Archive for June 6th, 2010

Mayoral muck-raking

A quick update on the directly elected mayor contest for Tower Hamlets, which is due in October…

Labour has now (almost) decided how its candidate will be chosen. The deadline for applications is June 17 and a week later they will be interviewed by a four-strong panel of party apparatchiks. Two of the panel will come from the National Executive Committee and two from the London regional party. The current thinking is that the panel will then select a shortlist of six – three men and three women. However, this depends on how many people, and particularly women, actually apply. The final choice will be made by a ballot (using the single transferrable vote system) of the party’s Tower Hamlets membership on July 17.

Clearly, this raises a number of questions. Firstly, who is applying? Names that I’ve so far heard include current council leader Helal Abbas, his predecessors Cllr Lutfur Rahman and Michael Keith, London Assembly member John Biggs, Cllr Sirajul Islam, Cllr David Edgar and Rosna Mortuza – she’s an “equalities and diversity” director at Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust. That makes five men and one woman.

Now, remember that for many within Labour the name of the game is to Stop Lutfur at all costs. There’s a feeling that he has strong support among the party’s paid-up membership, so I would be amazed if more women don’t apply, if only to force a three man/three women shortlist and thereby reduce Lutfur’s chances of making it. Cllr Shiria Khatun is certainly ambitious, so she could be one; and from what I’ve seen of Cllr Rachel Saunders, who has the makings of a being a good future MP, she should be another. Will Cllr Denise Jones ride to the rescue one more time?

The second question is who will be on selection panel and who chooses them? Labour is trying to keep this a secret because they don’t want the panellists being lobbied. The board of the London Region will pick its two names. As London Assembly member Len Duvall chairs the board, it’s a good bet that he will be one of its two picks. In the same way, it would be unusual if the chair of the NEC was also not on the panel. The current chair is Ann Black, an activist from Oxford. The other NEC pick is likely to be Keith Vaz: as one Labour source put it to me, “they can’t just have white folk judging Bengalis”.

So how does this affect Lutfur’s chances? Well, Ann Black is an unknown quantity, but I’m told that Vaz is on record somewhere as having previously declared support for Lutfur. In fact, here they are pictured together at the opening of a restaurant last December:

Lutfur also knows Len Duvall well: Len was assigned to be Lutfur’s “mentor” when he became Tower Hamlets council leader in 2008. During the time that Len acted as grandpa, Lutfur was the subject of press and party investigations, most notably Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary which detailed allegations about the Islamic Forum of Europe. Quite what Len made of all that is not officially known.

But what is a fact is that Len and John Biggs are very good friends.

Labour party politics…don’t you just love it…

PS we mustn’t, of course, forget that other Mayoral contest, ie the one for London. Although Ken Livingstone appears to have the backing of several London borough council leaders, I can reveal that Tower Hamlets boss Helal Abbas is not one of them – he’s backing Oona King.

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