Archive for September 15th, 2010

Respect statements on Mayor

The Friendly Lefty makes has commented on my last post that Respect’s decision not to field a candidate against Labour’s Lutfur Rahman can’t in any way be described as a pact.

Here are Respect’s two statements in full:

Tower Hamlets Respect Party last night decided by an overwhelming majority not to stand a candidate in the mayoral election. Instead Tower Hamlets Respect calls on on all its members, supporters and voters to vote for Lutfur Rahman to be Tower Hamlets’ first executive mayor.

The reasons for this decision are two-fold.

Firstly, Lutfur has been the subject of a vicious witch-hunt orchestrated from within the Labour party and fuelled from without by the extreme right wing press. This has demonised both Lutfur and significant sections of the Muslim community with a thinly veiled anti-Muslim racism. We welcome the fact that Lutfur saw off the despicable attempt inside the Labour Party to keep him off Labour’s selection shortlist and then to win with a large majority over his rivals. But we have no doubt that the witch-hunting and the smears against him will continue.

Secondly, Lutfur has declared since his selection that he wishes to build a broad coalition against the terrible cuts that the Condem government wishes to impose on the less well-off, the disadvantaged and the ordinary working people in this borough. We welcome this very much and we want to be part of that coalition to help ensure that those words are turned into action when Lutfur is elected, as we are sure he will be, on October 21st.

The programme of government we want to see from Mayor Lutfur Rahman includes

– Defence of public services and jobs

– Action to end the housing crisis by breaking with Labour’s previous failed policies

– Fighting all racism and discrimination

– Better schools and community facilities and safer neighbourhoods

– Making the Olympics deliver for the people of East London

George Galloway commented: “We are proud of the crucial role Respect played in establishing a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. This is a much more democratic system. I also stated that Lutfur Rahman was the kind of mayor we needed at the rally against the English Defence League three months ago. I am very pleased that he has finally been selected as Labour’s mayoral candidate. He will have my support in this election on the basis that he will lead the fight against the cuts from this terrible Condem government.”

Respect will be vigorously contesting the forthcoming by-election in Spitalfields and Banglatown that will occur as a result of Lutfur’s election, which we predict Respect will win, and the GLA elections in 2012.


Carole Swords, the chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, this morning spoke about the difficult decision Respect had had to make over the mayoral election. “We campaigned very hard for the referendum that Labour wanted to deny the people of Tower Hamlets and we were delighted when the people voted by a large majority for a directly elected mayor. This was never about setting something up that Respect could exploit, contrary to the smears put about by some in the Labour Party and others. It was about establishing a democratic and accountable system of governance in Tower Hamlets, unlike what has gone on here for so many years.

“As an electoral party, the members always want to contest elections wherever and whenever it is good for the people to do so. In this case, however, the overwhelming majority of Tower Hamlets Respect concluded we are dealing with unusual conditions. Lutfur Rahman has been subject to a terrible witch-hunt and yet he has shown his mettle by coming through it and convincingly winning selection. More than that, he has spoken of his determination to fight the cuts on the basis of the broadest possible coalition.

“It’s for these two reasons we are going to support him. I would emphasise we are not supporting the Labour Party which has done so much damage in Tower Hamlets, we are supporting this particular candidate, just as we supported Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral election. But we give notice that we will be voting for Lutfur on the basis he leads the fight against the Condem cuts. If he fails in that duty to the people of Tower Hamlets, we will be his fiercest critics.”

I’ve asked Respect for details of their vote last night, but so far they have declined to reply. I’ve also asked them to explain why, if they thought Lutfur was so good, they tried to oust him from his council seat in Spitalfields in May. I suppose that’s when Respect still had ambitions of being a proper player in Tower Hamlets. Those days seem to have gone.

Or have they? If Lutfur wins in October there will be a by-election in Spitalfields in which Respect will field a candidate, most likely their former town hall leader, Abjol Miah. I would not be surprised if he won, with not a little help from Lutfur’s backers. Many then predict that Respect would expect Lutfur to fulfill the pledge outlined in the statement above, ie a “determination to fight the cuts on the basis of the broadest possible coalition”.

Would that mean a cabinet seat for Abjol? Conspiracy? Perhaps, but let’s see. Funny how some of the other theories labelled conspiracy months ago are now in fact fact today.

So, while we do not have a Lib Dem/Tory coalition candidate, we do have a Labour/Respect coalition of sorts, or at least a Lutfur Camp/Respect coalition. It’s also worth noting that some of Lutfur’s leading supporters are ex-Respect councillors, Oli Rahman, Lutfa Begum and Rania Khan. They left Respect because they could no longer stand the direction Abjol seemed to be taking the party. What political somersaults they’ve been doing!

By the way, here’s the dictionary definition of ‘pact’:

n -agreement or compact between two or more parties, nations, etc, for mutual advantage

UPDATE – 6.30pm

Just spoke to a spokesman for the London Labour party who has rejected speculation that the National Executive Committee has to rubber stamp Lutfur’s selection. He said: “I’ve double-checked it and as far as we are concerned it’s all done and dusted. Lutfur is our candidate.”

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The Lib Dems have just issued the following press release.

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Griffiths, today called the Respect Party’s decision not to stand in the mayoral election, but instead back the controversial Labour candidate as “contemptible.”

“There has clearly been a stitch up between Respect and Lutfur Rahman’s Labour Party.  This pre-election deal shows complete disrespect for the people of Tower Hamlets.”

“Voters in the borough, including many members of the Labour Party, were already nervous at the prospect of Lutfur Rahman taking the Mayoralty and command of the Council’s £1.3bn a year budget.  They will be terrified at the prospect now, given the deal that has clearly been done.”

“It was Respect which organized the petition for the mayoral referendum and campaigned for the yes vote on 6th May.  Not to contest the election they wanted is the strongest indication yet that, following George Galloway’s defeat and Respect’s disastrous showing in the Council Elections, the Party is in terminal decline.”

The Lib Dems have repeatedly warned of the danger of an elected mayor leading to a one-Party state in the Borough with power concentrated in one individual.

“In the wrong hands, an all-powerful Mayor, heavily backed by one section of the community, would exaggerate the worst of the Council’s recent tendencies – centralising power and removing accountability of local Councillors for the allocation of public funds.”

“As Mayor, I would build a consensus and encourage cross-community involvement in the political process.  This means devolving resources and responsibility to those bodies and  communities best placed to make use of them, including community councils, health boards, local schools, as well as tenants/residents’ associations – citizen-run organisations which can provide a check and balance on Mayoral power.”

“This election is an opportunity to reestablish Tower Hamlets as a borough of many neighbourhoods and communities – each one different, but each one contributing to the common wealth, and at the same time providing a necessary check on the power of an executive Mayor.”

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As expected, it seems that the idea for for a single “Coalition Unity” candidate for mayor has been vetoed by Tory and Lib Dem HQs, which, according to one Lib Dem “says a lot about the coalition”.

It would have been seen as a stitch-up, rather like the Respect announcement today that, after years of bitterly opposing Labour and Lutfur Rahman, including when he was council leader, George Galloway’s party is now backing him for Mayor. This is exactly what many predicted all along. Disturbingly, but entirely predictably, Respect are trying to paint ALL scrutiny of Lutfur as a “thinly-veiled anti-Muslim racist witch-hunt”. More on that later.

In the meantime, I’m inviting all party candidates to outline why they want to be Mayor.

So, first off is John Griffiths, the Lib Dem candidate.

Why am I standing for Mayor? by John Griffiths

I have lived in Tower Hamlets for the last 15 years – more than a third of my lifetime.  I love this borough – its vibrancy; its diversity; its history. You only had to be here last Friday to feel the excitement as we celebrated Eid. In the same week we remembered the 70th anniversary of the Blitz when the people of this part of London showed remarkable courage to overcome the bombardment and threat of a fascist invasion.

I am proud to call myself a Liberal.  The Party has a distinguished record of social reform.  A hundred years before New Labour, it was the New Liberals of Asquith and Lloyd George who, shocked at the poverty of the East End, introduced social housing, the state pension and school meals. We have since developed a track record for protecting the individual (particularly the vulnerable), and a healthy scepticism of big government. This is the inspiration for my campaign for Mayor.

It was a Liberal Council, way ahead of its time, which first empowered local residents, giving “power to the neighbourhoods”.  As councillor for Bethnal Green North, I followed this approach, chairing my Local Area Partnership, which supported grassroots projects and enabled community organisations to take control of services – whether youth projects run out of Oxford House, or the regeneration of Arnold Circus by the friends’ group.

I led the campaign to stop the Labour council’s plans to demolish York Hall, and am proud that this remains a well-used leisure facility at the heart of our community.  As spokesman on regeneration, I helped to expose a level of fraud in the council that led to criminal prosecutions of officers and Labour councillors. These experiences taught me the dangers of unchecked power getting into the wrong hands.

The person we elect on October 21st will be responsible for a budget of £1.3billion per year and directly influence the lives of more than 200,000 people. An unchecked Mayor, heavily backed by one section of the community, would exaggerate the worst of the Council’s recent tendencies – further centralising power and weakening the accountability of your councillors for decisions over allocating hard-pressed resources.

Given the referendum in favour of a Mayoral system, the Lib Dems want to make it work (as we have already in places like Watford and Bedford), but in ways that complement Liberal values.  As a Lib Dem Mayor, I would build consensus and encourage cross-community involvement in the political process.

This means devolving responsibility and resources to those bodies and  communities best placed to use them, including community or neighbourhood councils, health boards, local schools, as well as tenants and residents’ associations; citizen organisations which can provide a check and balance on Mayoral power. It also means appointing a cabinet that brings together a representative group of the most talented of our councillors.

This election is a unique opportunity for Tower Hamlets to live up to its name, a borough of many neighbourhoods and communities – each one special; each one different, but each one contributing to the common wealth, and at the same time providing a vital check on the power of an autocratic Mayor.

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