Here’s some more detail on last night’s hustings. First off, unless someone drops a real clanger, I don’t think these events will have any effect on the outcome of the election on October 21. The audiences are relatively small and, for the most part, packed with supporters of particularly camps. Most voters won’t hear anything about them at all.
However, they do provide useful insights and they are opportunities for candidates to stick in the knife and produce wider media coverage.
With that in mind, last night we learnt that the Tories, the Greens and the Lib Dems would scrap East End Life in its current format, while both Abbas and Lutfur took the Labour line that the news-sheet played an important function, but that savings could be found.
There were two questions in particular that whipped up both the platform and the audience. The first came from someone wanting to know how much Lutfur’s decision to force out former council chief executive Martin Smith had cost taxpayers.
Disingenuously, Lutfur denied Martin had actually been forced out. He said: “It was a mutual agreement. It was not the first time a chief executive has moved on. It has happened before in this council and across the country. It was a mutual agreement and when there’s a mutual agreement you can have a financial settlement – go and check the law.”
As well as producing guffaws from the audience it also spurred Abbas into action. He said: “As people who hold public office, it’s important that we respect the integrity of everyone. I’ve seen officers come and go in my time, but no officer in my time left with a golden handshake.”
Tory Neil King went further, describing the Lutfur-led appointment of former assistant chief executive Lutfur Ali, who then moonlighted doing other work while at the town hall, as “extraordinary”. [Cllr Ohid Ahmed, who sat in front of me and who was on the panel that appointed Ali (who is now helping Lutfura Rahman’s campaign), heckled rather loudly at that one.] King added: “If I’m elected mayor, I’ll have no favours to pay back to anyone.”
Lib Dem John Griffiths said he was the “anti-mayor mayoral candidate” and added: “I’m very wary about this mayoralty falling into the wrong hands.”
The final question was asked by a young Lutfur supporter who demanded to know why people who had been against the change of council system were now standing to become mayor. I didn’t get the logic of this (is he trying to say that if the Tories lose the AV referendum next year that they should refuse to participate in the next General Election?). However, it was clearly directed at Abbas, who said he had been against changing the system and, for the first time showing some fire in his belly, added: “The Yes campaign was funded corruptly. It was funded by business interests.” [Ohid bawled out loud at this as well.]
Neil King said: “Now that the system is here, I’m determined to try and make it work. There seems to be a man running who is doing it for his own ego and very little else.”
John Griffiths moved the question on and pointing angrily at Abbas said: “If you believe in democracy, why are you here and not John Biggs.” Lutfur’s supporters loved that. “He’s looking for our second vote,” one said.
Those were some of the words. Here are some of my other observations. The event was due to start at 7pm, but did not in fact get underway until just after 7.30pm, at which time Lutfur had failed to arrive. he had been at a Youth Conference meeting in Bethnal Green and he arrived at 7.40pm just as Abbas was talking. Instead of waiting for his opponent to finish, he distracted the audience’s already struggling ears by striding to the platform to take his seat.
To compound the problems for the audience, about 200 of his supporters then arrived in groups over the next half hour. What was fascinating was their age. He does seem to have galvanised an element of the Tower Hamlets youth, many of whom seem to see their man as some sort of Yes We Can Obama figure.
This could be dangerous for Labour and Abbas. They will have to rely on a core vote who do not bother attending hustings like last night.