At about 8pm tonight, I was sent a text from one of Lutfur Rahman’s aides exclaiming that two Labour councillors had “pledged their support for working with” the new mayor. A short while later “dominic1485” in a comment on this blog translated that as “TWO LABOUR DEFECTIONS”.
Dave Hill then correctly reported the situation here.
It’s all based on a press release issued by Labour’s Shahed Ali (ex-Respect) and new boy Kabir Ahmed. They were among five Labour councillors who voted against a group motion last week which demanded non-co-operation with Lutfur.
I’ve pasted the full text of that press release here, but allow me to make a couple of comments. This is all about saving their electoral skins. Which is, I guess, what democracy is all about. I’ve spoken at length to Shahed about this. He will refuse any cabinet position offered to him. He says he is loyal to Labour, but he says he also has a duty to his constituents in Whitechapel, which is a strong Lutfur area. What if they demand a zebra crossing, say, in Bigland Street? Shahed says he’d need to have some kind of relationship to Lutfur to deliver that – otherwise in four years time, it will be Shahed who pays the price at the ballot box.
The pair of them are worried that Labour could be outflanked by Lutfur’s crew if the party is not careful. They worry that a media-fuelled community backlash could even wipe Labour out.
My other reading of the political tea leaves (from speaking to several councillors over the last week or so) is that there is a growing move to oust group leader Helal Abbas. He is seen by these plotters as the face of Labour failure and they want a fresh start. (Following the selection of Abdul Alim in Spitalfields, the party’s election agent Graham Taylor is also a target for a coup.) The problem these wannabe rebels have is the successor. Sirajul Islam? Good, but too staid,not enough charisma, they say. Abdal Ullah? Too brash, not enough “substance”, one said to me. Josh Peck? Maybe, but he’s too tainted by the Abbas affair, another said.
There are 32 councillors in the Labour group, but there’s not an awful lot to choose from.
Here’s the unedited Shahed/Kabir memo:
Two more Labour Councillors to support Independent Mayor
Two Labour Councillors today pledged their support for working with Independent Mayor Rahman. Kabir Ahmed and Shahed Ali cited Labour’s refusal to work with the Mayor as primary reasons for breaking the Labour Group Whip. “Rahman was elected with a clear mandate, therefore, we need to respect that and work together for the good of the community. Instead of bringing Tower Hamlets together, the current leadership is exercising personal rivalries because there is no difference in the manifesto.”
Cllr. Kabir Ahmed said that since Abbas was defeated by Rahman, the atmosphere among Tower Hamlets Councillors had become “poisonous’: The leadership are trying to run a party within a party. Legitimate debate is being stifled and anyone who doesn’t do exactly what they’re told is branded as a ‘Luthfurite’. Even Phil Woolas seems to have got a fair hearing before being suspended and Labour MP’s can support him without being threatened with expulsion or notions of self-expulsion.”
Cllr. Shahed Ali cited the Labour group decision not to work with the Mayor as a turning point: “We had our group meeting immediately after the election at Westminster. Many felt that an emergency motion seeking non-cooperation with the Mayor was premature. Pressure was put on us to vote against working with Mayor Rahman. However, I firmly believe residents elected us as councillors to run their council, not just merely to oppose any opportunity to deliver its needs.”
Cllr. Kabir Ahmed added: “Six months ago, Labour was riding high in Tower Hamlets, we returned two MPs and forty one Councillors, but the current leadership threw that away. They are blinded by ego politics and personal ambitions within the Labour party. I’ve been a Labour member for many years and I am loyal to the party’s ideals, but if it’s a choice between the egos of Labour group leadership and the people who elected me, the voters win every time.”
“The two Independent Mayors of Hartlepool and Middlesboro work hand in hand with a huge majority of Labour councillors in their respective cabinets. Equally, the pool of experience and talent within Labour group should not be wasted. Tower Hamlets Labour party has to admit to the mistakes and ill-judgements it has made throughout this mayoral selection process and must re-double its efforts if it is to regain the trust and support it requires to avoid further electoral casualties.” said Cllr. Shahed Ali.
Lutfur Rahman, newly elected Independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets welcomed the support, but also appealed for unity: “I’m proud to welcome the support of councillors to my administration and look forward to working with them for the good of the whole community. But I also reiterate my call to the Labour Party and other opposition Groups to end this madness and work with me. The coalition has imposed cuts that threaten to tear the heart out of our community; I’ll be working to make sure that doesn’t happen. I want all parties to join with me to help one of the most deprived communities in the UK prosper”.
Cllr. Kabir Ahmed Cllr. Shahed Ali 10/11/2010