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Archive for October 22nd, 2010

As last night’s dust continues to choke the Tower Hamlets atmosphere, Mayor-elect Lutfur Rahman is trying settle the shape of his new administration.

At the outset of his independent campaign and as a precondition of the crucial support of Respect and George Galloway, Lutfur said his rule would be a “broad coalition”. Well, given that so far he only has nine councillors openly on his side, it will have to be.

But who will join his cabinet?

Labour’s London boss Ken Clark is understood to have decreed to his councillors that they can not remain in the party and serve with Lutfur. So anyone wanting to take Lutfur’s shilling will have to defect.

During the last month, one of Tower Hamlets’ most able councillors, Marc Francis, was a notable absentee from Labour’s campaign. While Lutfur was council leader between 2008 and 2010, Marc was not only his deputy in all but name, but he was also his brains. When Lutfur was ditched by the NEC, Marc agonised over what to do. Although his friends told him otherwise, he himself thought his Labour career could be over because he’d backed the “wrong” man. He’s a councillor in Bow East, where I live, and if his heart had truly been with Labour and Abbas, the turnout would have been higher here. As it is, there is a strong suspicion among his party colleagues that he could have been helping his mate. I’m told that when he turned up to the count just before this morning’s declaration, he was not wearing a Labour rosette, he hugged Lutfur, and then ignored the Abbas team. I’m also told that he warmly applauded Lutfur’s speech and stared in silence during Abbas’s apparently faltering effort.

So, could Marc jump? He could well be offered the position of deputy mayor. And he could well take it. It would end his career with Labour, but Marc might take the view that there is life outside politics and that a four year stint pursuing his own goals in social housing – despite a backdrop of massive Coalition cuts and the probable lack of co-operation from Labour’s two neighbouring mayors, Jules Pipe in Hackney, and Sir Robin Wales in Newham – would be worth the aggro.

Even more intriguingly, I understand that Lutfur’s camp have also made informal approaches to Tory group leader, Cllr Peter Golds, and Lib Dem boss, Cllr Stephanie Eaton. I don’t think Peter would touch the new regime with a barge-pole (he was one of those most disgusted by the Lutfur Ali affair), but Stephanie’s position is more ambiguous.

What would you advise the pair?

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Abbas: “A sad night”

I wasn’t there for Lutfur’s acceptance speech last night (despite all this, I have a day job! And today, I’ll be writing about the devastating cuts faced by councils such as Tower Hamlets which will soon have more control over their finances: is that good or bad? Discuss), but the East London Advertiser reports that he said:

“All I want to do is serve Tower Hamlets, whether black or white and whatever religion they come from. Join with me to unite the people of Tower Hamlets.”

I’d imagine there is some video footage out there, so do post any links if you have them.

Meanwhile, I awake to see the following press release from Labour:

For immediate release: Friday, 22nd October 2010

Labour’s Abbas on Tower Hamlets result

Following the declaration of the result of the election for the first directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Labour’s candidate Helal Abbas said:

“This is a sad night for those of us who want to build a better future and a united Tower Hamlets.

Lutfur Rahman has won tonight but not as he wanted, as the Labour candidate.

Thankfully, Labour’s ruling National Executive had the backbone to stop him from being the Labour candidate.

We may have lost tonight, but at least the Labour Party has clean hands.

I am proud that we fought a clean, decent campaign and refused to get in the gutter with the candidate backed by George Galloway and the so-called Respect Party.

I promise to carry on working tirelessly as an elected councillor for the people of Tower Hamlets.

And as the party with the largest number of councillors at Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Labour accepts our responsibility to work hard to hold the new Mayor to account and to stand up for ALL the communities of Tower Hamlets, not just one.

We will not let the people of Tower Hamlets down.”

Ends

Result: Labour 11,254, Green 2,300, LibDem 2800, Conservative 5,348, Independent 23,283.

As you know, Lutfur won on the first round on a turnout of 25.6 per cent.

To all those psephologists out there, please feel free to post your ward analyses when you have the time. I think this will paint an interesting picture.


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Mayor Lutfur, it seems

As counting got under way at York Hall just after midnight tonight, it seemed certain that Lutfur Rahman had taken control of Tower Hamlets and become its first directly elected mayor on a turnout of about 25 per cent. According to the early samples, he’d outscored Helal Abbas right across the borough, apart from on the Isle of Dogs where the Tories’ Neil King appeared to have come top.

Labour councillors were huddled in groups, seething and perplexed in equal measure. They were also trying to work out which of their number were “rats”: which of them had quietly worked behind the scenes pretending to campaign for Abbas but in reality encouraging their own ward fan bases to come out for Lutfur.

A Mayor Lutfur will need 17 councillors – a third of the 51 – on his side to ensure he can push through his budget. Eight have currently declared and Harun Miah of Respect will make nine, which means he needs another nine from Labour to defect. As Lutfur will have the power to appoint councillors to paid positions, I don’t think he will have too many problems getting his numbers.

To get a flavour, I repeatedly asked two Labour councillors tonight – Rofique Ahmed and Abdul Asad – if they had placed Abbas first on their ballot papers today. Both refused to say, which is very curious for supposedly proud Labour men.

There are serious fears over how the £1billion budget will be spent, particularly in a climate of harsh post-spending review cuts. And councillors from all parties seemed up for a united Opposition fight.

What I also heard repeatedly tonight from members of all parties that the “white vote” simply hadn’t bothered to vote. The lack of mainstream media coverage did nothing to help that apathy, but there has to be extremely serious questions over this whole system of directly elected mayors. It’s madness having such an important election outside the normal electoral cycle of local council polls.

If Lutfur has won, many congratulations to his team. I’m sure they all know that many eyes will now be watching them and the way they spend our money.

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