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.