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Archive for June 25th, 2010

Among the Labour people I’ve spoken to about their party’s shortlist for the Tower Hamlets mayoral selection, two sentiments stand out: amazement and stitch-up. That the shortlist of three, which I blogged on last night here, includes neither the current council leader Helal Abbas, nor his immediate predecessor Lutfur Rahman, is striking. It really is a statement of intent from Labour HQ: they want to clean and control.

They realise any controversy over an all-powerful directly elected Mayor in an Olympic host borough would attract national headlines. Having the crony-loving Sir Robin Wales (read more about him soon in the Sunday Express) as Mayor of Newham is one thing, but to have two controversial figures in neighbouring boroughs would be too much. It’s clear that London Labour (for which read national Labour) want London Assembly member John Biggs as mayor.

Sirajul Islam and Shiria Khatun are in the race, in most people’s eyes (although anything’s possible), to provide the semblance of a contest. In their own ways, both are engaging politicians. In the meetings I covered at Tower Hamlets council, Siraj always struck me as someone who had a heavy dose of common sense: he was both thoughtful and practical. But he was not necessarily keen to speak his mind in public. He was a supporter of Lutfur Rahman in 2008, but a year later (a year in which although he was Lutfur’s deputy, he was regularly sidelined), he changed his mind and switched to the Abbas camp. (Correction: as Rachael points out in a comment below, Siraj supported Denise Jones in 2008, but there is a question mark over who he supported in 2009.)

Abbas-supporting Shiria, on the other hand, rarely suffered, or suffers, such afflictions. She is charismatic and media savvy to the core. Sadly, her outspoken and secular outlook also attracts unwanted attention. In the run-up to the council elections in May, she went public on the odd case of stalking phone calls: I reported it in the Sunday Express here.

Whatever their credentials, neither can really boast of genuinely concrete achievements in office. John Biggs, who has spent much of his political career either in opposition or scrutinising politicians more senior to him, is going to have a similar problems. And this is why former council leader Professor Michael Keith is said to be so deeply hurt and insulted that he failed his interview, so much so that he is considering an appeal.

That’s not the case with either Lutfur or Abbas as I understand it. Abbas is said to have accepted the decision, possibly with the promise that he will become a £60,000 a year deputy mayor. Lutfur, meanwhile, has, I can confirm, been approached by Respect, but his close friends in Labour have warned him they will perform painful below-the-waist surgery if he defects.

Tower Hamlets Labour members will submit their votes in about three weeks’ time. The Lib Dems, Respect and the Tories will then follow suit. As far as the Tories are concerned, we are likely to see someone new introduced. Neither opposition leader Cllr Peter Golds nor his deputy, Cllr Tim Archer, will stand. And neither will Zak Khan, the party’s defeated parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow.

Over the next three weeks, I’m inviting all the candidates to explain on this blog why they would like to be mayor. Shiria Khatun has promised the first contribution, which I hope to post here over the weekend.

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There’s a golden rule in journalism that you don’t run with single source stories. But at the risk of having a load of nasty eggs stuck on my face I’m going to take a punt on this one.

I’ve just been told by one senior Labour figure that today’s interviews for the party’s mayoral selection process in Tower Hamlets has resulted in a shortlist of three.

I’ve heard that 14 people applied for the contest, including council leader Helal Abbas, his predecessors Lutfur Rahman and Michael Keith, John Biggs, David Edgar, Shiria Khatun, Sirajul Islam and Rosna Mortuza.

While there seemed to be some doubt whether the party’s panel of NEC and London region leaders would select Lutfur Rahman, who was accused of being linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe, it appeared certain that Abbas would make the final cut.

Well, my source tells me that the shortlist to go forward to a ‘one member one vote’ ballot of Tower Hamlets party members next month numbers just three…and it is….Cllr Shiria Khatun (the only woman), London Assembly member John Biggs and Cllr Sirajul Islam.

A month ago, I wrote here that the London regional party would try to find a way of keeping Lutfur off the ticket, and if my source is right, that’s proved correct.

Two things: John Biggs now has to be favourite to win Labour’s choice, and therefore be Mayor come October. And secondly, we now have two mightily cheesed off Labour councillors in Abbas and Lutfur. If Labour’s interviewing panel has failed to back its two most recent council leaders, not only is that a huge embarrassment to them personally, but also a real vote of no confidence in the current cabinet system of local government that they strived so hard to promote.

Who Respect, which forced the mayoral contest, now picks will be fascinating. Previously, George Galloway, who his close friends once told me was desperate to leave the Bengali politics of the East End for the more “sophisticated” Pakistani politics of Jack Straw’s Blackburn constituency, had hinted he would back Lutfur if he were Labour’s pick.  Now Lutfur seems to have been sidelined, one does wonder whether Respect will try to tickle his fancy with a place on its unpredictable ticket.

Just a reminder…there’s a £1bn borough at stake here….

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