this Sunday Express piece here, the upper echelons of the Labour hierarchy have long been worried about the alleged influence of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) – fears deepened by Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary in March.

So who will be the contenders? Council leader Helal Abbas, for sure; also certain to stand is the man he’s just deposed as leader and whom Abbas’s friends say is close to IFE, Lutfur Rahman (Lutfur denies being under the influence of anyone). The third man is likely to be London Assembly member John Biggs, who, despite his bulldog demeanour and no-nonsense reputation, is seen as the sensible/unity candidate. He’s also the Labour establishment’s favoured choice. The last time these men went head-to-head was three years ago during the race to become the parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow. Back then, Lutfur scored more highly than they did, but less well than the winner, Rushanara Ali.

However, as bankers are fond of telling us, past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future results, and so it is in this race, in which members from Poplar and Limehouse also vote. Pint-sized Biggs, who has been an irritating, but thoughtful, thorn in the side of both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, will draw significant support from those wards; and it’s likely he’ll also attract large numbers of “second preference” votes (Labour uses the single transferrable vote method) from followers of his friend, Lutfur, as well as from Abbas.

If he turns up tomorrow night, you can be sure it’s game on.

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